Take Charge of Your Energy Levels!

Where does your energy come from?

Body: Physical Energy

Emotions: The Quality of Your Energy

Mind: Focus Energy

Big Rocks First

Human Spirit: Energy of Meaning and Purpose

Continuing a series of blog posts on how to best support first-time managers, you now need to look at one of the huge challenges—lack of time.

For most new managers, landing that first managerial job is exciting and challenging, filled with so much to do!

Then, the realization hits—so little time to do it in.

The natural reaction for first-time managers as team leaders is to just put in more hours. Crank up the work volume. Often it works for a while but you then run out of steam. Then, in your pursuit to squeeze more productivity out of the hours available, you start researching time management tricks and tips—maybe even invest in a super to-do app for your phone or fancy leather-bound paper organizer.

Regardless, chasing more time quickly becomes exhausting.

There has got to be a better way.

There is.

But it is not about managing your time, but about managing your energy instead. When you're energized, you fly through the day. Stuff seems to get done almost by itself. On the other hand, on the days when you're drained, even the simplest task seems to occupy the whole morning for you.

Where does your energy come from?

To some, it’s just a question of getting enough sleep and the right amount of caffeine in the morning—but it's actually more complex than that.

In the book The Power of Full Engagement, Tony Schwartz explains that people draw their energy from four sources: body, emotions, mind, and spirit.

Ideally, you need to fully manage them all in order to function at your best.

Body: Physical Energy

The basics are well-known to most. You need your sleep; you need to eat in a sensible way. If you don't know what that means, there are lots of resources on the web to guide you. Google is a good place to start.

Assuming that you have the basics under control, you also need to manage your physical energy over the day. This is less well-known. Your body isn't a machine. If you don’t give it time to replenish and recover over the day, you wear it down in such a way that your productivity drops dramatically as you move through the day. Ever notice a difference in energy levels during the first hours of the morning and your 3 P.M. drowsiness?

Every 90 minutes or so, you need a break. Have a 15-minute switch off, close your eyes, daydream or even better, take a brisk walk. Do whatever you can do to give your system a break from what you're doing.

If you apply these breaks every 90 minutes or so, you'll experience that you can sustain the same high levels of physical energy throughout the day. Afternoons become just as productive as mornings, and thus, make up for the time you wasted taking these 15-minute breaks.

Emotions: The Quality of Your Energy

Maintaining a positive state of mind requires a conscious effort. The more pressure you face and the more fight-flight reactions you have during a day, the more you tend to slip into negative emotions. Being in a negative frame of mind reduces your effectiveness quite dramatically; you see problems where you need to see solutions and possibilities. The negative impact isn't limited to yourself. Negative emotions are contagious; they spread to your surroundings and make everyone else less effective as well—apart from the fact that it ruins everyone's day.

The two fastest ways to make a quick emotional reset when you sense that you're slipping into a negative state is to take a deep breath and exhale slowly. When you exhale slowly, you provide instant stress relief to yourself.

Secondly, you can shift your focus. Next time you are in a negative mood, notice where your focus is. You're focusing then on something that you don’t like or want. When you do that, you trigger a negative emotional response. If you shift your focus to what you do want, what you could create, what would be a possibility, then you also trigger a more positive emotional response. Try it; it works wonders.

Negative emotions are like Tamagotchis. They need to be fed in order to persist. You might experience a burst of anger or frustration during a hectic day; that is unavoidable. Emotional bursts last 90 seconds if you just leave them to lose their steam. Only if you feed them with more negative thoughts do they survive for longer. Don’t feed them; shift your focus.

Mind: Focus Energy

The fastest way to dilute your mental resources and energy is to shift tasks rapidly. In your brain, there is no such thing as multitasking. What you sometimes refer to as multitasking is just asking your brain to perform several tasks at the same time by rapidly switching from one to the other. When you do that, the loss in productivity is dramatic. Typically, you add an extra 25% time to tasks when you switch attention. Answering phone calls, and replying to e-mails then while trying to finish that monthly report is a bad idea.

Chunk and batch process your tasks in categories—e-mails in one time slot, phone calls in another.

Big Rocks First

The number one productivity enhancer that everyone who implements it says changes their life dramatically is what Steven Covey called Big Rocks First: Start your day by tackling one big important project that you need to get done. Decide the night before what it's going to be. Do it first, before the e-mails, and the 15 yellow post-it notes with things to do and people to call on them. Practice this every day for a week and notice how much more you get done. It's amazing!

Human Spirit: Energy of Meaning and Purpose

Energy-wise, how does it feel to work on something that in your view is meaningless? It’s a drag, yes?

On the other hand, how does it feel to work on something that you personally feel is ultra important and meaningful? Now, you're maybe thinking, "Hey, it isn't a job; it's called a hobby—" Exactly. When something is meaningful to you—when you can see the purpose of doing it—it's much more fun to do that you would even consider doing it for free.

How do you tap into that energy?

As a team leader, you do so by becoming more aware of what's important to you and your team—what you value in life. Becoming more aware of the situation you've had this flow experience and then asking yourself, "how can I organize myself in such a way that I get to do more of that?"

Sometimes, you're just in a situation that you'll need to create your own meaning in order to survive. At the age of 21, I landed a job as a lift operator in a posh Parisian hotel. Now, that's not the most inspiring of jobs. In order to preserve my sanity, I started to think, "What would it take to become the best lift operator in Paris?" "How do I run my lift in such a way that people; i.e., my superiors, notice? That became my meaningful project every day and three months later, I was promoted to a new position in the hotel.

In conclusion, and I do realize it's a bit of a cliché, but it does apply here: Don’t try to work harder. You will only kill yourself. Work smarter.

Take charge of your energy levels!

Further Reading: Leadership: What, Why and How

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Mike Hohnen, MBA is a coach, trainer, author and public speaker who supports leaders, managers and their teams in implementing the principles of the Service Profit Chain.


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