Summer here in the Midwest is simply wonderful. After our long and often tedious (may I say downright demoralizing) winters, hot summer weather is a welcome relief. Yet, like any season, summer has its downsides. Really hot, humid weather (not to mention mosquitoes) can drive us inside more than we would like to admit.
And then there is the threat of the inevitable strong storms that raise havoc as well. I happen to have a wooded area behind my house, and typically each summer we lose power because a tree falls on the power lines behind us. Usually the outage only lasts a few hours, but occasionally many trees fall and cause major damage. One hot summer we lost power for a week. That was quite a rude awakening.
If nothing else losing something we take for granted has the advantage of helping us fully appreciate a modern blessing. Certainly, losing electric power is nothing in comparison to loss of life or home or property that so many experience. Yet, going for an extended time without power can be very draining in its own way.
But what about our own personal power? Our personal supply of energy?
I don’t know about you, but the first part of the year has been particularly draining given the COVID-19 pandemic, racial tensions and the general mayhem of national politics during an election year. Those of us working from home often feel even more stress because of the uncertainty of the future and the loss of daily interactions with our work teams. I think the temptation is to simply work longer and try to work harder, which can lead to consequences with our health and wellbeing. Sometimes that can turn into a vicious circle.
How to get our energy back?
A while ago there was a popular phrase going around that we should “work smarter, not harder” and I think that is a good reminder for today. Often easier said than done, the consequences of not trying to find that work/life balance can be significant. We only have twenty-four hours a day and to try and cram everything we feel we need to do into that space without paying attention to our personal health and welfare is at the very least counterproductive. When I have spent that last ounce of energy, my work quality as well as quantity drops noticeably. I just don’t have the reserves to keep pushing, even though my head tells me I have to complete a task. The center of that conflict is not a good place to be.
So what to do?
Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy published a study in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” (read it here). Their study is insightful, but also offers some ideas on ways to manage our own personal energy sources.
One thing they suggest is doing our own “energy audit.” That is, take an objective look at the current state of our own personal energy. Not unlike the energy audits the local power companies offer, the idea is to look at and evaluate where our ‘leaks’ are; that is, the state of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy. This is hard because often when we look at these areas our first reaction is “I don’t have time” and of course that is the point. Their study includes a sample audit for us to use to evaluate our own situation.
My guess is that most of us will identify weaknesses in each area and will require some work—yes work—to restructure our lives to regain balance and give ourselves the things we need to live well.
They offer some suggestions for improving in these areas:
- Physical Energy: No doubt some of this will be obvious. Exercise, proper diet, adequate sleep and physical rest breaks need to be incorporated into a healthier lifestyle. Exercise does not have to be back breaking; it could be a daily walk at lunch or basic stretching and balancing exercises to start. Proper diet is very important and a key driver of energy. Junk food at our desks does not help this, nor does excessive sugar, caffeine or alcohol. Take mandatory rest breaks through the day. Sometimes just a 10-minute distraction away from the desk can work wonders. Just make sure you get away from your work for a time. Finally, of course, adequate sleep is critical. Getting by on just a few hours each night is neither healthy nor conducive to productivity.
- Emotional Energy: When I am overworked and tired, one thing that can easily happen is that I can ‘snap’ at other people. Obviously finding ways to restore peace of mind helps relationships and our ability to handle stressful situations. Schwartz and McCarthy suggest learning to take time to breath. That is, take deep, measured breaths to clear our heads. I know I have found short periods of meditation to be helpful as well. There are lots of resources to help us restore our emotional energy, from apps to YouTube videos. The result should be that we reestablish a positive internal image of ourselves so that image relates well to situations around us.
- Mental Energy: Multi-tasking appears to be a productivity fantasy, and in fact can really cause more of a mental drain than help us work better. Having too many tasks coming at us at once reduces our ability to focus appropriately on important tasks as we are always being interrupted by non-critical events we feel we can handle all at once. The suggestion is that we try and focus on our primary and important tasks while turning off our reminders, phones, text-message buzzes and beeps, and other distractions for a fixed period. For example, shut everything off for an hour, focus on the task at hand, and then take a ten- or fifteen-minute break to focus on those other distractions. Other things to keep in mind would be to keep our minds fresh through putting them to work on other stimulating things such as reading a book, writing in a journal or other mentally stimulating activities which are not work related.
- Spiritual Energy: No this is not spiritual in the religious sense, although that certainly can be an element of spiritual energy. This relates to doing things that give us a sense of meaning and purpose. After doing and reviewing limitless monthly reports, chewing statistics, and dealing with a seemingly unending string of emergency emails and texts, it is easy to lose our sense of what is really meaningful in our lives. Even though those tasks are important, we need to incorporate those things that do reinforce what gives us purpose. Whether or not it is making sure we place special focus on our kids, volunteering to help in our community, or just doing kind things for those around us can reinforce that we are living for a larger purpose. These things which improve and maintain our spiritual condition are perhaps even more important that the other three.
I find that after a storm has passed, and the damaged repaired, there is often no greater relief that finding out that ‘power has been restored.’ The same can be said for our personal energy. If you are feeling that personal power outage, time to reconnect and recharge.
A. Alliance Collection Agency, Inc. is a full service, licensed accounts receivable management and debt collection agency providing highly effective, customized one on one management and recovery solutions for our business partners. Founded in northern Illinois in 2005, we have been proudly improving the bottom-line on behalf of our business partners in and around Chicagoland for over 15 years.
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