by Lena Badicke
At our last company meeting, we asked our consultants which three things they could immediately change in their lives to increase their happiness. “Spend more time exercising,” “Do more activities with my children,” “take more personal time” – see the common thread yet? In workplaces everywhere, people are desperate for more time to pursue activities that lead to self-improvement and greater fulfillment.
Harvard Business Review (“HBR”) approached this elusive search for more time with a simple prescription: Stop. In a recent article entitled Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time – by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, HBR makes the point:
“Time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story. Defined in physics as the capacity to work, energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirt. In each, energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed by establishing specific rituals – behaviors that are intentionally practiced and precisely scheduled.”
Conclusion: Invest some time in better rituals and habits, improve your energy levels, and make better use of your limited time.
Adopt These Rituals
Set Timers – Track and limit how long you spend on tasks. How much time should this take? Set a timer and challenge yourself to finish your task before your time is up. This is a good way to improve your focus because it creates an element of gamification as you compete against the clock. Once your timer is up, reward yourself (set it again for a one-minute scroll through Facebook) and switch to a different, fresh task before any feelings of mental burn-out even start. And make sure to reflect on how easily your tasks fit into your time slots; Beating the timer too easily? Reduce your morning email check to only ten minutes rather than fifteen. A seemingly easy task never gets done within the time limit? Maybe you need to re-evaluate its importance or complexity.
Exercise – The long term benefits of regular exercise are well-known, but remember that getting your body moving has immediate results as well. Feeling drained after work? Don’t let yourself sink into the couch (it won’t let you get back up); instead, go on that jog – you’ll start the second half of your day feeling refreshed, energized, and with feelings of accomplishment. Getting a workout in doesn’t have to be a big production either – an afternoon walk can be the perfect pick-me-up when you’re caught in your post-lunch slog at work. Stick with it. The hardest part of exercising is starting, but as you develop this habit you will come to expect its benefits and “starting” will get easier.
Express Appreciation – so much attention is focused on improving your physical energy, but this is key to keeping your emotional and spiritual energy levels elevated. Bonus points because it also improves the energies of those you are appreciating, making this an especially important habit to develop a team-driven workplace. Make an effort to see value of the people around you and to let them know you’re aware of their work. Gratitude doesn’t need to solely extend to people around you; noticing and reflecting on things for which you’re thankful is one of the best ways to manifest a happy life.
Improve Your Sleep – Feeling tired all day, but can’t seem to get to bed and fall asleep once you have the opportunity? You’re not alone: 50-70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders. Cutting back sleep can give you a sense of accomplishment, an assurance that you are putting in enough effort and time into completing your daily to-do list. But remind yourself of the risks: in the short term, inadequate sleep affects judgment, mood, and ability to learn and retain information. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation leads to a host of health problems, disease, and early mortality. Increasing your work hours tends to result in a reduction of sleep hours, which in turn makes you less efficient on the job. Try to avoid falling into this vicious cycle by being realistic on what you can accomplish in a day and strict with your sleep hygiene.
Ditch These Habits
Turning Multitasking into Distraction – Multitasking is a great way to accomplish what you need done in a day, but taking too many things at once is counterproductive. This can give the illusion of efficiency, but reduces your quality of work and also incurs time costs as you switch between tasks – it drains your energy while reducing your outputs. In today’s world of real-time communication, smartphones, and constant notifications, we’re barraged by an onslaught of attention and tasks demanding our attention. Give yourself windows of time to work with all notifications off. You don’t need them, and are better off scheduling specific times to check your phone, email, etc. These times can be frequent, and are better than having the never-ending notifications drain your attention and energy (especially when you’re probably looking for a distraction).
Saying Yes To Everything – It’s hard to say no, but when you say yes to everything, and don’t deliver, how convinced will the people around you (and yourself) be in your commitments? Saying “yes” all of the time reduces the power of your “yes.” It also forces you to carry the weight of a multitude of tasks that you know you should complete, but probably won’t, and are now subsequently not motivated to finish. Communicate clearly and frequently to manage others’ expectations of you so your to-do list doesn’t turn into an energy-draining impossibility through yours’ and others assumptions.
Tired Body Language - Your body language, your gait, your facial expressions can affect others’ impressions of you, and can affect your own mood and energy levels too. Adopt a bouncy gait, swing your arms when you walk. Find it difficult plastering a smile on your face when you don’t feel like it? Try holding a pencil between your top lip and nose, it’s a more engaging task and uses the same muscles as a smile. This is an easy way to take action when you’re not feeling very motivated, and very often motivation follows once you have opened the door with your action.
Pursuing Perfection – Don’t make perfect the enemy of good. The pursuit of perfection yields diminishing returns, and can both drain your energy and waste your time. Allow yourself to step back, evaluate when things are “good enough” and redirect your dedication to completing other tasks that need your attention.
I’ve seen these lists before, but can’t get anything to stick…
This is a good time to drop the habit of being a perfectionist. Don’t worry about finding the perfect workout, the best training shoes, the right supplements – walking after work, taking the stairs instead of an elevator, that’s a good enough place to start. Ended up sleeping in and now only have 30 minutes to work out in the morning instead of an hour? Take that half-hour to get moving anyway, and remind yourself that you probably needed the sleep.
Time isn’t the only thing that’s finite: self-control is as well. It takes time to build habits, and to increase your level of discipline. Don’t take on too many self-improvement tasks at once, focus on one at a time to allow each habit to develop before working on another.
And for those who like assistance from technology, check out Timely, an application created by behavioral economist and author Dan Ariely and Stanford computer science professors Jacob Bank and Yoav Shoham. This interactive scheduler works with you to schedule good habits and rituals to keep you on track.
Improved Energy in the Workplace
At Plaster Group, we take special care that our company culture promotes our employees’ energies. We know that if our employees are happy in and outside of work, then they are performing at their highest potential. So we are very committed to providing our employees a reliable and consistent work-life balance, a great health and welfare package, and supportive, communicative environment. Our consultants are encouraged to pursue their passions in and outside of work, and we support them in any way we can, whether it be through incorporating their feedback into company changes or assisting in their career and education development.