For an executive to be highly effective, they need to become highly productive. In addition, how they attain high productivity is as important as the productivity itself. High productivity is essential for executives because it serves three important purposes. The first, most obvious, is that it enables us to get our work done. No small task given the pace of business and the extra load budgetary constraints impose. The second, no less important benefit, is that by completing our work in a highly productive manner, it keeps our stress and anxiety levels under control. Controlling stress and tension is critical, since persistently high feelings of stress cause health problems, sap our strength, hamper creativity, and negatively impact our ability to communicate effectively. Each of these factors, of course, affects our effectiveness as a leader.
The third benefit of being highly productive is often overlooked. And that benefit is that being productive sets an example for the rest of our team. Generally, we tend to focus on our words and actions during “important” events such as meetings or speeches, but the truth is that people observe us all the time, even in our “insignificant moments”. In fact, the impact we have during those important exchanges is always colored by the image we’ve painted over time with our words and actions in those “insignificant moments”. Consequently, how we attain high productivity is as important as the productivity itself. Sacrificing one’s personal life, health and family isn’t the most admirable example to set.
The key, therefore, is to become highly productive and at the same time, reduce stress and set the example you’d like duplicated by your team. There have been scores of books written and courses taught about time management. The strategies promoted focus on things like prioritization, list-making, and calendar management. And most of them make sense except for one thing.
I don’t know anyone who’s achieved sustained productivity using these methods.
Don’t get me wrong – prioritization and creating lists are important factors to becoming highly productive. But unless another critical factor is addressed, all the prioritization and list-making in the world won’t help. And that issue is energy. The issue of personal energy management has garnered growing attention in the last years. It’s something I’ve done intuitively for many years and is nicely supported in a book entitled, “The Power of Full Engagement” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
The energy I’m referring to has four components to it, and the management of that energy pertains to our ability to maintain and replenish those reserves. These four energy reserves are Physical, Emotional, Mental and Inspirational. Addressing each reserve is essential for high productivity. Let me briefly discuss each energy reserve and then offer some strategies to help keep them buoyed up.
Our physical energy affects our ability to push forward. It helps our drive and our self-discipline. It improves the functioning of our organs, which, in turn, allow us to get oxygen to our brain, nutrition into our body, and toxins out of our body. If you’ve ever had a “mid-afternoon crash”, then you’ve experienced the impact a low physical reserve can have on productivity.
Our emotional energy impacts our ability to deal with stress, to communicate well, to think clearly, and to interact with others effectively. It’s not uncommon to become short with people when we’re feeling stressed or tense (which is caused by a low emotional reserve).
Our mental energy affects our ability to think clearly, to concentrate and focus, to solve problems, and to be creative. Clearly, a low mental reserve hampers productivity.
And finally, our inspirational energy is the fuel that motivates us. It is our passion, purpose, and inspiration that spark self-discipline, extra effort, and new direction. In the absence of motivation and inspiration, we end up just going through the motions. Low inspirational energy saps the productive juices right out of us.
Maintaining our reserves is critical if we’re to be highly productive on a consistent basis. I like to draw an analogy to a four-legged stool whenever I discuss the topic of energy management. We’re all familiar with the analogy of a three-legged stool. All three legs need to be present in order to use the stool. Without all three legs the stool is useless. But the story is different with a four-legged stool. Unlike the three-legged stool, a four-legged stool can still be used even if one of the legs is missing. A person can sit on a four-legged stool missing a leg by exerting a bit of effort and balance. It’s not especially comfortable and requires an ongoing expenditure of energy to maintain. But it is functional. The same goes for our four energy reserves. We can function even if one of our reserves is depleted or all four reserves aren’t at the same level, but it’s inefficient, draining, and can’t be sustained for very long.
It’s not that difficult to maintain relatively high reserves, but it does take some intentional effort. There are a number of very effective steps that can be taken to recharge your reserves. Here are a few of them:
- Take breaks throughout the day. Break every 2-2.5 hours to recharge and rejuvenate. What you do during those breaks makes a difference.
- Eat “strategically”. Eat about six times a day. Make sure to balance protein, carbohydrates and fats.
- Maintain your attitude. If you don’t decide what goes into your head, someone else will. Introduce positives and eliminate negatives.
- Get restful sleep. Avoid caffeine late in the day – it really does work to keep you awake. Avoid eating a big meal late in the evening – your body can’t rest if it’s working hard to digest.
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of these strategies. For years they’ve allowed me to accomplish about 50% more than most people do. Managing your energy reserves combined with prioritization of tasks will make you a productivity superstar.