Are you working longer hours, attending more meetings, taking shorter vacations, answering more emails and eating lunch at your desk, if you eat lunch at all?
Does demand in your life just keep getting higher, so you’re struggling more and more just to keep up? Are you utterly sick of hearing the phrase “do more with less?” Does the word “unsustainable” sound about right?
Human beings aren’t meant to operate like computers–at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time. We’re designed to be rhythmic, and to intermittently renew. Here are the six strategies we’ve found work best:
1. Make sufficient sleep your highest priority.
Far too many of us buy into the myth that one hour less of sleep allows us one more of productivity. In fact, even very small amounts of sleep deprivation significantly undermine capacity for focus, analytic thinking and creativity.
The research is clear: more than 95 per cent of us require seven to eight hours of sleep in order to be fully rested, and for our brains to optimally embed new learning. Great performers, ranging from musicians to athletes, often get even more than 8 hours.
Two simple strategies can help. The first is to set a specific bedtime and to begin winding down at least 30-45 minutes earlier–avoiding stimulating activities like answering email, and opting instead for more relaxing ones like taking a warm bath, or reading.
The second is to spend a few minutes reviewing what’s on your mind before you go to sleep, and then write down anything that’s worrying you. What you’re doing is effectively parking these concerns so that they don’t end up keeping you from falling asleep, or back asleep in the middle of the night.
2. Take a renewal break at least every ninety minutes.
It’s now how long you work that determines the value you produce, but rather the energy you bring to whatever hours you work. Likewise, it’s not how long you take off that matters most, it’s how skillfully you renew.
The first key is to intermittently quiet your physiology. You can dramatically lower your heart rate, your blood pressure and your muscle tension in as little as 30 to 60 second seconds with regular practice.
With your eyes closed, try breathing in through your nose to a count of three, and out through your mouth slowly to a count of six. In this way, you’re extending you’re recovery. As your body quiets down, your thinking mind will also get quieter and you’ll feel more relaxed. For further instruction, go here.
3. Keep a running list of everything–literally everything–that you want or need to do.
The more fully and frequently you download what’s on your mind, the less energy you’ll squander in fruitless thinking about undone tasks, and the more energy you’ll have to be fully present in whatever you’re doing.
4. Run up your heart rate or take a nap in the early afternoon.
If your excuse for not exercising regularly is “I don’t have time,” consider working out during your lunch hour (and yes, you’re entitled to one).
There may be no better way to clear the mind, lower anxiety and jump start your energy than by intentionally raising your heart rate into the aerobic or anaerobic zones.
If taking a run or going to a gym is too time consuming, how about taking a brisk 15 to 30 minute walk outside? Or if you’re in an office building, how about walking up and down the stairs?
Alternatively, take a 20 to 30 minute nap between 1 and 4 p.m, when most of us feel a wave of fatigue. Researcher Sara Mednick has found that a short nap is not just powerfully restorative, but also prompts significantly higher performance on cognitive tasks in the subsequent several hours, compared to non-nappers.
Few employers sanction naps, but even sitting back in your chair and closing your eyes for a few minutes can be restorative. If you’re the boss, get a barcalounger–my own favorite piece of office furniture–and set an example by using it.
5. Practice appreciation–and savoring.
One of the least recognized ways we squander energy is in negative emotions. We’re far quicker to notice what’s wrong in our lives than what’s right.
Look for opportunities to appreciate someone in your life, and share what you’re feeling–directly, or in a note. You’ll be giving the other person a shot of positive energy, but sharing positive energy will also make you feel better.
Look too for opportunities to appreciate yourself. Take time to savor small victories, give yourself credit where you deserve it, and forgive yourself when you fall short.
6. Develop a transition ritual between work and home.
When we leave the office, many of us carry work with us. The result is that even when we get home, we’re still not truly present. Consider establishing a very specific way to disengage from work so you can leave it behind.
The most powerful ritual we’ve seen clients build is to stop somewhere along the route home, such as a public park, and take a few minutes to let the day go, and to focus on the evening ahead. Turn home back into a place where you’re truly getting renewal.
Reprinted from TheEnergyProject.com
Tony Schwartz is President and CEO of The Energy Project, a company that helps individuals and organizations fuel energy, engagement, focus, and productivity by harnessing the science of high performance. Tony’s most recent book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs that Energize Great Performance, was published in May 2010 and became an immediate The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Follow him on Twitter @TonySchwartz.