We feel very pressured to squeeze more work into our days. When the stakes are high, we push ourselves to work continuously for extended periods, depleting our physical and mental resources—no wonder we feel overworked and overwhelmed. We cannot produce our best work from a place depletion.
What if we could expand our capacity for better results by working smartly rather than harder? Then we could sustain our efforts for longer while enjoying what we do for a living. Sounds terrific. Doesn’t?
According to the Resilient Leadership framework, we can perform better and become more resilient if we manage our energy rather than the hours. Bridgette Theurer and Irvine Nugent share that time is a fixed resource, while our energy varies depending on time, level of motivation, concentration, vitality, and the quality of our thinking. Consider the following four ideas that impact your effectiveness when managing your work capacity: Your stamina, your chronotype, how you recharge, and enablers to your best thinking.
1) Others Notice Our Vitality and Energy –
Vitality is a synonym for energy, strength, and physical stamina. It involves positive emotional energy and zest for life expressed in physical health and mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
There are positive habits and lifestyle choices that enhance our health and vigor and revitalize us even after a long working day: regular exercise, healthy nutrition, mindfulness, meditation, nurturing your connections with friends and family. Also, looking after our personal needs for privacy or connection, hobbies, rest, and recreation.
It is challenging to perform at your best when you are not caring for your body, mental health, and spiritual journey. Consuming your resources without replenishing them takes you toward burnout.
Consider these questions:
- What has been the quality of your presence in the last few days?
- How do you know when you are exhausted?
- Do you know when to stop?
- What is a habit that you know will revitalize you?
2) Our Energy Vary According to the Time of The Day –
Chronobiology is our biological timekeeping. A growing body of research points out how circadian rhythms and chronotypes affect individual performance. Circadian Rhythms are predictable fluctuations of energetic activation from our biological clock that influence preferences for the optimal timing of daily periods of activity and rest over about 24 hours due to the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. Chronotypes are the interpersonal differences in the timing of the peaks and valleys. Some individuals are morning types, others are intermediaries, and others are evening types.
Daniel Pink, author of ‘When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,’ makes the case that the time of day in which we take actions — early morning, mid-afternoon, or nighttime – creates a more significant impact than we realize. Our energy and attention unfold in waves, with a rise, then a drop, then a resurgence. The secret to perfect timing isn’t simply managing daily routines but tuning in with our biological clocks. I recognize I am a morning person for analytical work.
Figure out what is the perfect time for you to determine your optimal level of cognition and mental energy for a particular task, considering the following:
a- Your Chronotype – When are you the most productive?
b- What Type of Task: Analytical, Insightful/ big picture/ creative, or administrative
c- What time in the day Is it – Conceptualize it and decide when to do it based on those two considerations.
Pink suggests that we get better results with less effort when we plan the day to the best of our ability, accordingly doing analytical work when we are at our peak, administrative work during our drop period, and creative/insight work during the recovery.
Consider these questions:
- What is your chronotype or the time of the day when you feel most productive?
- How could you arrange your work to your optimal cognition?
- How would your calendar look from now on if you organized your work according to your chronotype?
3) Breaks Help Us Replenish and Reboot –
There are plenty of studies that prove that our brain needs breaks. Ultradian rhythms help us optimize our internal body clocks for maximum efficiency and well-being. When correctly attuned to our biological rhythms, we experience 90 minutes of activity followed by rest, cycled throughout the day. Problems arise when we ignore these rhythms and try to maintain constant movement throughout the day, overlooking our everyday need for a break. Even if you think taking breaks is not your thing, your brain needs breaks to operate efficiently.
Daniel Pink researched the topic of breaks and concluded they are essential in recharging us when we are fully detached from work, engaging with others socially, ideally outdoors, and moving around.
Cannot meet all the criteria? An imperfect break is better than no break at all. If you have planned to attend many meetings during the day, take intervals between sessions to sustain your energy, the quality of your presence, and productivity. Notice how your energy and those of others drop as you approach the end of a long meeting. Think about the quality of the decisions made when the energy drains.
Positive Intelligence founder Shirzad Chamine recommends taking 2-mins breaks every 2 hours to build mental fitness through PQ reps. These body-mind drills calm the nervous system, enabling the best thinking while reducing stress and negativity.
Consider these questions:
- Do you currently take breaks?
- Is it difficult for you to take breaks?
- What are some preconceived notions about taking breaks?
- How many mini breaks can you design for your next working day?
4) Our Best Thinking Differentiates Us –
According to Bridgette Theurer, mental energy is the ability to bring our best thinking and our focused attention to what matters most. A cluttered and anxious mind does not think clearly. For Shirzad Chamine, we produce our best thinking in an ease and flow state vs. trying hard.
Chronic anxiety and stress, over-reliance on rational thinking, lack of interest, and distractions impede good thinking. We must realize that we are in survival mode and consciously shift our energy upward to access better thinking.
Breathing is a great way to shift energy and calm our nervous system. A good supply of oxygen replenishes our brain improving our cognitive abilities, focus, and concentration.
In busy workdays, we carve little time to think, dream, experiment, ponder, or plan. Being strategic means bringing our best thinking and complete attention to the projects, deliverables, and initiatives that matter the most. According to Theurer & O’Neill, there are two types of thinking:
- Deep-Dive Thinking – When we are absorbed in our work, we can entirely focus on the task at hand for a prolonged period.
- Subconscious Creative Thinking – When we let our mind wander, explore and make connections while engaging in another activity that relaxes our conscious mind and creates space for insight.
Thinking differently and creatively involves incorporating our intuition, using our analytical abilities, prior experience, and context. Sometimes changing the physical space invites a new pattern of thinking. For example, I produce my best ideas in long runs rather than in front of the computer.
The state of being present helps us connect with our best thinking. It is not easy to stay in the present moment when our mind chatter keeps us from experiencing reality as it is. In his book “The Power of Now,” Eckart Tolle reminds us that overthinking has become a disease because we are not exerting our power to control our minds, but the mind is controlling us. Better thinking is about intentionally using our minds proactively and constructively. Also, it is about commanding our minds to stop whenever we want.
Make space in your calendar for activities requiring critical thinking and commit to them. Write your ideas and refine them as you find different angles and perspectives. Collect data, talk to experts, read, and consider learning more about strategic topics to enrich your cognitive abilities.
Consider these questions:
- How can thinking better enhance your performance?
- When do you produce your best thinking?
- How can you make more space in your day for new ideas?
- What distractions are disconnecting you from your mental source?
Managing your energy encompasses becoming attuned to your natural biological rhythm and looking after yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You can sustain your efforts much longer when taking mini-breaks to breathe, make mental space, and process information. Creating space between activities helps you gain perspective, brainstorm new approaches, and solve problems more effectively. Getting to a state where you feel more resilient and productive might take time, focused attention, and persistence. This a journey that you don’t have to walk on your own. Gather around you those who support you and want to see you living a whole life while enjoying getting better results.