I am naturally driven to push through a challenge. When my work to-do list looks like a mass of deadlines, I sacrifice many other important things for the sake of getting it all done. When I’m sick, tired, or unfocused I like to pretend I’m the Energizer Bunny, continuing to move ahead at all costs. Sound familiar to you?
This driven, move ahead, push-through-it-all way of being to make a deadline is where I live if I allow myself to run unchecked. I’ve learned that it doesn’t serve me well, and if I really want to focus and be productive over the long haul, I know I need to spend some time doing other things that will foster those qualities.
You might find it surprising that taking small amounts of time in nondeadline activities can create the conditions for you to concentrate better and get more done. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the amount of time these activities “should” take, start with 15 minutes or less—daily if you can (or as needed).
Meditate: Sitting still for the recommended 20 to 30 minutes can be difficult. Try smaller increments—even just 3 to 5 minutes on a regular, daily basis in a sitting meditation with a focus on your breath. You might notice that meditation allows your brain to relax, opening a door to creativity and energy.
Reflect: Block out 15 minutes a day to reflect on your priorities and your leadership. Do it when you will be uninterrupted; some leaders enjoy an early start to their day to reflect, others prefer their 15 minutes at the end of the day. You may notice your reflection time makes a big difference in your focus and productivity.
Take a break: Get away from your deadline by walking outdoors, or chatting with others. A few minutes of time away from your deadlines is a great way to refresh your brain, allowing it to function more efficiently and focus with less effort when you return to your work.
Exercise: Take a brief exercise break. Exercise feeds your brain as well as your body, allowing them to function at their best. You’ll notice that distractions can be overcome with greater ease and your productivity will increase.
Sleep: Try going to bed 15 minutes earlier than you normally do. It just might be enough to make you feel better on waking, with energy, focus, and increased productivity.
Read things you enjoy reading. Fiction, nonfiction, business, or news—reading is mind food, helping you to learn and grow. Try reading something without distraction that you can learn from.
All of these things can be done in small increments of time (baby steps) to begin. If you find one or more that helps you to focus and become more productive, you’ll now have the capacity to increase the time you spend with it and observe how it helps you to become a better leader. You might be surprised that a few extra minutes gives back so much more to your day.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive consulting firm.