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How To Break The Exhaustion Habit

When was the last time you woke up rested, energised and ready to seize the day? And when you got to Friday afternoon without feeling exhausted?

In our culture, where busyness is often mistakenly linked to productivity and a sense of worthiness and exhaustion a universally expected badge of honour, we are experiencing a deep energy crisis.

It's no news that exhausted employees give poor results and exhausted leaders make poor decisions. Tiredness decreases our ability to focus our attention on the person or the project at hand, and diminishes our capacity to manage our emotions effectively.

Numerous studies conducted on Fortune 500 companies by Tony Schwartz and his team from the Energy Project, have shown that improved energy levels in team members and their managers, lead to increased engagement, productivity and better company results.

We can then safely say that how you manage your personal energy is a key determining factor in your long-term success, devoid of crash and burn scenarios.

The challenge is that, irrespective of professional and personal demands, our energy level is ultimately our own responsibility. The key to success is to recognise the costs of energy-depleting behaviours and then take responsibility for changing them, regardless of the circumstances we are facing.

Our energy has four main sources: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Once we realise where our main energy deficits lie, we can introduce small changes building them into micro-habits/daily rituals to infuse our day with energy, rest and recovery.

If you would like to find out what drains you most, and how to restore your energy levels, access the energy quiz here.

1. Physical Energy: Your Day Starts The Day Before

We all know that adequate sleep, rest, nutrition and exercise are all important for our wellbeing, but where do you start?

As Matthew Walker, a leading expert on sleep research points out, insufficient sleep leads to poor dietary choices, heart-related diseases, lack of motivation to exercise and lower emotional resilience, among others. So, if you were to change just one thing in your daily routine, make that going to bed and falling asleep earlier, at a regular time.

Getting more sleep will help you have a more relaxed morning with time for family, healthy movement and/or breakfast, and will result in a more successful and productive day.

What makes going to, and falling asleep particularly challenging? Unless you are currently parenting a new-born or a toddler going through the nth sleep regression, streaming platforms with their binge-worthy endless content, single-handedly kill your best intentions to fall asleep earlier. As Tony Schwartz says: “Watching television is the mental and emotional equivalent of eating junk food.” It depletes you, rather than replenishing your energy levels. So, switch to an old- fashion alarm clock and leave all your devices outside of the bedroom. Within a week you should notice a massive improvement in your sleep quality, and your energy levels.

2. Emotional Energy: Emotional Accountability & The Power of Gratitude

One of the main pillars supporting our emotional reserves is the ability to set, express and maintain healthy boundaries – a broad subject meriting a separate article in the subsequent newsletter.

Our emotional resilience is strongly linked to our focus, productivity and results, yet our approach more often than not involves ‘getting on it with’ – dismissing uncomfortable or negative emotions until we feel it’s appropriate to deal with them (which may be that evening, that weekend, or well… until they express themselves outside of our control).

Introducing daily check-ins with yourself may be a simple yet incredibly effective way to increase your emotional awareness and take immediate steps to manage challenging emotions and shift towards a more positive state.

Ask yourself throughout the day: How am I feeling this now? And what can I do to feel better?

It could be taking a brisk lunch walk along a new route to shift away from boredom towards a new perspective; excusing yourself from a team lunch to restore your energy reserves, or taking a cross-fit lunch class to get that frustration out of you in a controlled environment.

We perform best when we feel positive. This is very simple but not easy. Rather than blame the circumstances and project our emotional state onto our surroundings, the ongoing challenge for leaders is taking radical responsibility for our emotional state, which starts with continuous self-awareness.

Another powerful way to fuel our emotional reserves is expressing gratitude and appreciation. It can be in a form of a thank you note, email or phone call, or a face-to-face interaction. This is especially effective when we are specific, consistent and intentional. Writing a daily gratitude list is a highly effective ritual practiced by many leaders and celebrities worldwide and has proven to psychological benefits such as overcoming low moods and reconnecting us to our purpose and values (more on that below in point 4).

