We are all trying to find more time to do things, striving to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of our days. Many times, to achieve this, we get rid of a lot of “extras” – good sleep, regular breaks, exercise, and time with family and friends. But what if we knew that these extras were the very things that would make us more productive?
It doesn’t make sense that by working less (i.e., not every single free minute of the day), we can be more productive. But it’s true, because while time is a finite resource, our energy is renewable. And according to Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy from Harvard Business School, what we need to be doing is managing our energy, rather than our time – putting the “extras” back into our lives so we can work smarter and achieve more.
There are four dimensions in which our energy gets zapped every day.
There is only so much caffeine can do for you to keep your physical energy levels high. If you get very little sleep each night, forgo regular exercise, and eat poorly, you are defeating yourself before you even begin.
Multitasking and working non-stop are mental-energy zappers and reduce your focus. Switching frequently between tasks, interruptions and distractions, and not giving your brain periodic breaks throughout the day can all deal a hefty blow to your daily productivity.
Ever let someone else’s behavior get the best of you, causing you to lose focus and obsess for hours over either an explicit conflict that you had with them or just a story that you are running in your head? Do you take time to participate in activities that bring you joy in life? If you said yes to the first and no to the second, then you are depleting your emotional energy reserves.
Spiritual energy is depleted when you are not spending enough time on the things that really matter in your life – those things that give your life meaning and purpose, professionally and personally.
What are some behaviors or habits that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you manage your energy?
1. Get enough sleep. What is getting in the way of your sleep? Are you staying up late to work? Are your expectations for what you can achieve every day too high? Are you wasting time during the day procrastinating or engaging in low priority activities? Are you trying to work after the kids go to bed? Make a couple of rituals for yourself to help you get to bed earlier and recharge. Plan and schedule your day so that you get your high priority items done early, turn off all electronics 2 hours before retiring for the night, and engage in a calming activity such as reading (no kindles or nooks though!), writing in a journal, or coloring.
2. Schedule regular snack and meal breaks throughout the day. Your body needs energy throughout the day to keep going. Sure, you can run on fumes, but it will catch up with you eventually and you will start to feel fatigued. Eating well is also a boost to the largest muscle in your body – your brain. Schedule regular snacks throughout the day, and take a lunch break. Don’t go more than 4 hours without a healthy snack or meal to get you to the next step.
3. Get some regular exercise. You know, this doesn’t need to be a 90 minute session at the gym (although that would be awesome, and I certainly don’t want to discourage you from that). I have found that even 10-15 minutes of dedicated exercise a day can hit the reset button on my productivity. I like to schedule an exercise break in the middle of my day, but pick any time of day you prefer. Strive to do something every day, if only for a short amount of time.
4. Disconnect periodically from what you are doing to clear your mind. Are you living every day as a mental marathon? Take a few minutes every so often throughout the day to think about something else or to think about nothing at all. Talk to a colleague about a non-work issue, listen to one of your favorite songs, take a walk around the block – anything that will help you disconnect and recharge.
5. Schedule fun. All work and no play made Jack a dull boy (and it didn’t do a whole lot for Jane either). Life is happening right now to you, don’t put off time with friends and family and enjoying the things you love to do. Schedule time for these activities throughout your week, and do something enjoyable with others every weekend.
6. Don’t let the turkeys get you down. Have you ever had your day implode because someone pushed your buttons or upset you? Have you ever spent a whole day fuming over an annoying colleague’s behavior? While you can’t avoid these interactions, you can learn how to let them go and recover from them more quickly. Go out immediately for a walk – even ten minutes will make a big difference. Or take a few minutes to engage in deep breathing. Take 10 long in breaths and out breaths with your eyes closed. Breathe in slowly through your nose, pause, holding your breath to a count of four, and then exhale slowly through your mouth to a count of six.
7. Change the narrative in your head. A lot of angst comes from the stories that we tell ourselves in our heads. These have immense power to influence our emotions in one way or the other. Positive narratives are energizing, while negative narratives (the ones most of us create) are depleting. Become aware of those stories, and recognize that you have a choice in how you are going to interpret the situation.
8. Remember why you are here. Why did you choose your career or calling in life? What attracted you? Why do you do the work that you do? Keeping these things in mind helps to reconnect you to the purpose and meaning in your life. Write out a reminder of why you do what you do on a sticky note, and keep it where you can see it during your day.
9. Try to take some time each day to focus deeply on one task. This is one of the most satisfying parts of the work that we do every day. Spend time on it. Find 60-90 minutes to engage in deliberate practice or dive in deeply to an area you want to learn more about.
10. Pick an end-time for your day and stick to it. Sure, you could work all day from sunrise to bedtime, day after day, by why would you want to? There is great benefit to a mental disconnect – a declaration that you are going home (even if you are already home) and that you will not be doing any more work until the next day. Sometimes, you are really pressed and this will not be possible. But, if you are leaving work thinking about work, checking your work email at home, and always waiting for the kids to go to sleep so that you can work some more – every day – then you are really draining your personal energy batteries. It’s okay to stop for the day. You don’t need the specter of additional work for the evening hanging over you every single day of your life.
Managing your energy is something you can start right away. Pick a couple of things on this list, try them out and see what a difference they can make.