Our May 2020 executive productivity survey found that 75% of executives follow a productivity system, an increase of 18% since our November 2019 survey. Leveraging a productivity system is one of the main ways that leaders are adapting to the volatile environment.
Unlike other tools and strategies that offer relief for a narrow part of the challenges leaders face, productivity systems are easily customizable to match individual preferences and empower them to be more effective in every area of their lives.
The most popular system, Agile Results, is used by 28% of executives and resolves around selecting your top daily and weekly priorities and adapting your schedule to ensure those activities are completed.
Regardless of what system they use, leaders receive immense benefits from a structured approach to time management. Here's how a productivity system can help you be a better leader during chaotic times.
Focus on Strategic Activities
During chaotic times, it's easy to spend your day shifting from one fire to the next without pausing to consider if you're working on the highest priority activities or just the ones that seem the most urgent.
As a result, you may end the week having made significant progress toward your goals, or you may have solved a lot of small problems that don't have a meaningful impact on your success.
Productivity systems help you be less reactive by structuring your day around your top priorities instead of the messages you receive. When unexpected issues arise, you have a framework to fit them into your schedule based on how vital problems are relative to the activities you're currently working on.
This approach ensures that even you don't have time to complete every task on your to-do list, you make significant progress on your strategic activities.
Limit Decision Paralysis
Psychologically, one of the biggest benefits of productivity systems is that it adds structure to your days. Without a plan, you're likely to have several stopping points throughout the day, where you review the numerous tasks on your to-do list and try to figure out what to work on next. This process is mentally exhausting since each time you're comparing several often similar activities.
Numerous studies have shown that the more choices you have, the more likely you are to procrastinate and/or regret your decision. Most decisions are at least partially subjective, and it's challenging to weigh several options and feel confident in your choice.
Left uncontrolled, not having a plan for your day will often leave you feeling like you've been working hard but haven't accomplished anything meaningful.
Following a productivity system solves this issue because you know exactly what you need to work on throughout the day to reach your goals.
Prevent Tasks From Slipping Through the Cracks
In busy times, it's common to have more moving pieces than you can mentally track. When this happens, it's easy for tasks to slip through the cracks and cause avoidable delays.
Productivity systems help prevent this by giving you a system to keep track of tasks beyond your memory and basic to-do lists. Most include elements such as:
- Automated reminders
- Saved meeting notes
- Documented project milestones
- Details about who's responsible for each task
Depending on the system, a variety of other elements help you stay organized and focus on the right activities at the right time.
Maintain Healthy Work-Life Balance or Integration
Though most people think of productivity systems as just a tool to optimize their working hours, they can also boost your productivity and happiness by helping you attain work-life balance.
In our 2019 executive productivity survey, 35% said maintaining work-life balance is the lifestyle habit that has the biggest impact on productivity.
- It reduces stress and your likelihood of burning out
- It helps you maintain a strong support network of family and friends
- It gives you plenty of time for activities that boost your creativity and energy levels
A huge part of being productive is having the stamina to continuously overcome challenges. Work-life balance gives you the mental and physical energy reserves to do that.
With social distancing restrictions in place, attaining work-life balance can be more difficult, especially if you have care giving responsibilities. In this case, you can leverage your productivity system to adopt work-life integration.
This is a lifestyle where you schedule work and personal responsibilities based on each activity's optimal time instead of completely separating the two. For example, you might have two or three hours blocked off throughout the typical workday to help your kids with their online schooling and then work late in the evenings to make up for that lost time.
Make Better Decisions
In our survey, one of the biggest challenges that executives reported facing is struggling to figure out how they should adapt to the changes in their environment. With so many health, social, and economic challenges that continue to evolve, there often isn't a clear path forward.
Though a productivity system can't solve any of these challenges, it can help you navigate them more effectively.
- It reminds you to set aside time for reflection and planning. This helps you make methodical, proactive decisions.
- It measures your progress toward key milestones. This helps you stay focused amidst all of the distractions.
- It gives you a clear record of your activities. When you don't achieve the results you're hoping for, you can look back on what you've done and identify areas of improvement.
These benefits help you make better decisions even when you're under pressure and have incomplete information.
Want more insights into how executives have adapted in the COVID-era? Download our free report.
About the author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.