Last week I went with my kids to see “Flight of the Butterflies” at the Natural History Museum. The movie tells the story of the Monarch Butterflies’ annual migration from the northern US and Canada to a very specific place in Mexico. Amazing. It got me thinking about nature’s power, its potential…and its limitations.
Also last week, there was an article in the New York Times by Tony Schwartz, a coach who focuses on energy and productivity in the workplace. He advocates taking frequent breaks at work, getting enough sleep and exercise, eating right, and taking more vacation as a means to increase productivity. Years ago I worked at an organization where we all stopped for lunch at a communal table. Not only did it build trust and camaraderie. The pause made it feel like we had two short days, and I always felt as refreshed going into the afternoon as I had in the morning. We were extremely productive.
You may laugh reading this. After all, most of us work in contexts where the output levels of high-productivity periods that were only ever meant to be short-term, have become the norm. Companies are pressured to do more with fewer resources and by default, defer that pressure to employees. Another recent article by McKinsey called “Making Time Management the Organization’s Priority” says that we overspend our time, then expect to make up the difference using efficiency techniques. We take the productivity lessons from efficiency and effectiveness gurus, without taking into consideration that those gurus also get plenty of down time, exercise and fun.
Intellectually, we know it’s true. Beyond a certain level of stress, our effectiveness declines. But what can we do in a pressured work environment? Here is an exercise to try. Think of a goal you have for 2013. Think of the deadline you would like to set for this goal. Now, rather than work backwards from the goal, go the other way. Outline the steps required to achieve the goal, from today, and the time they will need. Add in exercise, lunch, a manageable work schedule, vacation, and all of the other work you have to do. Now what is the new deadline? In a perfect world, you may be able to use this information to re-prioritize and/or get an extension from your boss or client. In a less perfect world, you may have to negotiate between the two deadlines and reduce or eliminate some of the other goals you have. At least you will be informed and making a conscious choice.
Work hard, play hard, and get some rest!
See you next month,