Whether for yourself or your team, productivity is never an easy thing to master. It’s a common experience to feel constantly reactive, working to put out fires rather than take control and ownership of your day.
If you are rushing from one meeting to the next, have team members regularly appearing at your desk and feel trapped in a constant communication loop, then you are probably not creating the conditions for you to be as productive as you know you can be.
The problem with productivity
Almost everybody wants to get more out of their time and be more productive, yet it seems that many of us are working more but achieving less. Why?
The number one stressor people report is a lack of time. But we can’t control or change time. Five minutes won’t magically become six, however much we want it to. What we can be in control of is the energy that we bring to that five minutes. It seems that many of us are working more but achieving less. Why?
The human system is designed to oscillate; brainwaves, heartbeats, breathing. It's all an up and down pattern. And yet, we have a tendency to get up and flatline our way through the day, regularly creating demand on our system that often outstrips our capacity. Many of us are in a state of chronic stress. This means the brain gets stuck in survival mode and we operate from a place of feeling tired, frustrated and overwhelmed by the sense that there is never enough time to get it all done. The impact? We feel unable to bring our best self to the moments that matter most.
So, what can we do about it?
I believe that energy is our most valuable resource when it comes to productivity and performance, and yet most people fail to manage it effectively.
We know the brain works best in cycles of activity followed by rest. When we work hard and focus it's resource intensive and we power through our energy reserves. After around 90 minutes, our brain detects it’s reaching capacity and downshifts to lower frequency brain wave activity with the aim of recharging and preparing for another period of effortful work. You may experience this downshift as feeling drowsy, distracted or being unable to concentrate.
When you ignore the physiological need for your brain to rest and recharge, you trigger your body’s fight or flight response, flooding your system with the stress hormone cortisol. As you are not actively running away from a bear, the cortisol hangs around in your system, resulting in decreased focus and attention, memory and sleep amongst other potential health harms (this is why exercise is an excellent stress relief). As part of your body’s natural survival mode, it also reduces activity in the part of the brain responsible for logic, decision making and empathy. Who needs to think through all the possible options, and consider how others might feel about them, when you’re about to be eaten for dinner?
Basically, our culture of chronic busyness and results-at-all-costs is detrimental to what we need to be healthy, productive and successfully lead a team of people.
The good news is, energy is limited but replenishable!
How can you better manage your energy and make sure you take time to rest and recharge throughout the day?
Take a break
Rest and recovery is a crucial habit that will allow you and your team to smash your KPIs. It’s not the number of hours people work that matters, it’s the value they produce during the hours they work. So, it is well worth considering how breaks are viewed in your team, and how you can facilitate different types of breaks so everyone can develop their personal recharge toolkit.
For example, a walk outside space may be an effective brain recharge for you, a team member may prefer 15 minutes to make a cup of tea and chat with a colleague, another may wish to find a quiet space for meditation. Or you may decide to do something together as a team.
Take the time to reflect on what you’re doing and how you’re approaching your work. Are you prioritising effectively? Or, is your day full of meaningless meetings and time-consuming tasks when your skills could be better utilised? Start to work out what you can cut and how to streamline your tasks so that you are proactive, energised and focused with time to recharge, rather than reactive and 'pushing through'. Ask yourself “What can I do to design my day so that when I’m working, I’m really working?”
Practice ‘monotasking’ for better focus
Multi-tasking has been long heralded as a strength at work. In fact, as far as the brain is concerned, there is no such thing as multitasking. Multitasking simply uses up unnecessary energy through constantly switching your attention between tasks. Research suggests that you lose 20% of time switching between tasks, increasing to as much as 70% with the number of tasks you switch between (that’s the majority of your working day right there!). Not only do you lose time and energy, you are also prone to making more mistakes (up to three times as many) when you multitask than when you choose to monotask.
In short, aim to be less busy and be more conscious of your energy levels. There are often cultural constraints in place but when you tune into what is happening in your body, and actively build in some recovery time. You may be surprised by the rewards.
Download this free ‘personal recharge kit’so you can better manage your energy and start to show up how you want to in work and life.
Caroline Rae is a leadership coach, career strategist and stress resiliency expert working with CEO's, executives and managers to explore challenge and lead from a place of clarity, strength and optimal performance. Book a discovery call to explore how we can work together, subscribe for the latest updates or join my free community, Experiments in Living.
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