As we get to this time in the business year, there seems to be greater pressure to do more and less personal energy available to do it. We haven’t had a public holiday for a while and many of us are keeping our leave available for the Christmas break and our summer holiday. Every day seems to be testing our ability to go the distance. So how do we manage our energy to ensure we make it to the finishing line in good shape this year?
Get on the Balcony
We can start by giving ourselves permission to take a few minutes out of our busy day to invest some good quality thinking time in revisiting our priorities and looking closely at how we are expending energy. This is time management advice with a healthy dose of Neuroscience and it is the secret to greater productivity.
When we are tired and dealing with competing demands and never-ending to-do lists, we are easily overwhelmed and we can lose sight of our priorities. We move mindlessly on automatic pilot to deal with the things that are right in front of us or work on tasks that don’t require too much thinking power, so we can conserve our precious mental energy. We can gain greater clarity about our priorities, however, by creating physical and mental distance from the day to day activities we are usually engaged in and by doing so, help our brain regain perspective.
We advise clients to do this mentally by making a conscious choice to get off the dance floor of everyday busyness and step on to the balcony. The view from the balcony helps them see what is happening more clearly and notice where they are focusing their attention and energy currently. It enables them to review what is important in the bigger picture of work and life and make better choices about where they can achieve greater value and return on their investment of these scarce resources.
Work with Our Natural Rhythms
Neuroscience findings are showing us that we are not able to expend energy continuously. Unlike the computers our brains are often compared to, we have physical needs for adequate sleep (which research is suggesting seems to be around 7 to 8 hours a night) and we are meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy. Our energy ebbs and flows throughout the day with a state of alertness shifting into physiological fatigue every 90 minutes or so. We cycle in and out of these natural operating rhythms, but we try to mask this natural tiredness with caffeine or we power on using our internally created stress chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline. These stress chemicals mobilise us to action, but they don’t give us access to our best thinking. We are trying to be productive, but research is showing that we would be better off honoring our natural rhythms and taking time to stop and refresh our energy store.
We often equate time at our desk and at work with increased productivity, but the Neuroscience findings are suggesting this is not the case. We are very fortunate that energy is a renewable resource and simple activities such as taking time out to go for a walk, to socialise with others, eat lunch away from our desk or even to look at pictures of nature (especially images of water) will help renew our energy levels.
Being More Productive
The bottom line is that if we want to be more productive, then we need to be more skillful at managing our attention and energy and we need to prioritise prioritising even though it requires considerable mental energy. When we understand the relationship between energy, attention and time then we can achieve greater productivity by being more mindful of our priorities and being intentional about what we focus on and when. With a more thoughtful approach to time and energy management, we can also build our resilience levels to cope better with whatever life throws at us.