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5 Productivity Tools To Work Smarter, Not Harder

5 Productivity Tools To Work Smarter, Not Harder

Modern day life constantly demands our time, attention, and energy. We put pressure on ourselves to juggle more tasks as we increase our workloads to get more things done quicker. Instead of accomplishing enough to be satisfied, we are often left feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, disconnected, and unfulfilled.

This frantic lifestyle not only diminishes the quality of our results, it’s also impossible to maintain. Something has got to give eventually and if it’s not your relationships and happiness, it will become your health. Just like a car needs regular maintenance to perform well and batteries need to be recharged, our bodies need nurturing, rest, and rejuvenation.

Although working burnout style is an easy habit to slip into when you have a lot of tasks to accomplish, research shows that workers get no more done when they work 50-hour work-weeks than when they work 40-hour work-weeks. So, what does that say for working 70 plus hours a week? These extra unproductive hours are usually spent engaged in disruptive activities such as answering emails, phone calls, and unnecessary meetings, or recovering from stress, lack of sleep, and sugar or caffeine lows.

The best way to balance out our demanding lifestyle and become more productive at what we do, including work, is to manage our energy. Do more activities that recharge you and give you energy, so you can can be more successful in what you choose to focus your energy on.

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While building up an executive marketing and design career over the past 14 years, I have successfully been able to accomplish all my work tasks within a 40-hour work week. This left me time for rest, travel, hobbies, building relationships, and being a competitive athlete. I did this by managing my energy outside of the office, so when I was at work I had the energy to be more productive and successful.

Here are five energy management tools and activities you can do to create more clarity, productivity, and success in your life.

1. Start your day right.

How you start your day has a big influence on how productive you are for the rest of the day, and I’m not referring to how much coffee you drink. Setting a relaxed mindset and making sure your body and brain receive adequate nutrition is vital for productivity. If you wake up with worry, fear, or any other troubling emotions, do what you can to get back into a calm state. Remember you choose how you feel; no one else can dictate that. Express your thoughts in a notebook, meditate, or exercise to get the tense energy out.

Next, feed your body and brain healthy food. Aim for natural non-processed food that isn’t going to give you a sugar crash later on or encourage junk food cravings. Feed your body and mind what it needs to create success.

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2. Visualize success.

Visualizing success paves the pathway to tangibly achieve success. Just like athletes visualize their race over and over in their heads, visualizing your day going well energetically and mentally sets you in alignment with your goals.

Each morning, create a plan of how you want your day to go by visualizing all your goals. Visualize the main tasks, meetings, or conversations of that day going well. Play out the events in your head one at a time using only positive thoughts and emotions.

At a neurological level, our brain doesn’t know the difference between what actually happens and what we visualize. The brain reacts very similarly to both real and imagined experiences. That’s why chronic worriers feel the stress in their body like the potential disaster has already happened. Visualizing success can decrease fear and worry, as your brain has already experienced a positive outcome.

3. Set a strict finish time.

Before starting work, set a hard deadline of when you will finish. Knowing you only have a certain amount of time to complete your tasks often leads to more focus and less temptation for distraction. That’s why cramming students can get more study done close to the exam time since they have no choice but to solidly focus.

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If you are a serial workaholic and can’t see yourself finishing when you plan to, then make solid commitments after work. Reserve a dinner table, book a yoga or exercise class, buy tickets to an event, or park your car somewhere you have to move at your finishing time. In other words do whatever it takes to get 1-3 tasks done for that day within the allotted time. It’s amazing how much your productivity increases when you have focus and are not multitasking/time-wasting.

4. Meditate or exercise during your lunch break.

Taking a mental and physical break from work allows you to relax, recharge, and return with more focus. Throughout my professional career, I have been very consistent in taking at least a 1-hour lunch break to do exercise, yoga, or meditation. No matter how busy I am that day, I know taking a break will provide me with more energy and focus to be more productive when I return. In fact, during heavy workloads and intense deadlines my exercise/meditation break is one of the main tools to reduce my stress and recharge me to continue to focus.

