This essay is the fourth in a series of five posts on maximizing professional and personal productivity.
The next step (Step 4) towards increased productivity is to aim to ensure that our new productivity process is sustainable and doesn’t quickly fizzle out. So often, we get excited about a new process but lack the tools, commitment and/or mindset to see it to completion and long-term integration. The goal of this post is to empower you to keep going in the face of expected setbacks and maintain the requisite level of wellbeing required for succeeding over the long haul.
The five components of this step are:
- Decline/question as many non-critical meetings and tasks as possible; learn to say no.
- Focus on excellence, not perfection.
- Break often but briefly.
- Self-care (sharpen saw) – sleep, exercise, nutrition.
- Use your commute wisely; read often.
We all get sucked into meetings that we don’t want to attend or conversations that offer little upside. To be productive and energized over time, we need to be able to learn to say no to as many non-critical meetings as possible. This will obviously require tact. But you always need to keep a few key considerations in front of you: (1) Your time is your most precious asset. It must be guarded carefully. (2) If you allow yourself to be pulled into unimportant meetings, you will lose critical time needed to advance important tasks. (3) People who think that you are available all the time will start to devalue you (if they haven’t already).
This ties in neatly with a time management framework called The “4 D’s” of Time Management. In this framework, each “D” refers to a different reaction to a possible project, depending on its importance, urgency and other considerations.
- Delete it – Something that is not important, such as some email in your inbox, should be deleted and given no time or attention.
- Delegate it – This is for a task that can and should be handled by someone else. An example would be delegating the process of identifying, ordering and installing new collaboration software. You are ultimately responsible to get this done, but you have chosen to delegate the primary research and legwork to an associate.
- Do it – This is what we referred to in the previous post about knocking out 2-minute tasks. These are tasks that have not been delegated elsewhere and can be done quickly without railroading other work.
- Defer it – This, too, we discussed previously. Defer it applies when the task is important but not urgent. It needs to be done but can deferred until a later time and perhaps date. A meeting with a sales associate, for example, may be able to wait until the upcoming team meeting that’s already been scheduled (with the 1:1 occurring beforehand).
Another sustainability tip is to focus on excellence, not perfection. For many perfectionists (this author included), it is hard to “settle” on doing good work. We want to do great work. Actually, we insist on perfect work. Every time. Mainly because it satisfies our egos and leads us to think that others will more readily accept our work. But seeking to produce perfect work (even if that were possible) slows us down and decreases output. So, instead of perfection, pursue excellence. You will still produce solid results and others will be more than satisfied.
The final three components of Step 4 relate to self-care. The first is to break often but briefly. There are many reasons that we should be taking regular work breaks. They include reducing the negative health effects from too much sitting, cutting down on decision fatigue, restoring motivation, especially for long-term goals, and increasing productivity and creativity, and more.
The second is to sharpen your saw. Like a dulled saw cutting through a think tree log, we produce diminished results when we use a depleted self to “cut through” our daily grind and challenging projects. To succeed over the long haul, be willing to take care of yourself. Eat nutritious food and snacks. Hydrate often and sufficiently. Exercise. (The American Psychological Association reports that we are 15% more productive on days that we exercise before work. The study also found that physically active employees were less likely to develop job burnout and depression.) Get adequate sleep. (A study from Harvard University found that American companies lose almost $65B annually because of employee sleep deprivation.) Meditate/pray/etc. and take regular vacations. These will help you clear your mind and prime your body for sustained success.
On a related note, be sure to keep the temperature comfortable. A recent survey found that productivity drops significantly when the office is either too cold or too warm. Experts suggest the work temperature sweet spot is between 65- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit.
Americans spend about an hour a day commuting to and from work. Use your commute wisely by listening to and / or reading content that will motivate and inspire you, offer you tools for success, or some combination thereof. I am personally a big fan of audio books and podcasts (including mine) which I listen to as I drive or ride public transportation. Sure, I will listen to the radio and attend to work matters (like returning client calls and prospecting), but I try to carve out meaningful time each day for learning. I guess there are some benefits to driving in and around Greater NYC after all.
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Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is an executive coach and President of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. For a free, no obligation consultation, please call 212.470.6139 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his new leadership book, “Becoming the New Boss”, on Amazon and on the book site, BecomingtheNewBoss.com. Download his free eBook for understaffed leaders at ImpactfulCoaching.com/EPIC.