Senior Advisor, Global Affairs at American Benefits Council. Global HR expert developing innovative HR and benefits strategies.

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For leaders who are constantly juggling priorities, people and tasks, productivity is the name of the game. Personally, I bring my best self to work when I’m following three simple principles that make me feel healthier, more engaged and more productive. Some are easy tweaks whereas others have taken time to master, but all of them may help you focus better, accomplish more and be a stronger leader.

1. Start each day with a solid foundation.

If you are in the restaurant business, you know that preparation means everything. You need to have your tables set, ensure the correct amount of food is in the fridge and preheat the oven. Students know that the real work is in the preparation — the studying before a test. Whether you work in a kitchen, a classroom or behind a desk, preparation is essential to productivity and success.

Getting enough sleep is a critical step in preparing for your day. The National Sleep Foundation advises that adults should get seven to nine hours per night. The CDC, Mayo Clinic and others agree with these numbers. But good sleep is about more than mere productivity. Research tells us that those who don’t get enough sleep have a greater risk of being in a workplace accident and may experience worse symptoms of depression.

Getting adequate rest may require thinking of it as a job with its own rules, tasks and routines. First, try to eliminate stress: The quality of your sleep is important, but worrying about getting a good night’s sleep will only be frustrating and counterproductive. Second, follow a regular ritual before bed, for example: shower, brush your teeth, floss and stretch. Third, develop a consistent sleep schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. I have a crying baby who wakes up every day at 6 a.m. If I’m not in bed by 10 p.m. the night before, I feel it the next day.

A smart post-sleep routine is just as important. I take an hour-long walk before breakfast, but even a 15- or 30-minute walk is enough to promote good energy levels throughout the day for many of us. Your body also needs fuel, and breakfast is the fuel that will carry you through the morning. I subscribe to the wisdom of nutritionist Adele Davis, who famously said to “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” 

A solid daily foundation can help you be sharper when it’s time to show up for a board meeting or be on a webinar interview with the candidate you want to attract to your organization. I know my own Zoom fatigue is reduced when I get a good night’s sleep.

2. Increase your energy output.

Once you’ve accomplished your pre-work routine and arrived safely at your office (perhaps in the next room), there is still more prep. This generally doesn’t take most of us that long. I get my cup of coffee and a large bottle of water and then head to my desk. I hook up my laptop on either my treadmill desk or sit-down desk and I’m set for the next task. 

While there really is no such thing as multitasking, there is a means to accomplish two goals at once. For example, if I operate my treadmill desk at the right pace, I’m able to walk unconsciously while I consciously work. You might try taking a walk while listening in on a call or standing rather than sitting while attending a meeting for a similar effect.

Getting a moderate amount of exercise that generates circulation to your brain allows you to be more focused and mentally productive. I know this may sound like you’re a human machine, but essentially, that’s what your body is. You have to take care of this machine to get the most out of it. It’s your greatest asset. Like any machine, however, don’t overdo it. Moderation is the key to keeping it running for a lifetime.

Don’t be surprised if you see an immediate change in your attitude toward your people, the amount of energy you bring to meetings and how much more engaged you are. Engaged leaders make for more engaged employees, and engaged employees are good for your bottom line. A Gallup study of nearly 200 organizations found that companies with the highest levels of employee engagement were 22% more profitable and 21% more productive than those with low levels of engagement.

3. Accept who you are.

Oscar Wilde is believed to have said, “Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.” The most unproductive thing you can do as a leader is beat yourself up for failing or not accepting who you are. There are dozens of productivity experts who will tell you how to live your life. But if you’re not in a place to learn or adapt to change, even the best advice simply may not work for you.

It took me years to accept who I am, my working habits, my faults, my gifts. I wrote a book on how to work smart. Logically, I know that following every tip in the book would make me more productive, and yet I just can’t do them all. For example, I suggest looking at your email only twice a day. However, that doesn’t work for me most days. But what I can do is check my emails in the morning, get to inbox zero and then work off my task list. 

Conclusion

I’m sure you’ve read no shortage of productivity tips from endless sources. If you’ve been able to adopt a single tip, you’re way ahead of the game. It’s very hard to change habits or develop new ones. But if you aim to make progress in one or a few small areas at a time, you can set yourself up for success. Leveling up your productivity will make you a stronger HR professional and you’ll be able to lead your people toward improving themselves. After all, isn’t that what HR is all about?


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