Choose a cardiovascular activity such as a 45 minute spin class, weights workout, or running, to increase the adrenaline in your body and provide more creative energy for when you return. If you don’t have a gym near your workplace or a shower in the building for exercising outside, try meditation. Get some fresh air and sit in a park to do your meditation, listen to a guided meditation, or practice mindfulness while walking.

5. Set boundaries.

Having the strength to say “no” and setting your boundaries keeps your energy in tact and increases productivity. Get clear on what you need in order to do a good job then say no to people, meetings, extra work, disruptive activities, and tasks that don’t serve your highest good and ultimately the company’s success.

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Assess and pick only tasks and activities that you need to complete to move forward. If someone wants to have a 2-hour meeting and ramble on, make it clear you only have 20 or 30 minutes, then get out of there. If someone wants to disrupt you with emails and phone calls when you are trying to focus, tell them you have a deadline and you will get back to them another time. If other people want you work long hours and burnout with them, go to the gym or do yoga then return the next day much more refreshed and sharp.

Conclusion

To eliminate time-wasting and burnout habits you need to take a stand and try a different approach. Even if you stand out from the crowd, the results will speak for themselves, both professionally and personally. To be more successful and productive than the crowd, you need to break free from the crowd.

Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

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Kelly Weiss

Purpose-driven business + lifestyle coach

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Last Updated on October 21, 2019

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is a reminder of why I am so drawn to leadership as a topic. Whenever I think it is impossible for me to be more impressed with her, she proves me wrong.

Earlier this week, a former marine suggested that he had been in a long-term sexual relationship with the Senator. She flipped the narrative and used the term “Cougar,” a term used to describe older women who date younger men, to reference her alma mater.

Rather than calling the young man a liar, or responding to the accusations in kind, she re-focused the conversation back to her message of college affordability and lifted up that “Cougar” was the mascot for her alma mater. She went on to note that tuition at her school was just $50 per semester when she was a student. Class act.

But by the end of the week, news broke that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender for the presidency, had a heart attack. Warren not only wished Sanders a speedy recovery but her campaign sent a meal to his staff. She knew that the hopes of staff, donors and supporters were with the Senator from Vermont and showed genuine compassion and empathy.

To me, she has proven time and time again that she is more than a presidential candidate: she belongs in a leadership hall of fame.

What makes some people excel as leaders is fascinating. You can read about leadership, research it and talk about it, yet the interest in leadership alone will not make you a better leader.

You will have more information than the average person, but becoming a good leader is lifelong work. It requires experience – and lots of it. Most importantly, it requires observation and a commitment to action. Warren observed what was happening with Sen. Sanders, empathized with his team and then took action. Regardless of the outcome of this election, Sanders’ staff will likely never forget her gesture.

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You would have had to work on a political campaign in order to appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. In this moment, staff may not remember everything that Warren said throughout the lengthy campaign, but they will remember what she did during an unforgettable time during the campaign.

If this model of leadership is appealing, and if you are searching for how to up your own leadership game, read on for six characteristics that good leaders share:

1. Good leaders are devoted to the success of the people around them.

Good leaders are not self-interested. Sure, they want to succeed, but they also want others to succeed.

Good leaders see investing in others just as important as they see investing in themselves. They understand that their success is closely tied to the people around them, and they work to ensure that their peers, employees, friends and family have paths for growth and development.

While the leaders may be the people in the spotlight, they are quick to point to the people around them who helped them (the leaders) enter that spotlight. Their willingness to lift others inspires their colleagues’ and friends’ devotion and loyalty.

2. Good leaders are not overly dependent on others’ approval.

It is important for managers to express their support for their teams; good leaders must be independent of the approval of others. I explained in an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that:[1]

“While a desire to be loved is natural, managers who prioritize approval from subordinates will become ineffective supervisors who may do employees harm. For example, a manager driven by a need for approval may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting someone may tolerate behavior that degrades the work environment and culture.”

