Episode 286 Unlocking Peak Performance: The Power of Sustainable Productivity


Discover the link between sustainable productivity, personal fulfilment, and business success in this compelling episode of Reimagining Success.

In this week’s episode, we’re delving into the world of sustainable productivity. The fast-paced modern office environment, coupled with evolving work dynamics, has made personal productivity more crucial than ever. With the rise of hybrid and remote working, along with the constant demands on our time, the challenge of managing priorities has become increasingly complex. Despite the abundance of time management resources, burnout rates are on the rise, leaving many feeling overwhelmed and disengaged. Anna explains the impact of low employee engagement on the global economy and highlights the importance of addressing personal productivity from both an individual and organisational standpoint. Join us as we explore the different levels of productivity within organisations and the interconnectedness of productivity, performance, and engagement. Anna shares valuable insights into the proactive, long-term approach needed for sustainable productivity, and introduces the critical strategies of prioritising, planning, and protecting. This episode sets the stage for a comprehensive exploration of personal productivity, focusing on managing time, energy, and attention.

00:00 Balancing work, personal life for productivity and wellbeing.

06:20 Addressing burnout and disengagement through strategies.

08:33 Aligning vision, strategy, innovation for lasting value.

13:17 Utilise energy peaks for priority tasks effectively.

15:23 Enjoy this series, see you next week.

*Resources mentioned during the episode*
1:1 Coaching & Mentoring – If you’re looking for one-to-one support to help you achieve your specific life and business goals, Anna has a limited number of spots for individual coaching and mentoring. www.onestepoutside.com/coaching

Sustainable Productivity

The world today is incredibly fast paced and the work environment is evolving more than ever. And the more I get into this, the more I believe that personal productivity is absolutely crucial to living a life that feels rewarding and fulfilling, to having job satisfaction, to feeling engaged with work and to getting the things done that we want to get done. So really focusing on what matters, and that’s of vital importance, both for us as individuals, of course, but also then as a company, as a society where we need to be focusing on what really matters. And in particular, of course, since the pandemic, we’ve had this acceleration towards hybrid and working from home. There are all these technological advancements with AI and so on. So we just have more and more challenges in managing our priorities with all these relentless demands on our time, but hopefully also more opportunities to do so. So even though there are so many training topics, training materials, books and so on, hacks on time management, burnout rates unfortunately continue to rise and we feel overwhelmed.

We feel we are stretched thin. So if we look at some statistics, and I’m sure these won’t be too shocking to you, one in two employees are open to leaving their organisation. The two biggest areas of dissatisfaction are actually engagement in culture on the one hand, and well being and work life balance on the other. We hear about these trends of quiet quitting, so not being engaged, and that’s more than half of employees at the moment, and loud quitting, which is when they’re really actively disengaged. And in fact, if we want to quantify this low employee engagement cost the global economy $8.8 trillion. So whether we care altruistically about people’s health and stress and burnout and so on, or with our organisational hats on, we care about absenteeism, turnover, productivity, or we’re economists and politicians who care about the global economy, this is an incredibly, incredibly critical topic to look at. And again, despite all that training and all this awareness of this topic, we still have this sense of overwhelm. We still feel torn into two, in fact, more than two.

We’re torn in all these different directions with all the different roles we have. And speaking of roles, we have these blurred boundaries now between work and personal life in this remote era. And that’s not just since the pandemic, that’s really since digital tools became available in the so, work life balance, maintaining that kind of sense of balance, and even as I call it, work life integration, has become increasingly elusive. But we are seeing more of an emphasis being placed in organisations on employee well being. There’s definitely a growing recognition of the importance of addressing this concept of personal productivity. And again, if you need any more justification of the importance of this topic, research really does show that employees who feel that they are empowered to manage their own time, their workload, so they’re more autonomous and free, are more engaged, more resilient and more productive, and that leads to improved business outcomes. Competitive advantage, which is also critical in the highly competitive landscape today, both in terms of products as well as in terms of talent. And so if we look at the workplace, and I use that term quite broadly, to include people in the office, people at home, people working for themselves, really, we’re all kind of operating at different levels of productivity, different levels of engagement, and so we’re each contributing differently to the success of the business or the organisation.

