Managing your energy
Time is the great equalizer. We all get 24 hours each day. The difference lies in how we use the allotted time. I’m a firm believer and, some might say disciple, of work hard, play hard. However, working or playing for long hours has its limitations. We may organize our time to meet demands, but we may not have the necessary physical, mental, or emotional capacity. The result is just like the hamster running in the wheel. We’re busy ‘spinning our wheels’ but very little gets done. Like time, energy is a finite resource. Unlike time which marches on, energy waxes and wanes and can be replenished. The key lies in managing our energy rather than our time.
Determine peak productive times. When our energy is highest, we think clearer and can accomplish more. The first step is identifying when we work best. Some of us are morning folk; others are night owls. It doesn’t matter what time works for you, what matters is knowing when your energy is highest and you are at peak performance. This is the best time to get major work done. Tasks that don’t require mental concentration can be pushed off to times when our energy is lower. For example, email can be a pretty mindless task. We often check email all day long – reading it as it comes in. We’re using our high-energy periods to do low energy work. Equally important is recognizing signs of low energy. We can respond to these signals that we need to rest and refocus on activities that reinvigorate us. I find that I’m most productive in the morning so, whenever possible, I try to schedule my most difficult tasks then. However, sometimes our schedule is out of our control. I find that stepping outside in the afternoon after long meetings to take a short walk around the quad helps bring an energy boost so that I can slip back into a heavy task.
Focus on goals and values. Let go of non-essential tasks. Our energy is too valuable a resource to be squandered on things that don’t matter. In our professional and personal lives, we need to have a North Star that provides the direction for our lives. Clarity about our goals and values brings clarity about actions that support our vision. We can then weed out that which is nonessential. If leading an organization that achieves goals and where people feel valued is important to me (and it is), then activities to support our goals are equally important as activities that connote caring. It’s easy to get caught up in activities that don’t align with our north star. These distractors suck up our time and energy. Recognizing them is the first step to eliminating them. One easy approach is to ask yourself will this matter in 5 days, weeks, months or years. It’s surprising how many of the issues take up much of our time, energy and emotional capacity won’t really matter in the near future.
Surround ourselves with motivators. Energy can be cultivated from our environment, our rituals, and the people in our lives. We can strive to work in an environment that motives us to reach our goals. For some, that’s a clear desk with nothing on it, for others, it’s a messy desk. Some of us need a cup of coffee or a bottle of water. Some of us work better in the office, others in the home office. Each of us has to recognize what works for us and then just do it. Incorporating rituals that enhance our productivity, mental clarity, and positive energy are also important. In my closet at work is a box of Sweet Tangerine Positive Energy tea. When I need to clear my head, I drink a cup. If I’m really trying to get the creative juices flowing, you’ll find me at the table in my office with colored paper and colored pens sketching out my ideas. Rituals can make a difference. Finally, the people we let into our circle also influence our energy. Professionally and personally, we interact with a lot of folks. We don’t have to let them all into our circle. We want to surround ourselves with people who help us on our journey. That means people who challenge us, invigorate us, give good advice, and motivatein all aspects of our lives.
An awareness of our energy levels enables planning our day’s activities to match. Management of the quality and quantity of available energy is critical to maintaining productivity, performance and emotional grounding.