How to Unlock Your Productivity Potential
(and avoid burnout)
Article written by Avery Thatcher
Hey high achiever! I see you – looking for ways to increase your productivity and get more done in less time!
You’re a woman in business, on a mission to make your corner of the world a better place and that’s incredible!
… you’re stuck on the cycle of burnout being incredibly productive one day, while crashing and procrastinating on another. You’re met with message after message online of where you should be spending your time if you want to grow your business.
This hustle culture is starting to make you doubt if you’re even cut out for this whole ‘entrepreneur thing’ in the first place.
So you find yourself looking for resources, signing up for courses, and joining co-working programs to try and keep you and your business on track. You keep searching for the secret to cracking the code for how to get more done in less time.
Want the answer?
Lean in close.
You’re asking the wrong question.
It’s not so much about how to get more done in less time, as it is about making sure that you’ve optimized the four key components of the productivity puzzle to make it possible for you to be consistently productive in a way that matches your energy, responsibilities, and expectations for yourself.
Instead of asking “how can I be more productive?” I encourage you to ask yourself “how can I optimize my productivity potential?”
Let me explain.
The Four Puzzle Pieces of Productivity
There are four key components of productivity:
- Clarity and Alignment
- Stress Management
- Energy Management, and
- Time Management
Each of these components interact with each other and all need to be optimized if you want to become your most productive self and avoid the downfalls of hustle culture that inevitably lead to burnout. If one of these pieces are out of balance, the entire system collapses and we’re left struggling with procrastination.
We’ve probably all heard of shiny object syndrome, and basically what that means is that we’re tempted and distracted by things that aren’t in alignment with our mission and goals, and that means that we spend too much time doing things that aren’t going to make our long-term goals a reality.
Signing up for new courses, free trainings, challenges, keeping ourselves busy, all that kind of thing can really slow us down because we THINK that we’re doing something productive. We’re learning right, and it means that we’re embracing a lifetime of learning which is really exciting. I see this a lot in high-achievers diving into personal development. We’re great at learning…
But there comes a point where learning is just covert procrastination because if we don’t put that learning into ACTION, then we’re really just distracting ourselves from facing our obstacles that are keeping us in this same space where we are right now.
So how do we stay out of this space of sneaky procrastination?
Productivity Tip #1 – Clarity and Alignment
If we don’t have clarity with our big picture goals, our smaller goals are less likely to be in alignment with what we’re really hoping to achieve, which leaves us working on things that keep us busy, but don’t actually serve our ultimate mission.
By achieving clarity and ensuring that what we’re doing is staying in alignment with that is essential to our productivity because it makes sure that we’re working on the tasks that will really make the biggest difference.
This starts by writing your clarity statement, because with your clarity statement you will be able to then know if something is in or out of alignment; you’ll know what opportunities, tasks and activities to say yes to and what to say no to.
Once you have your clarity statement, it’s going to be easier to prevent burnout because you’ll be able to operate in your peak performance zone by mastering your stress response.
Productivity Tip #2 – Stress Management
What you may not realize is that there are two kinds of stress:
- Distress – The stress that we know more commonly and that’s distress, the stress that feels heavy and awful and causes all kinds of problems.
- Eustress – The positive, productive, motivating stress where we’re in the zone, we’re in flow, we’re getting stuff done and we’re just killing it, rocking our life and our goals.
This is the stress curve based on the Yerkes-Dodson Law created by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson in 1908. It illustrates the relationship between productivity and pressure.
Here on the left hand side we don’t have enough pressure, and in this state we’re wired as humans to kinda sit around and do nothing! Here we don’t have motivation, we don’t have drive, we don’t feel connected to a purpose or a mission, we don’t have clarity and therefore we don’t have momentum or alignment.
But, here at the peak of the curve we have momentum, we have drive, we have goals and the energy we need to support our ability to achieve those goals.
But, as with so many entrepreneurs, we’re high achievers, and as a high achiever, it’s very easy for us to shoot way the heck over this peak and the optimal balance where our productivity and pressure are optimized – and roll all the way down over here getting closer and closer to burnout. In this space of burnout, we lose access to our CEO, higher level thinking part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex which makes it harder for us to be productive because our brains aren’t wired for success in this space – it’s working to run away from a bear, not figure out why your website isn’t working.
We can absolutely get ourselves back into eustress and out of distress with some simple techniques including one I’m going to share with you right now.
The simplest thing you can do to keep access to this higher level thinking brain of yours is to practice breathing techniques. There are many different breathing techniques you can use and today we’re going to talk about the 5-5-5 breathing technique.
