In the past when I was faced with an increased workload, I simply responded by putting in more hours. However, not only did I discover that I could not make my days any longer, but also that it was taking a huge toll on me both physically and mentally. Recently, I read an article published in the Harvard Business Review in October 2007 titled, “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, and it reminded me that getting more work done really starts with taking care of ourselves so that we can perform at our best.
Schwartz and McCarthy posit that energy, defined as the capacity to work, comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind and spirit. In each of these domains “…energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed by establishing specific rituals – behaviors that are intentionally practiced and precisely scheduled, with the goal of making them unconscious.” They go on to state that to “…effectively reenergize their workforces, organizations need to shift their emphasis from getting more out of people to investing more in them, so they are motivated – and able – to bring more of themselves to work every day.”
Let’s take a look at the domain of our bodies. In past articles, I have described the importance of eating well, getting exercise, and consistently getting a good night’s sleep. Now that I have incorporated good habits in those areas, I really notice the impact on my energy levels, and therefore my ability to work effectively, when any of those areas are lacking. However, even when I’ve completed all of my routines, I still notice energy drains throughout the day.
As Schwartz and McCarthy explain, our bodies move from high energy states into physiological troughs in 90 to 120-minute cycles. At the end of a cycle, our bodies crave recovery. The next time you sit down to work, set an alarm for 120 minutes, work straight through and see how you feel when your alarm goes off. Are you feeling restless? Are you feeling a little tired? Are you feeling hungry? Are you having difficulty concentrating? No doubt you are feeling at least one of these things. The problem is that when we don’t take the time to recover and reenergize throughout the day, our reserves will wear down and we will be drained by the end of the day – or earlier. As a result, Schwartz and McCarthy recommend that we take intermittent breaks throughout the day for optimal energy renewal.
Don’t have time during the workday to take an intermittent break? As far as I am concerned, you can’t afford not to. As Schwartz and McCarthy note, “…intermittent breaks for renewal…result in higher and more sustainable performance.” So, if you want to get that increased workload done and you want to get it done in less time without sacrificing the quality of your work, then find the time to take breaks. They don’t have to be long to be effective – as always, quality is more important than quantity. Whatever you decide to do during your break, it must allow you to truly disengage from work, and no, staying at your desk is not an option. During the pandemic, I find it effective to go just find my dog and play with her for a few minutes. If you are still at the office, try walking up and down the stairs for a few minutes. Find something that works for you and make a daily habit out of it.
One last thing – let go of the guilt about taking a break. An employee who can sustain a high level of performance is ultimately in the best interest of their employer’s bottom line.
Struggling with developing your resilience? I’ve been there. Feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com and I can help you on your path to improving your resilience.