3-Step Recipe for a Productivity Reset

Question: When is the last time you experienced a productivity reset?

I read recently that in a knowledge-working society the work we do is really about creativity.  Now, when I hear the word creativity my mind immediately goes to the painters and sculptors of the world. And for sure the work they do is creative. 

But before those of us who are scientists, technologists, and managers or leaders abdicate the world of creativity to the artists, we probably should step back for a moment and make sure we are not leaving the best part of us behind.

The Story

I recently had a conversation with one of my graduate students who said she was completely burned out and didn’t know how she was going to get her research project finished on time.  She was definitely in need of a productivity reset.

Here is a part of our conversation: “…by the time I finish my commute to and from work I am logging 60 hours or more a week. In addition, I have a family and my church that are both really important to me. I just don’t have any energy left for creativity to get this research project finished.”

I could just sense the frustration and disappointment in her voice as she was trying to figure out how to be more productive. Then almost without taking a breath, she said, “…You know, perhaps I could be more efficient in the morning. If I got up an hour earlier I could get more done because I am at my most creative in the morning.”  

The Point

As knowledge-workers, we are all going to have to come to the realization that more time, more effort, more energy doesn’t equal creativity or effectiveness.  It just equals more time and more effort. That's it.  If you are playing a game of who-works-hardest then keep going, I guess, but if you want to be creative and innovative, then maybe work as hard as you can while you're working and then stop and do something else.

I think there is a reason that athlete’s work really hard in times of peak performance and then rest their bodies.

There is a reason writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, William Stafford, and Victor Hugo would work for a while in the morning and then go for long walks in the afternoon.  


Both high performing athletes and creative writers alike see the value of both hard work and the regenerative process of the productivity reset.  There is only so much a knowledge-worker can do to be productive before they need to recharge their brain.

According to Margaret Moussa, Maria-Estella Varua, and Matthew Wright’s work on knowledge-workers, what has been left out of the discussion up until now are issues of self-efficacy and well-being.  

The question we need to ask ourselves as leader is:

Can we leaders continue to treat our knowledge-workers the same way we treated productivity-workers of ages gone by?


Can we as knowledge-workers continue to try and cram more stuff into our day and expect quality outputs?

3 Step Rest Process

Here are three things that I try to do when I am in need of a productivity reset.

  1. Read. There is nothing like reading to stimulate productivity. If I ever have writer's block, reading is one of the best ways I know to get the juices flowing again.  I have found that there is nothing like poetry and fiction to really get my juices flowing again.  In fact, I just finished a chapter of Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman.
  2. Walk. I love to exercise but when I work out I am really focused on pushing my body, so I don’t get many creative thoughts going when my heart rate is above 140. But when I am just out for a walk, and the sun is shining, and I can sense the beauty all around me, my creative energy just seems to flow.
  3. Phone a Friend. For me, there is nothing like community and conversation to spur creativity. I always feel better when I get off the phone with my coach, my coaching group, or a conversation with Kevin or Joanne. There is just something about talking to others that will spur on my creative process.

As leaders, when we think about ourselves or those who are in our care, perhaps we need to be thinking less about how productive we can be and more about how we are practicing self-care. It is elements like reading, taking a walk, and engaging in a community that are the real ways we gain wisdom. 

Could it be that as knowledge-workers we are really seeking things like wisdom, and as we do we actually become more productive as a by-product?

I had many more things to say about this topic, but I am feeling a bit confused and convoluted right now….

I think I will go for a walk.

Are You Drowning the Creativity in Those You Lead?

Are you fostering creativity in your organization? What climate are you setting that impacts the creativity of those under your leadership?

Are the tactics you are employing as a leader stifling or fostering creativity and innovation?

Hard questions, but the ones that help us grow as leaders are usually the toughest.

At the end of this article, you will be able to download a free self-assessment checklist that will give you insight into these hard questions.


Creativity and Climate: Both Affected by the Leader

A recent article1 in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies caught my eye. The authors provide primary research on the effects of scenario planning on people's perceptions of a creative organizational climate.

Basically the question is, "Does the task of scenario planning help people's perceptions of the creative climate in their organization?"

Scenario planning, for those of you not familiar, are activities designed to explore what can happen in an organization in the future. These exercises are said to foster a supportive climate because lots of opinions are sought, many diverse ideas are valued, and there is freedom to explore ideas and to be innovative in the utilization of the ideas.

An interesting question. Does a task like scenario planning improve creativity?

The Importance of the Task

The TASK. This is what caught my eye.

Can just doing an activity give birth to a creative climate in an organization?

I will spare you all the details and just get right to the point of the research. Here is what the authors conclude:

"While this study has found partial support for the hypothesis that scenario planning has an effect on creative organizational climate, specific expected dimensions of creative organizational climate did not show significant changes.”

The task itself did not impact creative organizational climate.

What is fascinating to me is that the task of scenario planning is designed to foster this creative environment but does not always.

Gut check time...

The question in my mind, if we are unsure about the task and its role in fostering a creative organizational climate, is what else could cultivate this type of environment?

It has been well documented for years by early researchers like Maslow, Herzberg, and Knowles that people will naturally seek challenges to expand their skills and expertise. Research has shown that when employees have increased opportunities to engage in activities like strategy and innovation, they have a greater sense of motivation and engagement (Meissner & Wulf, 2012). I am not saying that involving people in tasks like scenario planning is not important. IT IS. Giving people rich development experiences is always valuable in creating leaders in your organization.

Important Tasks Are Not Enough

The point of this research is that just engaging followers in the task, or giving them the developmental experience, is not enough.

What about the impact that YOU as the leader have? Could it be that it is YOU who is establishing the culture, and climate that have a direct effect on creativity?

Is it possible that your leadership has a direct influence on the creativity of those who follow you?

In a nutshell, the answer is yes!

The Leader and Innovation

In a three-way interaction of transformational leadership, employee identification with the leader, and innovative climate, Wang and Rode (2010) found that each of these elements is associated with employee creativity.

Leader, it is YOU!

1. How you lead (transformational leadership) 2. How you connect (employee identification with the leader) 3. How you set the climate for your team

These three elements together are vital to employee creativity.

Consider the tasks you involve people in, for sure. However, self-examination around the impact we are having on followers deserves as much attention as the tasks we involve followers in.

Questions For Self-Reflection

Here are three questions for reflection:

1. Leader, you matter in creating the climate in your organization.  You set the pace. How are you doing? 2. Your relationship with your followers matters. You are responsible for them being able to identify with you. How are you doing? 3. Their creativity is influenced by the innovative climate you are creating. How are you doing?

Valuable Resource (and it is FREE)

Need a resource to assess if you are fostering creative employees? Click here for a free download of our Fostering Creative Employees Check-list.

If I can be of any service to you, or you want to chat, send me an email at and we will set up a time to connect.


1 Thomas J. Chermack, Laura M. Coons, Kim Nimon, Peggy Bradley, and Margaret B. Glick

The Effects of Scenario Planning on Participant Perceptions of Creative Organizational Climate Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 1548051815582225, first published on April 21, 2015 doi:10.1177/1548051815582225

Meissner, P., & Wulf, T. (2012). Cognitive benefits of scenario planning: Its impact on biases and decision quality. Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 80, 801-814.

Peng Wang and Joseph C Rode.Transformational leadership and follower creativity: The moderating effects of identification with leader and organizational climate Human Relations August 2010 63: 1105-1128, doi:10.1177/0018726709354132