And we covered this in the last few weeks of the podcast. If you want to double click on any of these kind of levels, then do go back to the last few weeks. At one end of the spectrum, we have the extreme overwhelm, where individuals are burned out. So really facing challenges. If not burned out, then burning out, facing challenges in maintaining performance, disengaged, certainly through no fault of their own, and not making a huge contribution to the business, to the organisation. They’re completely overwhelmed by the demands of their roles and health issues. And then you’ve got the sort of disengaged people, but they’re kind of delivering there. Towards the bottom end of the spectrum, you’ve then got the core engine really, of the organisation who are getting things done, they’re meeting expectations, but could they be caught in that busy work trap? Are they really making a difference in a bigger sense, in the sense of innovation and preparing for future and so on, and then at the top end of the spectrum, you have those star players who are really delivering exceptional results, driving innovation, fostering that culture of high performance among their colleagues.

So being role models, not just delivering themselves, but really being those leaders for the organisation. And of course, as you find yourself as an employee at different places along that spectrum, your impact on the business will evolve. Of course, it goes without saying that if you’re struggling with burnout or feeling highly disengaged, you may unfortunately contribute to inefficiencies and a broader sense of reduced morale within your team, because there’s that kind of emotional social contagion, and that will lead to even more decreased productivity and retention issues. Then if you again look at the other end of the spectrum, those individuals who have, and I hesitate to use the word mastered, because that’s an impossible task, but at least have sought to master personal productivity and are operating at higher levels of engagement. They become really invaluable assets to the organisation. And by the way, again, this matters to the company, but also to us as individuals, because we’ll get more fulfilment out of it, we’ll be rewarded and we’ll be progressing in our careers as well. So it’s all good news all around. And so as leaders, we need to recognise that diversity of employee experiences and of course look for or provide support, depending on where we are in the organisation, accordingly.

And that could mean looking at strategies, of course, and there are more and more well being initiatives and so on to address burnout and disengagement. It could be more around providing career development opportunities, skill development, growth, learning and development. And it could be at, and should be probably at a higher level as well, fostering the broader culture that values, that work life balance and well being, where we’re all role modelling these values. And it’s not just kind of culture on a piece of paper. And so that is the only way, I’d say, that organisations can unlock the full potential of their business and of the individuals working there and drive success in a sustainable and more holistic way in the competitive landscape today. But if we look at that sort of bottom end of the productivity spectrum, why are so many of us unable to progress and raise ourselves above that sort of operational stuff, the tasks, the things that we’re so busy doing to focus on making a more valuable contribution to the organisation? Well, unfortunately, in the fast paced dynamic landscape of today, more than ever before, there is this incredible pressure to deliver immediate results. And so it’s so easy to have that reactive mindset where priorities are shifting with each crisis that gets thrown at us. So we have this really short term focus.

We find ourselves in a cycle of busyness, busy, busy, busy, just chasing our tail, ticking off tasks on our to do list, just dealing with whatever last minute changes and the projects that are being thrown at us. And productivity becomes almost synonymous just for staying afloat rather than actually making meaningful progress towards long term goals. Again, both from the organizational’s perspective and from the individual. So organisations will find themselves in that kind of constant firefighting mode. They’ll be spending and, dare I say it, wasting resources only on immediate issues. And that comes at the expense of future growth. So you’ve got sort of best case busy work, worst case survival mode. So sustainable productivity for the long term will only come if we can have a more proactive, long term approach to business operations.

And that means setting clear visions. It means aligning activities with our strategic objectives and it means investing in more lasting value. And again, that requires really a culture of foresight and innovation and positioning ourselves in a way that’s going to thrive in the face of uncertainty and adversity. And if I finish on this today, again, if we look at traditional productivity being measured as output per unit of input in terms of labour, that really overlooks the broader factors that affect how we perform as individuals, as teams, as organisations. And traditional time management just isn’t enough. There are so many books now. One of my favourites is Oliver Berkman’s 4000 weeks, which is the number of weeks we will live on average, which really comes face to face with the inevitability of life being short, time, being finite, and therefore we are mortal, I think he calls it in his subtitle, time management for mere mortals. So recognising that, and we will never get through a whole to do list, and that’s not the point.