One way of applying this in a professional context is asking yourself at the end of the meeting: What am I grateful for in this exchange?

Perhaps the sale you were hoping for did not go through, but you gained valuable market insight thanks to your clients’ honesty, or your boss’ directness shed immediate light on their priorities, saving you precious time and energy... there is always that silver lining!

3. Mental Energy: The Myth Of Multitasking

Most of us are already well-aware that multi-tasking is not an effective strategy when it comes to productivity and energy management. And yet, we do it anyway. This is especially pertinent if you pride yourself on always being available for your team members and clients. A brief shift in attention from one task to another—stopping to answer an e-mail or take a phone call, for instance—increases the amount of time necessary to finish the main task by as much as 25%, a phenomenon known as “switching time.”

In order to avoid the costly ‘’switching time’, check your email only twice a day, at a pre-established time, and then focus solely on answering emails in that given time slot (30 to 45 minutes for instance). If something is truly urgent, people will call you. All emails can wait a couple of hours to be answered with your full focus and diligence.

You will be so much more efficient if you fully focus on one activity, take a proper break and then move on to the next task. The length of time when you are able to give undivided attention to the task at hand will vary from person to person and increase with practice without distractions.

In performance coaching we often refer to “ultradian sprints’’. While the more commonly known term “circadian rhythm” occurs over a 24-hour period, “ultradian rhythms’’ are shorter and are repeated during that time. Performance psychologists Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz explain this phenomenon saying, “Physiological measures such as heart rate, hormonal levels, muscle tension and brain-wave activity all increase during the first part of the cycle—and so does alertness. After an hour or so, these measures start to decline.

‘’Ultradian sprint’’ is a period of 90 to 120 minutes when we are most alert and focused. After that the body begins to crave a period of rest and recovery, which should last between around 30 minutes. A popular time management system, also derived from ultradian rhythms but perhaps more attractive for those of us with a shorter attention span, is the Pomodoro technique. This productivity method advises breaking your day into 25-minute chunks of focused work followed by a five-minute break, and a longer break after four ‘pomodoros’.

Regardless of whether you decide to work in 120-minute or 25-minute sprints, switch off all notifications on your phone and email, close all inactive tabs, and if you can move your phone out of your reach during your focused work. You’ll be surprised by how much you’ll get done!

4. Spiritual Energy: The Power Behind The Purpose

Ultimately our purpose is what drives our motivation. Engaging in activities which are aligned with our purpose and values increases our energy levels for days to come. This can really help us drive change and stick to new habits during the adaptation phase. (For more on new habits I highly recommend, The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg.)

When setting up an early bed time or any other new energy-enhancing habit, ask yourself, why am I doing this?. Of course - to get more sleep would be the obvious answer, but search for the reason behind it: is it because you deserve to enjoy your life, because you can serve your clients more effectively, and support your family with more patience and affection way when you are rested? All of the sudden, turning off lights early seems like a small price to pay for a deeply fulfilling reward in sight.

As Simon Sinek famously said years ago, as organisations and individuals we always ought to start with why. The problem is that in our day-to-day busyness the time for reflection upon purpose is normally the last one on our to-do list. And yet it should be the first, and something we return to on regular basis.

Ask yourself:

What activities fill me with joy, a sense of purpose and aliveness?

Why did I start this job in the first place and why am I doing it now?

What are my main values and what activities in my life & work reflect them?

What is the one activity that I can engage in today to bring me closer to my purpose?

Our purpose and key values may change throughout our lifetime. It is important to give ourselves permission for that change, and for a period of uncertainty in transition. Awareness of our purpose and values however, empowered by consistent actions ensuring that our life reflects them, will invariably raise our energy levels and work & life satisfaction.

Natalia Mank

Life & Business Coach -

Yoga Origins Founder

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