Managing Energy and Setting Boundaries for Productivity
An ocean of digital ink has been spilled about the phrase “quiet quitting,” and what it signifies or doesn’t. One interpretation is about setting appropriate work-life boundaries. Having the right boundaries — knowing when to say “no” and when to say “yes” can build leaders and teams’ productivity, but that’s not the only successful approach to getting more done.
Recently a client moved into a head of sales role at a new company in a new industry. The learning curve was steep and the job was demanding. He started to struggle with productivity to the point that it was affecting his sleep and his job performance. We went back to basics with a time study to really understand how the hours in his day were being spent so that he could focus on his priorities: time with family, exercising, sleeping and working. Once he understood how he was using his time, he was able to make different decisions. He stopped attending certain meetings and delegated more work. He relied on an approach that many clients have found helpful “only do what only you can do,” which can create more time for strategic work. By taking these actions, he started seeing better results at work and was able to make the case for increased headcount. Even more importantly, he was back to his normal sleep schedule.
You could try a time study or just build your awareness around your energy patterns. Get to know how your energy ebbs and flows over the course of a day. Is there a time where you have greater capacity for deep work? How can you use lower energy times to your advantage? This type of self-awareness is part of strengthening your emotional intelligence (EQ), and it can also lead to more productive days. For example, many people find their minds are clearest at the start of the day and this time is ideal for more complex, strategic work. Post-lunch tends to be a lull in energy for these same people so they might be better suited to doing simpler, task-oriented or routine work at that time of day. Other people may find that early afternoon is the time they prefer to do their most stimulating work — perhaps one-on-one meetings or other relationship-oriented work. I have several resources on this topic on my productivity booklist including WHEN by Daniel Pink.
Some people find value (no pun intended) from assigning an hourly rate to their time. Another approach to this is to look at the opportunity cost of doing something. What will be delayed or left undone if you spend your time on a routine task instead of more strategic work? This is not to indicate that certain work is beneath them, unimportant or unworthy of their attention. Rather, it is to help prioritize work and understand what might more effectively and efficiently be delegated. Strong leaders can also help their managers, supervisors and team members understand this for their own work, increasing the productivity of the whole team by ensuring that the best person is doing each component of the necessary work.
When talking about productivity, the topic of meetings always comes up. It is a rare leader or organization that says, “we have the right number of meetings and they are effective.” Typically, people at all levels are spending more time than is productive in meetings. The phrase “this meeting could have been an email” is popular for good reason. Evaluate how you use and attend meetings. Are people coming together to make a strategic decision? That might be a good reason for a meeting. For the meetings that you continue to hold, meeting objectives, agendas and clarity on expectations for attendees can transform the meeting experience.
On a related note, consider shifting the increasingly outdated notion that presence equates to productivity — aka facetime or butts in chairs is the sign of a good employee or a good team. In the world of work from home and asynchronous communication work happens differently. A focus on results rather than hours can transform team dynamics and workplace engagement.
Finally, resetting your sense of urgency can relieve a lot of pressure and create space for productivity. Not every email needs an immediate response. Batching routine work allows leaders and team members to have more focused time for deep and strategic work, which is essential for team performance and reducing burnout.
Whether you take a close look at boundaries for yourself or your team, let a few emails rest in your inbox or cancel some meetings that have outlived their usefulness, you are taking meaningful steps toward a more productive work experience. As always, if you are making significant changes in your approach to work, communicate with your team about what they can expect and how to provide feedback on what’s working or where they need more support. If you or your team want more support on setting boundaries, managing your energy and finding a level of productivity that works for you, I can help.