One Way to Improve Productivity: Focus on Wellness

The mental calm of yoga may seem out of place in the bustling world of organizational leadership, but author Tarra Mitchell says yoga is just what leaders need —a break from the action so they can focus on refreshing themselves and being better leaders.

Her new book, “The Yoga of Leadership: A Practical Guide to Health, Happiness, And Inspiring Total Team Engagement,” highlights the importance of personal wellness and how it can affect the productivity of leaders and their teams.

Her approach focuses on a yoga teaching that divides a person into five aspects: physical, energy, mind, knowledge and bliss. Supporting every aspect in balance can help leaders be more effective at work and get more out of life.

“Leaders are neither inspiring nor productive when they’re feeling depleted, depressed, stressed or anxious,” Mitchell says. “They feel like they’ve lost a sense of meaning or purpose and are merely checking boxes.” The TalentCulture team talked to Mitchell about how to use wellness to boost productivity.

Accept the Connection Between Wellness and Productivity

According to the CDC Foundation, workplace illnesses, injuries, absenteeism and sick employees at work cost U.S. employers billions of dollars each year, averaging out to more than $1,600 per employee. But focusing on health and well-being can turn that around: Employees at one company who took part in a free, voluntary wellness program saw their health improve and improved productivity by 10 percent — 11 percent among those with medical conditions. Most notably, already healthy workers whose health did not improve still boosted productivity by 6 percent.

Leaders may downplay personal wellness because they feel they need to be working all the time, Mitchell says. But being “on” all the time only leads to burnout. “We know we need to have a little more balance in our lives, but it’s all about connecting productivity to the bottom line. Leadership has to be convinced of that. It’s hard to deny that personal well-being and having a team that feels good is not better for the organization.”

Dedicate Time to Taking Care of Yourself

The biggest challenge for leaders is finding time to make well-being a priority, Mitchell says. “It’s hard to connect when your mind is preoccupied and you’re distracted,” she says. “Time is always going to be a barrier, especially for leaders who have so many different people pulling them in many different directions.”

Change happens slowly, so start by scheduling time for yourself on your calendar. Think about what it means to you to be physically healthy, Mitchell says, as well as what it means to have high energy in your life and how you might work on feeling more calm. If you work for a change-averse organization, taking this time may be a bigger challenge, but Mitchell says it’s important if you want to reap the benefits.

Serve as an Example

Leaders who prioritize their well-being can serve as an example for the rest of their team, Mitchell says. Talking about the changes you’re making in your life to take care of yourself can inspire others on your team to do the same. “It all trickles down from leadership,” Mitchell says.

As you continue on your well-being journey, ensure that people on your team who may be inspired by you have the flexibility to make changes for themselves. “If you want to have some kind of scalable change, it needs to happen at a leadership level,” Mitchell says.

Channel Your Inner Madonna to Trigger a Career Shift

(Editor’s Note: All of us in the TalentCulture community mourn the loss of our dear friend, brilliant colleague and mindful mentor, Judy Martin, who passed away unexpectedly on January 31, 2014. Her message and her life are a lesson for us all. We will forever fondly remember her humor, warmth and wisdom.)

Emboldened with new courage to brave the unknown and strive for greatness, I cut the neck and sleeves of my Madonna t-shirt last night. This was no small task. It’s been sitting in my dresser drawer for 6 years. Seriously, I’m not kidding. Every time I opened that draw to grab my yoga clothing, it’s been staring me in the face. That is until tonight.

I took the plunge and cut the darn thing so I could finally wear it (I should have gotten a large) and it was the most liberating action I’ve taken in years. The cutting of the shirt was a great metaphor I came to realize, for breaking a barrier that was literally keeping me from making some important career and creative business decisions.

Sometimes we have to just do something radically different in our daily lives, even if it means getting out of our comfort zone. Madonna in general is the icon of re-invention, she has taken many risks. She has known success and failure. But she constantly refuels, renews and reinvents her life and career. So channeling YOUR inner Madonna might also be a tactic to try something outrageously new and different. What shift are you avoiding, and if you made the plunge what would you learn? I asked myself that question.

Cutting the Madonna T-Shirt and the Lessons Learned

Cutting the shirt brought up all kinds of inner stuff about taking risks in my career, doing something off the beaten path in my work life trajectory, and forced me to move forward even in the face of certain trial and error. I did succeed (in cutting the shirt and other goals as you will discover at the end of this post), but I had to deconstruct and contemplate first. (If you’re a Madonna freakazoid like I have been most of my life, you’ll better understand what appears to be a ridiculous act.)

I bought this t-shirt at Madison Square Garden during Madonna’s 2004 Re-Invention Tour, but I never wore it because:

  • 1. It was too tight around the neck, and I was afraid to stretch it. Where can you stretch your life or career? Are you procrastinating, feel you’re not up to the task, or just not making the time to do it?
  • 2. I refused to cut it, because I didn’t want to ruin it, as it might shred. What are you afraid of? What will you ruin if you take a risk and try something new, like learning a new skill? Will extra work be involved and will follow-through require more of a commitment to personal or career growth?
  • 3. The wording on the back says, “Everyone is a star” So I thought people would judge me if I wore it. Do you really care what others will think if you decide to pick up ballet classes even though you’re a klutz? Are you concerned about going back to school for a new career in a recovering economy?
  • 4. I was saving it for a special occasion. Really? When’s your boat going to come in? Life is too short in this body anyway. I suggest taking the lead from  “Nike” – just do it!

Change Something, Reinvent Something, Remember Something Joyful

Even if you are not thrilled with your job, you can create some unusual aberration to change up the pace or the structure of your job, the way you spend your time, the way you organize your day, the way you relate to your co-workers, or even your boss. You can take a risk, learn a new skill, make a new creative suggestion. Maybe there’s something in your job or career from the past that has given you lots of joy. Igniting passion in your work calls for nothing less than the re-invention of your work or life perception, even in a job that you disdain. Even for just one day. You’ll be amazed at what you can discover. It might be the shift you need just to get through another day.

For example, at my personal blog, I decided to do something completely different than I had ever done before. I  just started Sanctum Sundays of Work Life Bliss. It’s a portal of information that can help you to just stop, contemplate your life, engage your belief system and also catch up on some inspirational work life news. I also decided to deepen my yoga practice by committing to a new training. The decision to take those leaps emerged as I was contemplating cutting the t-shirt. It was just time to cut the sh–.

For those of you who can just imagine what a better place the world would be if we just embraced our greatness. A taste of Madonna from her 2004 Reinvention Tour!