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Did you unplug a bit this summer? Lately I have noticed that when you ask people how they're doing, they don’t generally use the word “productive” in their response. The word that often does come up, however, is “busy”. As you can imagine, when you feel extremely busy but don’t feel productive, the overall result is a sense of growing frustration. With the new normal of being in touch 24/7 with online access, digital communication, and streaming media, the pace can seem absolutely relentless. It’s enough to make you want to scream (like ‘80s weight-loss celeb Susan Powter) “Stop the insanity!”

Research is showing higher stress levels at work, less-than-ideal levels of engagement (~30%), and increasing incidence of mental and physical health challenges. None of that is surprising given the pace at which we attack our schedules, and how little time we carve out in it for ourselves. Studies have shown that more than 40% of American workers did not take all of their allotted time off last year (and Canadian stats likely aren’t much different), yet there is ample evidence that we are more productive and engaged at work when we take time for rest and recreation.

This summer I took more time to unplug from my usual role, and made an effort to prioritize some other aspects of life. I spent time with family in sunny Punta Cana, attended and hosted several family events, and completed the acquisition of another investment property (another one of my passion areas). While relaxing at the Royalton Hotel in Punta Cana (more on that in a future blog), went to the gym every other day, hiked, walked the beach, visited the huge waterpark with my family, and got into a few books that really sparked my creative process.

The more you look at the research and observe the chaos of today’s organizations, the more you can see the value of 2 habits that Dr. Steven Covey discussed in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

  1. Sharpen the Saw
    This habit is illustrated with the story of a lumberjack, who was so busy cutting down trees that he did not have time to stop and sharpen his saw. He labored away with his increasingly dull saw, producing less and less in the way of results. Likewise, your tired and overworked team members may be operating on diminished capacity, with an accompanying decline in productivity.

  2. Put First Things First
    This habit is based on Covey’s insightful 4-quadrant time management model (There's an image included at the bottom of this post, but if you’ve never heard of it, do a quick Google search – it’s worth the effort). Too often we spend time in the unproductive quadrants, #1 (Putting out fires – important and urgent) and #4 (Busywork - unimportant and not urgent). Instead, we need to expand the amount of time we spend in quadrant #2 – with things that are important, but not urgent. This would include planning, prevention, recreation, relationship building, and seeking out new opportunities.

Managers/Team Members, when coaching yourselves and others, “Stop the Insanity” and ensure you have regular time for recreation and to unplug. Do whatever works for you - exercise, pray, meditate, read, walk, run. You can’t lead well when tired and stressed. You can’t give away that which you don’t have – so start with you.

Do you have staff members that are looking tired or burned out? It won't be long before they disengage, if they haven't already. When leading/coaching others, challenge them to reflect on their time usage and a productivity plan that includes time for recreation and unplugging. You will enhance engaged productivity in yourself and the others that you lead when you sharpen the saw and be intentional about productive prioritization. 

Make it an awesome week - I'm off to the gym...

In the spirit of Growth,

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Stevev Covey's 4 Quadrants:

quadrant 4 time management