Department: Leadership Q&A
Q I find myself struggling during the winter months when staffing is difficult. Knowing that I set the tone as a leader, what are some practical steps I can take to better manage my time and energy over what feels like a long haul?
Consider what it might look like if you focus on managing your energy, which is your most precious resource, not your time.1 This novel idea has been highlighted in business literature, stemming from the need to “build capacity” and improve personal productivity. Borrowing lessons learned from our counterparts in the business world may be timely.
Research suggests that we must alternate between expending energy (high focus) and renewing energy (intermittent rest) if we want to be productive.2 Instead, we tend to live in a gray zone, constantly juggling activities but rarely fully engaging in or fully disengaging from any of them. Think about the four categories of energy listed below and notice what resonates with you.
Body: physical energy. Not surprisingly, exercise, healthy food, and adequate sleep are essential. Taking short breaks to disengage before reengaging is helpful, and planning activities that are in synch with your high and low energy times during the day will work to your advantage.
Emotions: quality of energy. Fuel positive energy by focusing on the things you can influence, practicing the attitude of gratitude (mentally naming three things for which you're grateful as you begin or end the day), reframing upsetting situations by noting the lessons learned or taking the long view (3 months from now this won't matter), and keeping your self-talk constructive. A phrase I often use is “something about this is perfect, I just don't know what it is yet!” Rethink the stories you tell yourself and don't believe everything you think. Keep a sense of humor and remind yourself that “this too shall pass.”
Mind: focus of energy. Reduce interruptions by getting away when you need to concentrate on work. Respond to e-mails or voicemails twice a day. At the end of the day, reflect on one thing you accomplished and what's most important for the next day, and then schedule that priority. Schedule fun and/or creative activities in advance and enlist a friend to hold you accountable. Maintain boundaries and avoid taking work home or working on weekends. Do one thing at a time and be present because multitasking creates a scattered mindset and lessens productivity.2 Take a “purposeful pause” and be aware of sights, sounds, and your breathing several times a day.3
Human spirit: meaning and purpose. Find your “sweet spot” activities—things that you love to do, that make you feel effective, or that fully absorb your attention—and do these routinely. Make quiet, peaceful time each day a priority. Practice mindfulness by listening to guided meditations, taking a meditative walk, or sitting quietly noticing your breathing for 10 to 20 minutes. Remember the adage, just as a jar of muddy water settles and becomes clear when it is still, so do we. Consider ways to act on your core values by offering recognition, writing thank-you notes, participating in a charitable event, or tapping into activities that inspire you.
Choosing a friend or mentor to be your accountability partner will triple the chances that you'll sustain the changes you choose to make. Be aware of what drains your energy and trust your intuitive sense of what you need to do to reenergize yourself. You do set the tone on your unit; bringing your best self to work can make a world of difference for those who are on that long haul with you.
1. Loehr J, Schwartz T. The Power of Full Engagement
. New York, NY: Free Press; 2003.
2. Schwartz T. Manage your energy, not your time. https://hbr.org/2007/10/manage-your-energy-not-your-time.
3. Marturano J. Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership
. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press; 2014.