Editor’s note: Shannon Rentner, entrepreneur, mentor, and senior director of marketing/growth at Smashing Boxes, a digital product development firm. 

DURHAM — Last night over dinner, I was complaining about the time-consuming, mind-boggling amount of time it took to just to finalize a brunch meeting place and time.

“I don’t think everyone runs their personal schedule like it’s some kind of endurance race,” said my friend, who is also my yoga teacher.

I hate to admit it, but I’m quite sure my jaw literally dropped, in the middle of munching on a crostini. Who has this kind of zen-like approach to productivity? And where can I get some of that? Trying to remain ahead of the overwhelming amount of daily to-do’s definitely feels more Tough Mudder than vinyasa flow.

Shannon Rentner

So imagine my delight [yes – delight] duringthe recent  “Empowering Women Together” panel “Make it Happen: Productivity Tips.” Nine professional women from various sectors shared their secrets for getting things done. And I’m glad to report, I’m not the only one who feels like it’s an endurance race. How you prepare for it can be game-changing — not just in your career, but also as a human being.

For entrepreneurs and/or those who have worked in highly stressful, high-growth startups, it was a relief to hear Vickie Gibbs, executive director of The Entrepreneurship Center at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, recommend something that seems, at first glance, unproductive: “Take a break from work at least one full day each week.”

As women, she explains, we tend to be so service-oriented, so others-minded, that we often neglect ourselves and neglect our passion. “Here’s the thing — if you don’t take a break, if you don’t pursue a passion, you won’t be able to think, you won’t be able to create.” From taking a hike to skydiving — breaking away from the grind can re-energize mind and body and unlock creativity by getting a new, fresh perspective.

What at first seemed counterintuitive to VP of Marketing at RTI, Andrea Mohamed, turned out to be her secret to not only improved productivity, but also to overall success.

“In the past, I always led my teams based on getting things done and performance metrics,” said Mohamed. “As my role as a leader has evolved, so, too, the way I approach productivity and performance.” She discovered the importance of influence. She and her team could work all day and all night, but success depended on the support and collaboration of other departments, other leaders.

So Andrea and some other leaders formed their own tribe. “We need to be advocates for each other because so often, as women, we avoid promoting ourselves,” she said. The support, collective experience and collaboration from this tribe has made a profound difference for those involved.

“We’re bolder, braver, better than we were when going it alone,” said Andrea.

Being a naturally empathetic, people-oriented person can fuel your passion for building powerful networks, said Tricia Lucas, co-founder, Lucas Select and founder of The Alliance of Women in Technology Leadership. But, it can also lead to burn-out. This is especially true as business owner.

With a career that spanned 20 years of sales/marketing roles for startups and corporate giants alike, Lucas decided to start her own recruiting company. Her inspiration came from seeing first-hand the far-reaching impact of job loss when her father got laid off, just as she was about to start college at Auburn. “I never wanted that to happen to me,” she said, “and I have enormous empathy for those in transition.”

In the past two years, however, Lucas realized that her empathy was leading her to give away her hard-won IP for free. “I gave away my time, my talent, energy, and resources — all for free,” said Lucas. With the support of the tribe she helped create, The Alliance, she’s exploring other business models to get paid doing what she loves.

Here are some key takeaways she shared from her own experience:

  • Set boundaries
  • Put a price on what you deliver
  • Ask for the business or a referral
  • Learn to say no
  • Differentiate from the competition

Near the end of the session, Fractional CMO Julie Bryce summarized her most important productivity tip in three words: Do it now!

When heading into the Tough Mudder challenge that is daily life, sometimes, said Bryce, “prompt attention beats delayed perfection.”

As for me, I’m heeding Gibbs’ advice. Time for a day off to take a hike.