5-5-5 breathing is when you take 5 slow deep breaths for 5 seconds on the inhale, 5 seconds on the exhale This breathing technique has been scientifically proven to deactivate the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system and bring us back into rest and digest parasympathetic side. This means that if you start to feel your stress response ramping up, you can take control of that switch with this breathing technique and regain access to your CEO brain.
Other ways to manage your stress include work-life balance, taking time off, and taking care of yourself.
Which ties in perfectly to our next puzzle piece, energy management and the four energy spheres
Productivity Tip #3 – Energy Management
Now, when we think of energy we think we either have an abundance of energy, or we’re completely fried and have nothing left to give or are operating in survival mode, activating our stress response and losing access to that higher level thinking brain.
Having the right balance of energy means that we’re capable of being productive. Without energy, we procrastinate, we work slowly and get frustrated about how little we’re accomplishing, and we are overwhelmed with all that we have to do and have no idea how we’re going to get it all done.
The thing about energy is that it’s simple, but not simple at the same time. It’s simple in that we either have things that restore our energy or deplete it. But some things may both restore and deplete energy at the same time.
You are not a simple being, and so we can’t qualify your energy as one unit.
We have four different energy spheres:
- Our physical energy
- Our emotional energy
- Our mental energy
- And our metaphysical energy
Let’s break these all down.
Physical energy is pretty easy because it’s what we typically define energy levels by. We either feel awake and alive, or we feel tired and struggle to move.
Emotional energy is slightly different. When you feel drained without feeling tired, irritable, or a lack of interest in what usually lights you up it could either be emotional energy drain, or mental energy drain.
We make important decisions every day that impact us, our life and the people we help. Knowing what drains and restores our mental energy and learning how to build more mental stamina is essential for entrepreneurial success. Mental Energy Balance, more than any of the others, is key for us to know how to master.
Finally, we have the metaphysical energy space. We’re not going to go too in depth in this space here, but I want you to think about this in the context of your contribution to the world and how you make your corner of the world a better place. This is the bigger picture kind of thing, connecting with that clarity statement from before.
Alright, so we have physical, emotional, mental, and metaphysical energy spheres. Let’s look at how they all interact with each other with some examples.
One of my non-negotiables during the day include a walk with our dog, Takoda. This drains my physical energy, but restores my mental and emotional energy.
When I teach a workshop online, it drains physical, emotional and mental energy, but really restores metaphysical energy – my connection to my purpose, mission and drive.
Do you see how the four energy spheres are connected?
If I want to optimize my productivity, I have to make sure that I have the physical, emotional, and mental energy to work on the tasks that move my business forward, which then boost my metaphysical energy or my connection to my contribution to the world.
High-achievers are notorious for taking on too much, pushing themselves too hard, and burning themselves out. We need to find the balance, and so by monitoring our energy spheres we’re able to find and maintain that balance more easily.
Alright, now for the moment you’ve been waiting for…
Productivity Tip #4 – Time Management
Here’s where the hustle culture really backfires and makes it harder for us to be as productive as we want to be.
By trying to do more, you’re making it so that you’re able to accomplish less and what you can accomplish won’t be up to the quality and standards that you generally have for yourself. This further demotivates you, pushes you further down that stress curve decline and brings on the burnout.
One of the most important things we can learn how to do is to say no to everything at first and then give yourself five minutes to convince yourself it’s a yes. To help guide you through this process, here are some questions for you to consider:
Is there a hard and fast rule of the number of “no’s” that you’re allowed to have in this question list before you take something new on – no. These questions here are just to help guide the decision to make sure you’re not going to set yourself up for an impossible time management situation where you’ve taken on too much.
Alright, so let’s wrap it up and bring everything together to create your pre-work routine to unlock your productivity potential. It’s going to tie all of the puzzle pieces together.
Developing a Pre-Work Routine to Optimize your Productivity Potential
The first part of an effective pre-work ritual is to read your clarity statement to keep your mission top of mind before you start your work session.
The second part is to practice one round of 5-5-5 breathing to turn off your stress switch and regain access to your prefrontal cortex, your higher level thinking brain
The next piece is to check in with your energy levels and see if you need to do something for a few minutes first to boost the energy sphere that you’re going to need the most in this work session. Planning for an energy level recovery activity after your work session will be important as well.
And finally is to set realistic expectations and goals for how you want to use this work session, what you want to prioritize, and make sure that you do your most dreaded, difficult or time consuming task first.
Bring these four things together, and you’ll be able to achieve and maintain your peak performance, helping more people, accomplishing more, and feeling more like yourself – without burning out, crashing or getting sick.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, will be to try out this productivity routine before your next work session and notice how it goes for you. Challenge accepted?