Many leaders and team members have found the stay-at-home orders draining—and prolonged weeks of this inherently stressful situation can take a toll on our ability to focus and perform well at work. For many, this is the very time when your business may be facing challenges that require you and your team to be more focused and creative and productive than ever. The stakes are high, and our physical, mental, and psychological reserves are low. Even as many places prepare to go back to work and stay-at-home orders are lifted, there are lingering questions and lurking stressors that will take a toll on our productivity unless we manage our energy more proactively.
What can you do to tap into the energy you need to live a more focused, happy and productive life, regardless of quarantine status? Here are some tips, many of which come from the classic 2007 “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” Harvard Business Review article by Tony Schwartz, adapted, of course, for this particular moment in time.
- Limit your news intake. You need to stay informed on the latest information that could impact your business, but you also need to be able to focus on your work. The American Psychological Association warns that too much COVID media intake has negative consequences for your mental health. Consider switching to audio formats if you can; your brain will play disturbing images in loops, so if watching cable news makes you anxious, switch to NPR or a podcast for your news. Pick a local source and a national or international source, and limit yourself to those few. Check in once in the morning and once in the evening, and avoid the trap of scrolling mindlessly.
- Prioritize sleep. This may be challenging since more people are reporting struggling with insomnia, fragmented sleep, and disturbing dreams since the onset of the pandemic. If you are having trouble getting a good night sleep, be sure you are following some basic sleep hygiene like shutting off screens an hour before bed, practicing some breathing or relaxation techniques or work on a puzzle or read a book to calm your body and quiet your mind, and following a sleep schedule of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Get some exercise and sunlight if you can, avoid napping, and limit caffeine and alcohol intake close to bedtime.
- Take breaks. During your workday, be sure you are getting up from your computer every 90-120 minutes to stretch your legs and clear your head. Don’t give into the temptation of working 15 hours straight. Your productivity and energy levels will plummet. Take a walk around the block, grab a snack or a glass of water or a cup of coffee to enjoy by the window or on the front porch, check in on the kids’ remote learning, or do a few sit ups.
- Set intention. We can’t control the bombardment of negative information or our instinctive emotional response, but we can control how we choose to feel. At the start of each day or each meeting, set an intention for how you want to show up. How do you want to feel, and how do you want to make other people feel? If you are going into a tough discussion on the budget and contingency planning with your team, you can show up frazzled and exhausted and anxious and fearful, or you can choose to show up with curiosity, compassion, calm and resolve. The meeting could have very different outcomes based on how you choose to show up. The same is true with your family and friends. Think ahead of time about how you want to feel in those interactions and how your best self would handle any obstacles.
- Practice gratitude. This is a powerful way to jumpstart some much-needed positive emotions. Expressing appreciation gives you a serotonin boost in addition to making the person you are appreciating feel happy, too. You can keep it simple—a handwritten note, a quick phone call, a small gift—but expressing gratitude daily can go a long way to improve your mood, energy level, and focus.
- Avoid multitasking. This is hard when you are working from home. You could easily find yourself always working but never quite as focused as you could be. It’s tempting to check emails during dinner or catch up on work while the kids are momentarily occupied with something, but your brain can’t switch in and out of work mode effectively that quickly. It’s better to set up times when you start and stop work, and honor those. If you know you have to check in on work during your family time, then schedule it, go into a different room, answer those last few emails for 15 minutes and come back ready to fully engage in family time again.
- Be kind to yourself. You may have the best of intentions but end up spending another day scrolling through Twitter mindlessly eating your way through a giant bag of peanut M&Ms. You may create a sleep sanctuary and meditate for an hour before bed and still be staring at your ceiling fan at 3 am. You may plan to show up with gratitude and patience and still end up yelling at your kid to stop whining and get to bed already. These are unprecedented times (and I know you're tired of hearing that, but it's true). Cut yourself some slack, and try again tomorrow.
I hope these tips are helpful as you approach these challenging times ahead. Remember that your energy is an asset you can manage, and do your best to show up each day with the best version of yourself you can muster.
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