Three Strategies For Being Highly Productive

Joan McGuire

A comprehensive tool kit for the effective executive

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For an executive to be highly effective, they need to be highly productive. Being highly productive not only allows us to accomplish more, it lowers the feelings of stress and anxiety as well.

Although many executives attempt greater productivity through prioritized lists and calendar management, I don’t know anyone who’s actually been able to achieve high productivity on a consistent basis using these strategies. It’s not that the strategies don’t work. They do. But without another critical component in place, they’re only of limited usefulness.

Don’t you find it interesting how much more productive we are in the days leading up to a vacation? We plow through the important phone calls that have to be made, respond to all the important emails and clear our desk of all the paperwork that needs attention. By the end of the day, everything important has been attended to.

The reason we’re able to achieve so much relates to energy management.

The energy I’m referring to has four components to it and the management of those energy reserves is essential to high productivity. These four energy reserves are physical, emotional, mental and inspirational. Let me briefly discuss each energy reserve and then offer some strategies to help keep them full.

Physical energy affects our ability to push forward. It helps our drive and our self-discipline. If you’ve ever had a “mid-afternoon crash”, then you’ve experienced the impact a low physical reserve can have on productivity.

Emotional energy impacts our ability to deal with stress, to communicate well, to think clearly and to interact with others effectively. For example, it’s not uncommon to become short with people when we’re feeling stressed or tense, both of which are caused by a low emotional reserve.

Mental energy affects our ability to think clearly, to concentrate and focus, to solve problems and to be creative. Clearly, poor mental acuity hampers productivity.

Inspirational energy is the fuel that moves us to action. It is our passion, purpose and inspiration that spark self-discipline, extra effort and new direction. In the absence of inspiration, we end up just going through the motions. Low inspirational energy saps the productive juices out of us.

Maintaining our energy reserves is critical if we’re to be highly productive consistently. Our energy reserves are like a four-legged stool. We’re all familiar with the analogy of a three-legged stool. Without all three legs being of equal length, the stool is useless.

But with a four-legged stool, even if one of the legs is shorter, it can still be used by exerting a bit of effort and balance. It’s not especially comfortable and requires energy to maintain, but it is functional.

The same goes for our four energy reserves. We can function even if one or more of our reserves is depleted, but it’s inefficient, draining and it negatively impacts our productivity.

To stay highly productive, it’s essential to develop habits that replenish our energy reserves. Here are three keys that help accomplish this. They’re somewhat counter-intuitive and often overlooked, but don’t be fooled by their simplicity.

For years they’ve allowed me to accomplish about 50% more than most people do.

High productivity strategy #1: Take breaks
This is the most counter-intuitive of the three strategies and most people I know struggle with it. Afterall how can you become more productive by not working?

Here’s why it works:

Most of us have the capacity to stay focused, concentrate well and work hard for between two and two and a half hours. After that, our focus, accuracy and creativity tend to drop. Ever notice that first thing in the morning you’re able to work quickly, efficiently and accurately, but as the day wears on, our pace and enthusiasm wane?

By taking between a 20- and 30-minute break every two to two and half hours, you recharge yourself and return to work with the same enthusiasm you had at the beginning of the day. The secret to maximizing the impact of your breaks is what you do during them. This leads to our second strategy for high productivity.

High productivity strategy #2: Eat strategically
Most people think about what to eat in terms of weight loss or general health, but nutrition also serves another important purpose.

What and when we eat control our blood sugar levels. When our blood sugar drops too low, our productivity, focus and creativity suffer. Remember that mid-afternoon “crash”? It’s due to a drop in blood sugar (often as a consequence of a carb-laden lunch).

Eating strategically means eating protein, fat and some carbohydrate during your breaks. This mix controls the pace at which nutrition is absorbed, stabilizes your blood sugar level, and provides essential nutrients to your brain and your muscles.

High productivity strategy #3: Get restful sleep
Getting a sufficient number of hours of restful sleep allows your body to repair itself and your mind to process ideas and problems. Insufficient or restless sleep will cause a lack of mental sharpness, anxiety and poor emotional control.

To get a restful night’s sleep, avoid caffeine late in the day and avoid eating a heavy, fat-laden, carbohydrate-laden meal late in the evening. Caffeine will keep you from falling asleep quickly and eating a late, heavy meal will cause your body to work hard digesting while you sleep instead of attending to the other tasks necessary for recharging and revitalization.

Managing your energy reserves combined with prioritization of tasks will make you a productivity superstar. Get in the habit of taking breaks every couple of hours, eat strategically throughout the day and adopt a lifestyle that allows you to get restful sleep.

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