Simply putting in big hours does not cut it. Time spent at a task is not a proxy for productivity, never will be. The individuals in any organisation that compete for the status as being the last to leave each day, do not always represent the most effective. My brother once joked about his concern that if his CEO’s car broke down on the down ramp in their car park there would be an almighty accident. All those who waiting for the CEO to leave for the day, would simply crash into rear end of his car.
The real stars are those who bring high levels of energy (and of course competence) to the most important tasks. Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr in their book The Power of Full Engagement argue if you start matching your energy to your task it is the key to excelling. “Every one of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours has an energy consequence,” they write. “The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet, but rather how much energy we invest in the time that we have.”
A BBC report from a few years ago referenced research that found the top 10% of employees within a technology organisation that had the highest productivity didn’t put in longer hours than anyone else – often they didn’t even work eight-hour days. Instead, the key to their productivity was that for every 52 minutes of focused work, they took a 17-minute break. They re-charged.
One thing COVID has opened up for individuals is the opportunity to work from home, and around zoom meetings create their own work rhythm. Building highly focused bursts interspersed with timely breaks has never been more accessible. The smart ones may well be having an early afternoon siesta. No one is judging. Whatever the strategy, the question top of mind should be how am I managing my energy and am I applying it to the most important tasks. How effectively do I focus systematically on activities that offer the most long-term leverage?
The length of the break to re-charge is less important than the quality. It is possible to get a great deal of recovery in a short time—as little as several minutes—if it allows you to disengage from work and truly change channels.
Personally, I have always tried to create the opportunity for physically activity in the middle of the day. A lunch time gym visit, swim or run has the effect of making you feel you are starting your day over again. Totally re-charged.
Finally, I was once coaching an executive who believed they personally had a ‘big tank’. Yes, they had lots and lots of get up and go. But it was not endless. It had to be managed. Regardless of your natural disposition, one has to always ponder if you are optimising the effective use of the significant energy that has been gifted. There is much to be gained by monitoring and managing how you are firing. The right level of energy, combined with the right focus, is a powerful combo.