So we need to become so disciplined and mercenary in deleting tasks, refocusing and making sure we’re actually focusing on what matters. But even then, it is not only about effective time management. Yes, that’s important, but it’s also about managing our energy and managing our attention. So yes, managing our time means we do need to prioritise tasks, we need to set clear goals, we need to optimise our schedule to maximise productivity. But although that’s really critical for productivity, that’s not enough. It’s just one piece of the puzzle. So then we also need to manage our energy levels effectively, because an hour in the morning when I’m at my most focused is very different to an hour at the end of the day when I’m exhausted, just put the kids to bed and so on. We’ve got the post lunch carb slump, perhaps.

We’ve got sort of the frazzled state that we end up in after back to back meetings. That all affects how we perform. Our energy naturally fluctuates throughout the day and then impacts our focus and decision making. So understanding our natural energy rhythms, optimising them, can help us really maximise how we perform and again help to prevent burnout as well. And then finally attention. Maintaining focus in the midst of all these external demands, digital distractions, email, social media, phones, et cetera, is so, so challenging and more and more so. And so, again, sort of true productivity involves actually being engaged in our work, not just having time blocked to work on something, but we need to be engaged, we need to find meaning in the work we’re doing. We need to be prioritising tasks that really have a high value, that will make a difference, and then philtre and focus to get rid of those distractions, or at least minimise them so we really can channel our attention into, again, what matters most.

And so to do all this, I talk about three things we need to do, really, and it sounds so, so simple, but it is so critical to unlocking, I think, our performance as individuals and organisations, our engagement and our well being. And that’s, number one, prioritising, number two, planning, and number three, protecting. So just the last couple of minutes, just want to go through those three strategies. So if we imagine we have our time, we have our energy, we have our attention. The first thing we need to do to philtre, all those external demands, is to understand what our priorities are. That’s absolutely fundamental to everything else. We need to know what truly matters, and that includes both our work projects and our broader life goals. It can include things like health and family and personal interests and so on.

Right. Clear priorities is what will allow us to direct our time and attention towards the activities that align with our values and our objectives, and that will then in turn foster a greater sense of purpose and fulfilment. While good news for business owners and organisations, we also meet our business targets. So prioritising is as critical from a big picture life meaning perspective as it is from the perspective of work plan and projects in the office. The second one is planning. And planning is really proactively, and that’s a really key word, proactively organising our time and energy. It means that we’re scheduling tasks and activities. Yes, based on their importance and urgency.

We hopefully all know Stephen Covey’s urgent and important philtre, his Eisenhower matrix, as it’s also been called, and aligning those tasks with our energy levels. So if we know when we have our peak energy moments, and it might be first thing in the morning, it might be sort of eleven till one or so, it could be later in the day. But if you identify those peak moments and allocate them to the most important, high priority, creative, strategic thinking work, deep work, as Cal Newport might call it, then we can be more efficient and effective in actually accomplishing meaningful work without getting distracted. And then finally protect. We’ve prioritised, we’ve planned and we’re now protecting our energy and attention. And that means that we’re safeguarding our mental and physical well being. Setting boundaries to preserve our energy, prioritising self care activities and creating crafting environments that are actually conducive to that focus and deep work. If we can minimise the external distractions, if we can prioritise our energy reserves, then we can sustain our productivity and try to avoid burnout as well.

So, again, coming back to the beginning, really, we want to understand the link between productivity, performance and engagement. The danger of that reactive short term thinking of the busy work and just kind of trying to survive. Basically, we’re firefighting. There’s no strategic direction, we’re risking burnout or best case, there’s kind of frantic activity. But lack of progress on important goals and sustainable personal productivity really comes from not just managing time, but also energy and attention. And to do that, we need those three strategic imperatives, which are one, prioritise, two, plan and three, protect. I’ll leave it there. But over the next few weeks, we’ll be digging into each of those building blocks, double clicking on the meswear in terms of managing your time, first of all, because, yes, it is still important managing your energy and managing your attention.

So hope you’ll enjoy this little series on personal productivity. I’ll see you next week. Bye for now.


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If you’re looking for one-to-one support to help you achieve your specific life and business goals, Anna has a limited number of spots for individual coaching and mentoring.


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