In yet another example, a manager who is dependent on the approval of others may not make decisions that could be deemed unpopular in the short run but necessary in the long run.

Think of the coaches who integrated their sporting teams. Their decision to do so, may have seemed odd, and even wrong, in the moment, but time has proven that those leaders were on the right side of history.

3. Good leaders have the capacity to share the spotlight.

Attention is nice, but it is not the prime motivator for good leaders. Doing a good job is.

For this reason, good leaders are willing to share the spotlight. They aren’t threatened by a lack of attention, and they do not need credit for every accomplishment. They are too focused on their goal and too focused on the urgency of their work.

4. Good leaders are students.

In the same way that human beings are constantly evolving, so too are leaders. As long as you are living, you have the potential to learn. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you think you have; you can always learn something new.

I have the experience of thinking I was doing everything right as a manager, only to receive conflicting feedback from my team. Perhaps my approach was not working for my team, and I had to be willing to hear their feedback to improve.

Good leaders understand that their secret sauce is their willingness to keep receiving information and keep learning. They aren’t intimidated by what they do not know: As long as they maintain a willingness to keep growing, they believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.

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As both masters and students, good leaders read, listen and study to grow. They consume content for information, not just entertainment purposes. They aren’t impressed with their knowledge; they are impressed with the learning journey.

5. Good leaders view vulnerability as a superpower.

It means “replacing ‘professional distance and cool,’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” said Emma Sappala in a Dec. 11, 2014, article, “What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable” for Harvard Business Journal.[2] She went on to note the importance of human connection, which she asserts is often missing at work.

“As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

This rings so true for me as a woman leader. I was raised believing that any show of emotion in the workplace could be used against me. I was raised believing that it was best for women leaders to be stoic and to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” This may have prevented me from connecting with employees and colleagues on a deeper, more personal level.

6. Good leaders understand themselves.

I am a huge fan of life coach and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant. In addition to her hit show on the OWN network, Vanzant has authored dozens of books. In her books and teachings, she underscores the importance of knowing ourselves fully. She argues that we must know what makes us tick, what makes us happy and what makes us angry.

Self-awareness enables us to put ourselves in situations where we can thrive, and it also enables us to have compassion when we fall short of the goals and expectations we have for ourselves. Relatedly, understanding ourselves will allow us to know our strength. When we know our strengths, we will be able to put people around us who compliment our strengths and fill the gaps in our leadership.

Final Thoughts

Being a good leader, first and foremost, is an inside job. You must focus on growing as a person regardless of the leadership title that you hold. You cannot take others where you yourself have not been. So focusing on yourself, regardless of your time or where you are in your career will have long term benefits for you and the people around you.

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Further, if you want to become a good leader, you should start by setting the intention to do so. What you focus on grows. If you focus on becoming a better leader, you will research and invest in things that help you to fulfill this intention. You will also view the good and bad leadership experiences as steppingstones that hone your character and help you improve.

After you set the intention, get really clear on what a good leader looks like to you. Each of us has a different understanding of leadership. Is a good leader someone who takes risk? Is a good leader, in your estimation, someone who develops other leaders? Whatever it is, know what you’re shooting for. Once you define what it means to be a good leader, look for people who exemplify your vision. Watch and engage with them if you can.

Finally, understand that becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. You must continually work at improving, investing in yourself and reflecting on what is going well and what you must improve. In this way, every experience is an opportunity to grow and a chance to ask: ‘What is this experience trying to teach me?’ or ‘what action is necessary based on this situation?’

If you are committed to questioning, evaluating and acting, you are that much closer to becoming a better leader.

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Featured photo credit: Sam Power via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Good Managers Overcome the Desire to Be Liked
[2] Harvard Business Journal: What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable

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