Not all productive professionals are leaders, and not all leaders are productive professionals. “A leader could be a great motivator, communicator or delegator but not a great role model in productivity,” says Dr. Haley Perlus, a PhD in sport and performance psychology who helps business clients achieve peak performance.
So if you want to take both your leadership skills and your productivity game to the next level, start paying attention to the habits of the most productive leaders, the ones who seamlessly transition between captivating a room with their public speaking and crushing deliverables while juggling multiple priorities.
Here are eight things the most productive leaders do differently to inspire you.
They focus on energy vs. time
The first thing the most productive leaders understand is that in order to get more done, focusing on time alone is futile — it’s all about energy.
“When you create optimal energy and best manage it, you become more efficient and productive overall. You first need energy to properly manage time. And, as a bonus, when you have energy to be more efficient and productive, time frees up,” says Perlus.
Practices such as eating a healthy diet, getting proper sleep and exercising can help you feel more energized. But managing energy is also about things like learning when to say no and where to invest your efforts.
They avoid multitasking
According to Perlus, multitasking leads to emotional and mental exhaustion while increasing your chances of making mistakes, so the most productive leaders avoid it at all costs. She uses the idea of juggling to illustrate why:
“When we juggle, at any moment, we only have one ball in our hand while all the other balls are in the air. When we learn to focus on one ball (one task) and then throw it up in the air before we bring down the next ball (the next task), we become more efficient.”
They empower instead of delegating
Effective leaders know that they can’t do it all, and they have mastered the art of leveraging complementary strengths while outsourcing and delegating to make the most of their resources. But leaders with outstanding productivity take delegation one step further by empowering their reports instead of merely dispatching tasks.
“Instead of telling your direct reports what to do, empower them to act with autonomy and confidence. Good leaders encourage their people to realize their full potential as a way to also improve the overall performance of the company,” says Perlus.
They embrace self-care
You won’t catch a super productive leader wearing her busyness like a badge of honor and sacrificing self-care.
“No matter how busy and overwhelmed productive leaders are, they still create opportunities for self-care: exercise, sleep, movement, nutrition, family values or going on adventures. These things are not rewards or things to do when they have extra time. These self-care behaviors are an integral component of their performance routine,” according to Perlus.
So it’s time to stop feeling guilty for carving out “me time” and start seeing it as an important factor for your productivity.
They prioritize effectively
If there is one habit that all the most productive leaders share, it’s the ability to prioritize effectively. From changing gears as new challenges emerge to setting goals for their team, they see prioritization as a continuous practice.
“Productive leaders have developed the skill set to decipher what is relevant in the moment and what is irrelevant. Thus, they can focus on the task at hand and not become mentally cluttered or emotionally connected to things that are not currently important,” says Perlus.
Remember this golden principle: What you don’t do is equally important as what you do when it comes to reaching peak productivity.
They keep moving forward
According to Perlus, the most productive leaders also internalize a powerful mindset: they never give up when the going gets tough: “The most productive leaders never give up completely. They may need to take some detours, change up strategies and tactics, but they always choose to take action on something that moves themselves and their people forward.”
They stay committed yet flexible
In order to keep moving forward and overcome obstacles, highly productive leaders stay committed to their ideal outcomes yet flexible about the journey to achieving those results. They do make plans to reach their goals, but they understand the pitfalls of rigid planning without real-time adaptability.
“Productive leaders trust the process, they trust themselves, and commit to excellence. This is not to say they don’t ever make changes to the program and plan. They also know when and if it is time for a course correction,” she says.
They reflect on learnings
Finally, the most productive leaders always aim to improve. They seek to not only capture learnings but also use insights to inform future action. And they do so whether an initiative was successful or not. “Productive leaders take the time to learn what works and what doesn’t work for themselves and their team,” says Perlus.