Productivity: It Starts in Your Body.

For the next four weeks, I am going to be writing about how to define and implement your Peak Performance Strategy.

If that sounds nauseatingly like classic corporate speak, you are right. The idea comes from an article I read in The Harvard Business Review by executive coaches Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr.

Before you roll your eyes and quit reading, take a minute to ask why you think academic labor is separate from other corporate labor? How is your work productivity different from an attorney’s? An architect’s? A CEO’s? Be wary of the “calling” trope that tricks you into thinking you are separate from capitalism.

And if you’re a faculty member, or even a grad student, you are in what has traditionally been defined as an executive position. You control your time. You set your goals. You’re trying to meet performance indicators that extend beyond showing up, punching a time card and doing what you’re told to do. 

I’ll let you ponder that while I get back to the point of this series: 

How do we manage our energy to be productive?

What key strengths are required to manage said energy?

And, finally,  how can we learn to oscillate between stress and stress release?

To answer those questions, we are going to look at Schwartz and Loehr’s Peak Performance Pyramid through the lens of academic production and explore how we as academics do or don’t have a healthy capacity in each level of the pyramid (spiritual, cognitive, emotional, physical)

Side Note: Most people in executive positions who struggle with productivity and are at risk for burnout are really, really good at the cognitive part and deficient in the other categories.  Sound familiar?

Productivity starts with energy.

To that end, Schwartz and Loehr reject the idea of managing time, arguing instead that it’s our energy —  which fuels the ability to do work — that must be managed. And not just managed. It must be cared for, fed even. 

I see no lies here. 

If we accept our productivity as dependent on energy and our energy as dependent on our well being then we can quickly see that ignoring critical parts of our well being will ultimately negatively affect our productivity.

In the Peak Performance Pyramid, the foundational source of energy is our physical capacity. But a lot of academics — who are so used to finding value primarily (or exclusively) in our brains — skip physical care, saying we “don’t have time.” So, Step Number One in creating your own performance pyramid is to get out of your head and prioritize your physical capacity.

But, you probably know that you need to get enough sleep and eat right and exercise, right? You’re thinking, “Tell me something I don’t know.” 

The question is not whether we should do it, but how do we do it? 

Schwartz and Loehr (and pretty much every other positive change guru out there) identify the starting point as ritual. We start by slowly ritualizing the behaviors we want to incorporate. Ritual allows us to remove the risk and stress of decision making and build momentum.

We create ritual by getting clear on our goals and slowly incorporating things that support those goals. Want to move more? Start with walking. Ritualize it. Maybe on Monday, Wednesday, Friday you park a few blocks further away or even walk to work. Maybe on Tuesday and Thursday you walk during my lunch hour. No matter the activity, you put it on the calendar, this removing “decision fatigue.” Because making decisions is exhausting, right? There are so many decisions you HAVE to make in a day; physical self-care works best when it’s not one of them. It just…IS.

Several years ago, I wrote a note on my phone about what a “perfect” well being morning would like like for me, ultimately landing on my “Five to Thrive.” Five to Thrive means: No screens. Meditate. Morning Pages. Exercise. Healthy breakfast. Slowly, I incorporated the items on the list. After various fits and starts I had a ritual that removed decisions and served my physical well being. 

My wake up light starts getting brighter at 5:00 a.m. Just before 5:30 a.m., my alarm goes off. I get up. (I keep my workout clothes right next to my bed and put them on as soon as I wake up.) I meditate. (Same chair. Same background music. Same timer.) I do Morning Pages. (Same chair. Same tea.) I exercise. (Different thing each day but same thing each week: Mondays, Hike; Tuesdays, Yoga. etc) I eat breakfast. (I eat leftovers from dinner or something from the containers of things I have batch cooked on the weekend. I have a backup of packaged rice and beans with frozen broccoli if the fridge fails me.) I don’t look at a screen until the ritual is complete. I don’t have to decide anything. I just get up and do it.

I want to make something clear. My Five to Thrive doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the whole list gets lost for months and I only manage one or two things, but it is always my GOAL. And it is my goal because I am willing to accept that without a robust physical capacity that’s attached to reduced decision fatigue, my emotional and cognitive capacity decline, my energy wanes and everything else suffers.

So where are you ignoring caring for your physical capacity in the name of your intellectual or cognitive capacity? How would your morning change if the first question you asked was: “What am I going to do today to prioritize the foundation that supports everything I want to do?”  Share your thoughts and efforts in the comments!

Next we’ll talk emotional capacity. You know … feelings.

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