I’ll Pat Your Back

When you’re part of a team, each person impacts your productivity and contributes to how quickly or slowly things get done. When others are late in getting answers to you, you’re late in producing the final product. When you’re relying on your coworkers to review a document before proceeding, a month can go by before you have everyone’s input. It’s in your best interest to help your team members speed up and get things done more quickly, so you can produce better results, in less time, with less frustration.

I’ll Pat Your Back by Laura Stack #productivityI learned this streamlining lesson from a flight attendant, who taught me a lesson in steamrolling obstacles. As a professional speaker, travel is a job hazard; I fly over 100,000 miles each year on United. I travel so much that sometimes I have to wait until the USA Today gets delivered to my hotel door to remember what city I’m in (just kidding—sort of).

On this particular trip, the client called me in the 9th hour to speak, and I was lucky to get a seat; the flight was jam-packed and beyond overbooked. So I was thankful to get a seat…until, that is, I realized which seat I had! I was in that horrible last seat in the very back of the plane by the bathrooms. Have you ever sat in that seat? You know the one, right? That seat that doesn’t recline and is jammed up against the back wall? And is it just me, or does that person in front of you always want to fully recline her seat straight into your lap?

We pushed back from the gate a bit delayed, and about halfway through the flight I realized that the time between our plane landing and my connecting flight in Chicago was going to be razor thin. I looked in front of me at the ocean of passengers and knew there was no way I would make my connection.

About that time, perhaps through telepathy—or maybe just the overwhelmed look on my face—a flight attendant walked up to me and said, “Worried about a close connection?”

“Yes,” I said. “How did you know?”

She said, “It’s what we in the industry call the ‘back of the plane look of woe.’” “Have no fear,” she continued. “I tell you what I’ll do for you. When we’re about 10 minutes away from our final descent, I’ll come get you and escort you and your bags up to an empty seat in First Class.”

Let me tell you…right then and there that woman won the “Coolest Person of the Week Award”! (I actually wrote a note of praise to United afterward.)

So, just as promised, minutes before our final descent, she tapped me on the shoulder, ushered me passed all my fellow passengers, and sat me in a First Class seat, right next to the cabin door. Not only had she steamrolled the time-draining obstacles in my path, she had instantly melted my anxiety and stress into thin air. Better still, she had communicated that I was valued by giving me one of the finest seats on the plane and placing me just feet away from where I needed and wanted to be.

That flight attendant had taken the time to identify and diagnosis a stressor in my life—one that would have possibly meant wasting a night stranded at an airport away from my family. She had the wherewithal to realize that by doing me a simple, time-saving favor she could neutralize my problem and whisk away my worries. And whether she realized it or not, that flight attendant helped me get home in time to do the thing that matters most to me: spend time with my family.

Let me give you another example of streamlining from my own business. My assistant, Jin, frequently received calls from our clients, asking her to send suggested wording they could use to introduce me to audiences at speaking engagements. Of course, Jin had already sent that information. Even though her “job” is customer service, it can be frustrating and time consuming to provide information multiple times that has already been provided. I uncovered the problem one day when she was joking with me about how a particular client chronically lost information she’d already sent, and that that was probably why the client had hired me.

When Jin explained the issue, we brainstormed solutions. She told me she would love it if my speech introduction were posted on TheProductivityPro.com, so customers could help themselves to the information they needed without involving her. Once the website was updated, we proactively sent links to our clients on where they could find this information, and now Jin fulfills far fewer manual client requests.

That’s the kind of simple, “I’m on your side” approach I’m talking about. We need to actively pursue opportunities to eliminate hundreds of these little time bandits, frustrations, and productivity-sappers from our systems and team members every day. Not only does it boost productivity, it also builds solidarity with those we work. It shows we’re willing to listen to and implement their innovations.

So at your next staff meeting, get some time on the agenda to pose three questions:

1. What are the three most mind-numbing, time-wasting hoops you’re forced to jump through on a weekly basis? And then listen to the responses. Don’t be defensive or combative. Instead, scribble down everything they say down and soak it in.

2. What time-draining procedures or activities do you find yourself doing more than three times a week? The purpose of this question is to identify the time-wasting “debris” that constantly gets littered along your co-workers high-speed highway and slows them down repeatedly.

3. How can I help you? Let’s all brainstorm ways to automate our systems and reduce this wasted time, so we can get our work done faster, leave the office earlier, and get home to our lives.

You say it that way, and I guarantee you’ll be amazed by the innovative thinking that will instantly start taking place! That’s your goal. Recast your role into one of “lead blocker” of time-wasting obstacles.



  1. Great article. Unfortunately, I’m on the other side of those staff meeting questions. I can’t seem to let others help me. Is this my resolution for the new year?