Professional athletes in sports like rugby, soccer or AFL need a mix of anaerobic fitness and aerobic fitness to excel on the field. Anaerobic fitness is critical to short burst activity, like sprinting or lifting weights. The energy is created by a chemical reaction in the muscle. This is great for a burst of speed, but cannot be sustained for long.
Aerobic fitness is key to longer form activities, like distance running or constant movement on the field. The energy is created through oxygen in the lungs and bloodstream. By the way, I am no expert in the field of fitness, as my soccer teammates will attest, so forgive me for any scientific error in my descriptions above. I am trying to make a point about productivity.
You see, I believe there are two things that provide energy to our activities at work. Urgency and Importance. They are very similar to anaerobic and aerobic fitness, and need to be used in the right way at the right time for peak productivity performance. I could even extend the analogy and say that we need to practice and train just like an athlete, if we want to be at the top of our game!
I see many executives over-using urgency as the energy to get things done. They often react to things like emails, making them urgent even though they are not, or they leave things until the last minute, where they are forced to react yet again. While a deadline can deliver that chemical burst of energy needed (anaerobic), if we use this energy to get everything done, the quality of our work suffers and we burn out.
Your work is a marathon, not a sprint, therefore I believe that importance (aerobic) should be the energy of choice for most of your work, punctuated by quick bursts of urgency when required. This will ensure a healthier approach to your work, and better overall results with less personal cost.
How do we ensure this balance? Dial down the urgency. Take a more proactive approach to your work, and ensure you have a solid action system in place to manage both your meetings and priorities in a proactive way. Negotiate deadlines and filter everything that tries to get into your schedule. Make importance the first filter you run potential activities though, then urgency. Take control. How you spend your time will dictate what you will achieve. Make sure your productivity fitness levels are at optimal if you want to survive, or even win the rat race.