Are you working at your optimum productivity levels? Not likely. A new study shows that even though business leaders’ energy levels are rising, their productivity isn’t following suit.
Research done at the USC Center for Effective Organizations found that 82 percent of business leaders aren’t working at their ideal energy levels. Sixty-one percent felt they were working below their best energy level, while 21 percent felt they were working above their ideal energy level.
Yes, charging too hard can actually cause your productivity to decline, the study’s author says. Even if you’re feeling energetic and enthusiastic, keep up that pace, and you’ll start to make mistakes, lose perspective and ultimately burn out.
At the other end of the scale, when you’re working below your ideal energy level, you start to avoid challenges. As a result, you get bored and your energy drops even more. (Ironically, the study found this problem more common in higher-level executives, such as CEOs.)
The study's findings have valuable lessons for both you and your team about the importance of managing your energy levels for optimum (but not necessarily maximum) productivity. Here are seven steps you and your employees can take to better manage your energy levels to produce the most effective results.
1. Work to boost your confidence. Research shows that a drop in confidence often accompanies a failure to optimize your energy. Which one causes the other isn’t clear, but taking small steps to improve your confidence can help energize you. One way to do that is to try to learn something new every day without going overboard. Information overload can drain your energy and make you feel overwhelmed. Select specific areas to focus on, and take a practical approach—learn just as much as you need to help you improve your business.
2. Monitor your energy levels. We all have different internal rhythms: Some of us are night owls, while others’ brains shut down after 10 p.m. To find out what time of day your energy levels are at their peak, try setting your smartphone to beep every hour and note what you’re doing, how your energy is and what might have affected it, such as whether you just ate a huge, carb-heavy lunch. At the end of a week, assess your notes and look for patterns.
3. Don’t force it. Once you know your natural energy rhythms, try to honor them. If you experience a 3 p.m. slump every day, for example, trying to power through it will do more harm than good. You won’t be working efficiently, your results will be poor, and you’ll drain even more energy from your mind and body. Instead, during a slump time, try taking a quick walk, doing stretches in your office or even taking a power nap for 10 to 20 minutes.
4. Adjust accordingly. You don’t have to be a slave to your energy levels, of course. Test different ways of energizing yourself, such as exercising, eating different foods, getting lots of water or sleeping more, to find out what works best for you. One of my friends finally motivated herself to work out every morning when she realized that doing so eliminated the 3 p.m. slump that had plagued her for years.
5. Strike a balance. It’s important to remember that “maximum” doesn’t mean “optimum.” When you’re bouncing off the walls, you may be at your maximum energy level, but you’re not operating at optimum productivity. Don’t aim to become a nonstop robot. Instead, learn to balance intense productivity with slower, “brainless” activities or breaks.
6. Stave off boredom. If your business is in a slump, boredom can easily set in. Maybe you don’t feel like you can take time off (because you’re worried about the slump), but you have nothing to do (so you piddle around doing busywork). Now's the time to challenge your brain by learning new skills, seeking out new connections or planning new moves for your business, and you’ll soon find your energy revitalizing.
7. Get personal. Don’t just talk the talk about energy management—walk the walk, but make sure employees feel like they can, too. As the study’s author notes, there’s a lot of hype about ways to work that are more sustainable and more human-paced, but too many of them are confined to CEOs or elite employees. Whenever possible, give all your employees the freedom to choose their best use of time and optimize their energy levels. Don’t make them feel guilty if they’re taking a break while you’re charging hard, because the roles will reverse soon enough.
For a fascinating look at the wildly different ways some famous creative thinkers optimized their energy levels, check out this interactive infographic.
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