Tuesday, 14 December 2021
Real productivity is about quality rather than quantity. But in the current climate, it’s easy to fall into that thought trap, trying to demonstrate how we can cram in more, in less time. But productivity shouldn’t come at the expense of our wellbeing; and in fact, it’s unlikely to come at all if we don’t look after ourselves.
How many times have you spent forever on a project or task, but the energy just wasn’t there or you lacked focus and creativity? Time is a finite category, but energy is renewable and the good news is that we can manage our energy to ensure we’re operating at our optimum. Dr Dan Siegel talks about the ‘healthy mind platter’, and the importance of seven key mental activities (or nutrients): focus time, play time, connecting time (that is connecting with people rather than devices), physical time, time ‘in’ (when we reflect internally), down time (when we let our minds wander), and sleep time. These activities are all fundamental for resting and regulating our emotions and energy. Topping up on any missing ingredients in the platter enable us to remain at optimum productivity.
We all occasionally encounter ‘sludge’ in our lives. It might take the form of a difficult issue, the actions of others, our own beliefs or habits. This sludge can derail us, slow us down or even block us completely. Most of us tend to simply ‘put up’ with these tiresome things that divert us, but if we want to be really productive, we must deal with them – however big or small they are. Spend some time working out what would fit in your own ‘desludging map’ and rank them according to whether they derail, slow or block you. What things could you do to remove them, and what difference would that make to your productivity?
Recognising your energy patterns is an important step towards becoming more productive in a way that works for your body and mind. Choose a typical work day, and map your energy levels at different points, taking just a few moments every once in a while to note down how you’re feeling and what tasks you’re doing at the time. Do this regularly and you’ll begin to see patterns emerge, enabling you to discover when you’re at your most creative and most focused, your peak in terms of energy levels, and your slumps, as well as which tasks require more or less of your energy. The opportunity then is to align your to-do list with what you’ve learned about your peaks and slumps.
In positive psychology terms, ‘flow’ is the mental state in which you are fully immersed in feelings of energy, focus and enjoyment. Take a step back and ask yourself whether, right now, you feel the majority of your work falls into the category of ‘high level challenge and low skill’, ‘high level of skill, low level of challenge’ or a balance of ‘high level of skill and challenge’. If you’re experiencing too much skill and little challenge then you’ll get complacent and bored; if you’re experiencing too much challenge with not enough skill, you’re likely to feel stressed and anxious. Use this exercise to determine whether you’re making too many, too few or just enough demands of yourself.
When you feel good about something, you’re more productive and there’s a real correlation between energy strength and capability. Knowing where your energy strengths are will help you work this out. Look at the following clusters of energy strengths and pick four or five across the block that represent you at your best and make you feel most productive. Think about what you would be doing if you could leverage them well. This could be anything from changing the focus of your current role, to doing volunteer work, to fueling a passion that’s currently underserviced.
In order to operate at peak productivity, we need to operate holistically. We bring our whole selves to our work and so it stands to reason that we address our whole selves in terms of our output. Take some time to assess the different aspects of your life, such as money, health, physical environment, career, ‘me’ time, friends, partner/relationship and personal growth. What would success and fulfilment look like in each of these areas? Are there tensions between these areas of your life and how can you resolve them? For example, travelling a lot might fulfil your career and me-time strands but may create tension with family and physical fitness. Quite often, looking at each individual area closely forces us to address issues affecting the whole.
Allow yourself a stream of unconsciousness. Imagine yourself in 12 months’ time. What would you like to be saying you’d achieved during that period? What things are you most proud of? What things have you done that have shown you at your best? What are people saying about you 12 months on? What are the challenges you faced? How did you overcome them? What wins did you land? Knowing what you know now, what would your advice be for the next period?