growth

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.  

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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?

And…

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.

When Negative Self-Talk Creeps In

A good friend of mine (and an avid reader and commenter on this blog,) Ken, submitted my name as a speaker for an organization he is affiliated with. He emailed me asking if I would consider giving a talk and facilitating a dialogue on the value of emotional intelligence (EI). I am always humbled when anyone thinks that I might have something valuable to say when it comes to EI. It is one of my favorite subjects to talk about, and I often use the EQi 2.0 in training programs I do and with almost every coaching client I work with does a self-assessment that shows them what their leadership habits may appear like to others.

Now, here is what you need to know about Ken. His job is to serve as a hospice chaplain in Polk County Florida. His request was for me to come and speak to a group of his peers and his boss on the subject of how EI can be of value to a hospital chaplain.

Gulp! I have to admit, the email produced mixed feelings in me. Like I said above, I was humbled for sure, but scared out of my pants as well. Hospice chaplains...really?! While I might know something about EI, my immediate “knee-jerk” reaction was, I don’t know anything about hospice chaplains!

Then the negative self-talk started to creep in:

  • You’re no expert in hospice care.
  • What do you know about how to fit EI into their world?
  • You have never even studied EI in this context, what if there is no data?
  • Your not a very good public speaker.
  • Maybe you should call him up and back out.

Now, am I the only one this happens too? When you are hit with a complex, tension-filled situation what do you do? Do you immediately become filled with fear, anxiety, and self-doubt? How do you stop the negative self-talk from creeping in and taking over your thinking?

Here is a quick and easy method that I use when this happens to me: I use an acronym I call "STOP." It is a four step method that helps me turn my negative thinking into a more positive and constructive use of my time and energy.

STOP

Stop: Do something to interrupt the cycle of negative thinking.

Take a deep breath: Breathing relaxes your tension, releases dopamine, and calms you down to think more clearly.

Other focused: Exercise empathy and become curious about what it is like to be in the other person's shoes.

Purpose a question: Asking questions can have a calming effect and bring you more into a zone of safety than one of fear.

Here is how the model helped me get rid of the negative thinking and increase my confidence in this situation:

When I first noticed the negative thinking creeping into my mind with the thought, you’re no expert in hospice, I should have taken the time to put this model into effect. Unfortunately, even though I teach this stuff, I got all the way down to, maybe you should call him and back out before I put this into practice.

Stop: Psychologists call this pattern interrupt. I noticed the negative thinking and I did something physical to draw attention away from the negative thought. In this case, I was sitting down when I read the email. When I finally noticed the negativity, I stood up. I concentrated on doing something different. Distract yourself away from the source of negativity.

Take a deep breath: When I stood up, I took several yoga style breaths. Focused on bringing my belly button to my spine. I actually could feel myself starting to calm down. This is often when I will also say a prayer, asking God for wisdom as I navigate these treacherous negative waters. I distracted myself from the negativity for a moment. That is the goal with this step.

Other Focused: I tried to take the thoughts off of myself and my shortcomings. I put my thoughts onto Ken and his team instead. I began to think, what might they need from a model like emotional intelligence? What value could it bring them? Notice the questions starting to form when I start to turn my thinking from self-referential to other-focused.

Purpose a question: I crafted an email back to Ken asking him, what are some common situations that hospital chaplains find themselves in where they need more EI? What had other speakers done that the chaplains found valuable? How had he used EI in his work as a hospice chaplain?

I noticed, then, that my fear and anxiety were dissipating into curiosity. I was moving from a lack of self-consciousness into a state of confidence by focusing on the value I could bring to this group of dedicated servants.

Self-Actualization and Optimism

According to authors Steven J. Stein and Howard E. Book, EI always exists in balance. This is pretty easy to see when we think about a leader who is very self-confident but lacks any empathy or interpersonal ability. We often put a label on a leader who has this balance of qualities as being someone who is arrogant at best, and a real narcissist on the more clinical side of the psychology

In my case, I am usually a fairly self-perceptive person. This means that in part, I get a lot of meaning and purpose out of my life and the work I do. This is a real strength for me.

Most of the time I am optimistic, which means I have a positive outlook on the future and am fairly resilient in the face of setbacks. However, this ability can come into question, especially when fear or anxiety enter the stage. My optimism can turn into a negative downward spiral of self-critical thinking.

What I need when I am faced with these fears and anxieties is to balance my self-actualization and my waning level of optimism.

The STOP model helps me to put the brakes on the negative thinking, so I can use all the meaning and purpose I get in my life to teach and coach emotional intelligence, regaining my level of optimism.

I am happy to report that Ken and I have a call scheduled to talk through what value EI can bring to the hospice chaplains and the talk is scheduled for mid-April.

Homework: Where do fear and anxiety creep into your leadership? Can you anticipate when these events occur? When you feel your thoughts going negative, try using the STOP model to see if it can bring you back into emotional balance.