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Beyond Being Busy: Five Techniques to Stay Productive and Fulfilled

Samir Selmanovic November 16 2015

Amy Hall is the Director of Social Consciousness and a member of the Leadership Forum for women’s clothing designer EILEEN FISHER. Amy supports the company’s efforts to practice “business as a movement” and is co-leading the company’s Vision2020 work as well as the company’s People and Culture area. She currently chairs the advisory board of Social Accountability International and serves on the boards of Made-By and the American Sustainable Business Council. In 2011, Amy rode from New York City to Washington, DC, on her self-built bamboo bike as part of Climate Ride. She also plays the bassoon in the Really Terrible Orchestra of Westchester. Together with their two daughters, Amy and her husband Rob raise honeybees and enjoy adventures on land and water.

I asked Amy to share with us her best advice on how to sustain performance and grow deeper as a leader.

This past year has been the most memorable of the 22 years I’ve been with EILEEN FISHER. After chipping away at our broad sustainability and social values, we finally went public with our deep and authentic goals to become 100% sustainable. What we have been doing is a historical initiative and one of the greatest joys of my career. And when I say “we,” I include in it a personal victory of mine: I am leaving the state of “being busy” behind.

We live in a society that glorifies "busy."

Relentlessly tapping out an incessant e-mail feed. Juggling multiple meetings that collide or overlap in our calendars. Taking calls from our cars, on our lunch breaks, and at our kids' soccer games, we are afraid to appear unproductive to our co-workers and bosses. Then, moving from work to home, we exchange our laptop for a skillet or a vacuum temporarily, only to pick it up again for a quick check-in before sleep.

"Busy" is how I used to describe my daily existence, in effect saying “I am an important person doing important things.” What it really meant in practice was “I am tired, fatigued, and stressed-out and I hope that what I do matters."

It took me years of succumbing to muscle aches, insomnia and tears of frustration to remember what's most important in my life: my own well-being with which I serve the world around me. To play on the wisdom of environmentalist David Brower:

There's no work to be done by a dead human.

So, I decided to live (and work) alive!

To do so, I lean on these five techniques to re-center and refresh. They rely on my inherent sense of purpose and self-discipline. If I can use these qualities at work, then why not in other aspects of my life?

Here are the five techniques I have discovered work for me:

1. Face the Open Skies.

There's nothing like stepping outside for a cleansing breath of fresh air and restoration of perspective. Morning and evening walks are fine, even if only to let the dogs out. But, when I step away from my desk and take a fifteen-minute walk around the park --WOW! Even though my office is in downtown Manhattan, I return with revitalized muscles, new energy, and fresh perspective. Everything opens. (Even better if I leave the cell phone on my desk!)

2. Perspire Daily.

People are always surprised when I admit to my less-than-frequent trips to the gym. As a former avid cyclist and outdoor enthusiast, I no longer sport the lean body that I once had. But that's OK. For me, it's how I feel that counts. Just a fifteen-minute jog or a half-hour bike ride with my kids makes a huge difference. My heart rate goes up and my mental clarity expands.

3. Create Quiet.

I say create, because this is a choice I make. Even when I have things to do (feed the dogs, empty the dishwasher, make school lunches), I do these things in a quiet kitchen. No TV, no radio, no podcasts. Just me and my thoughts. Ahhh. The clarity floods my brain and gets me ready for the clatter that inevitably follows.

4. Embrace Being Alone.

Given all that goes on in a day, I savor my aloneness. But, as a wife, mother of two, and full-time professional, that alone time can be hard to come by. I'm a morning person, which means I'm up at least 45 minutes before my eldest child. I'll use that time to read a novel, do some qigong while the dogs run in the back yard, or just sit and be. Mmmm.

5. Listen, Really Listen.

No matter what kind of day I've had, I make sure to pause and be present for my daughters. I listen to them, giving them my full attention, even if they are telling cringe-worthy puns. Their joy and laughter often lift my spirits in an instant, reminding me of what is truly important in life. And you can be sure it isn't that e-mail sitting unopened in my inbox.
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