When I was in college, I took a summer job working at a small engine repair shop (e.g., chainsaws, lawnmowers, go-carts, and so on). This by itself is comical, because I am one of the most non-mechanical people I know. Fortunately, they hired me as a parts clerk rather than as a repairman.
My boss, however, was a very unhappy person. And he let everyone know it. He didn’t think twice about arguing with customers or chewing out his staff—in public. I was on the receiving end of his flame-throwing tongue on more than one occasion.
On more than one occasion, I’ve heard Andy Stanley say, “The best thing a leader can bring to his team is his energy.” I agree. This has certainly been my experience.
As a leader, everything you do is contagious. If you are discouraged, pessimistic, or lacking in energy, people will feel it. The organization will reflect it. It will spread faster than an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
If you’re a leader, you’re going to attract critics. I say this from experience as an author, public speaker, entrepreneur, and CEO. It goes with the territory. But let’s be honest: criticism stings.
Theoretically, I know if you put an idea or product out in the world, it’s just the price you pay. But emotionally, it knocks me off-kilter almost every single time.
Leaders frequently tell me they have a hard time recruiting great people to join their organizations. When I ask about their hiring process, I often find one missing element: sales.
Recruiting great people is similar to any kind of sales process. Your company is the product. Prospective employees are your customers. The recruiting process is not just about filtering candidates—it’s also your sales pitch.
If you’re in a position of leadership, chances are better than good you’re going to blow it with your people sooner or later. It’s like messing things up in your marriage. Don’t ask me how I know this, but it’s inevitable from time to time.
There are pluses and minuses to that comparison, but one benefit is that making things right with our spouses can teach us how to make things right with just about anyone.
How? I’m not a counselor, but after decades of professional and personal experience, I’ve found mending relationships involves the same basic five steps.
I often hear leaders, particularly younger ones, complaining about their lack of control in various situations. “If only the sales department reported to me, I could consistently hit my budget,” they lament. Or, “If the production department reported to me, I would not have run out of inventory!”
What they are really saying is, “If I could control these people, I could guarantee the results.”
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Productivity doesn’t just increase your efficiency. If you do it right, it can also increase your income. The problem is that traditional systems get productivity all wrong.
They define productivity as the ability to do more and do it faster. But that approach just accelerates the hamster wheel we’re already on. Instead of getting ahead, our productivity gains sometimes leave us feeling frazzled, fried, frustrated.
True productivity isn’t about getting more things done. It’s about getting the right things done.
Is it just me, or is our modern work culture bleeding us dry? It’s not just our cell phones and computer screens that draw our eyes at all hours. As much as we might want to blame technology, the root of our struggle to have satisfactory days goes much deeper.
Far too often, we think, “If I just work harder, I’ll be successful.” But the hustle economy is bankrupt. In a fast-paced working environment, we suffer from a lack of clarity about what’s important to us—not to mention permission to pursue those priorities on our own terms.
A lot of productive people operate in disorganized workspaces. The problem is that they’re not as productive as they could be. The hidden culprit stealing their focus is clutter.
When I moved into my new office a while back, I was in the middle of a massive video shoot. Time was tight, and I just wanted to move my stuff in as quickly as possible.
We all know that sitting for long periods of time isn’t good for our bodies. Standing boosts our energy and our mood. That’s why I use and recommend a standup desk.
But there’s more to it than more time on your feet. It’s also important to get those feet moving. Our bodies just aren’t designed to sit for hours on end, hunkered over a keyboard.
Taking a Break
I’m intentional about staying hydrated during the day. At the risk of TMI, that means frequent bio breaks. I have a restroom next to my office, but I use the excuse to take ten or fifteen minutes away from what I’m doing.
My office is out back, so I go to the house and see what Gail is up to. I play with our dog. And I get another glass of water.
The truth is—we all need to periodically step away. We skip breaks in the name of “getting more done,” but when we don’t break from our work, our productivity suffers. We lose focus. We start making small mistakes and even forget things altogether.
Our bodies have a natural ebb-and-flow response to stress that allows us to work hard and then relax and recover. The problem comes when we chronically trigger those responses. We become all flow and no ebb, and you can only cheat the system so long before it becomes counterproductive.
The problem is that it can be challenging to step away when we’re neck-deep in our tasks.
How to Trigger a Break
You know how it works. We get started on a task and sometimes realize hours later that we haven’t moved away from our desk even once. Even though we had every intention of taking a break, we look at the clock and realize that another day has passed and we never paused.
Thankfully, we know this about ourselves and can take measures to ensure we take breaks. Besides drinking a lot of water, here are three ways to trigger a break and pull away.
- Schedule break time. As I often say, what gets scheduled gets done. Breaks are important enough to deserve a slot on your calendar. To make this more effective, establish an Activation Trigger that connects the time slot to a specific break activity, such as going for a walk outdoors.
- Use an app. To avoid the pitfall of losing track of time and neglecting your breaks, consider using an app. The Apple Watch works well. So do apps like TimeOut. TimeOut allows you to set your own break reminders that suit your schedule right on your desktop. The design aesthetic is pleasant, and the reminder overlays the screen. The breaks are just long enough for a recharge but not so distracting that you lose your flow. Some alternative apps to try include Stand Up! and Breaktime.
- Establish the habit. If you practice workday breaks long enough, you’ll develop the habit. But you can intentionally engineer a habit. Acknowledge the negative effects of not changing. Decide what you want instead. And replace your old habits with new behaviors.
Breaks aren’t just a good idea. They are necessary for our health and success. They are not “time off” from what’s important. They are what’s important.