This is the second in a series of 3 posts on human energy management at work.
In the first post in this series you were invited to take your personal energy audit to get an overview of your energy patterns for 2 days. What patterns did you discover? Did you find you were experiencing high vitality at certain times and flagging at others? If you were feeling energized, what were you doing? And if you were feeling tired what did you do to counter that?
Managing our energy source is vital, because when it is depleted, we become less effective at everything that we do.
Today we’re going to look at what the research says about some of the most effective ways to recharge, and maintain our energy while at work.
Many of us say we’d like to experience more energy at work and in our personal lives. And most of us want to be on the cutting edge of our abilities and our performance but we want to avoid burning out.
Research has found that people who thrive in their work feel energized and alive and feel they’re learning, growing and getting better.
That all sounds great. So what’s stopping us? Why don’t we always feel energized and alive at work? The truth is, even though many of us want that kind of experience, what prevents us from actually making changes is that we feel we have too many other pressures and constraints.
Unfortunately, we humans tend to learn and get better only when a crisis jolts us out of our complacency. However, what if there is no crisis? Do we remain stuck on our treadmill, taken hostage by all the demands placed on us? One answer is that whether we’re at work or at home, we can learn to flip the switch by proactively engaging ways that create energy for ourselves rather than depleting it. The benefits of this approach create a spillover effect from our work life into our private life and vice-versa.
So what small steps can we take that will kick-start a change in the right direction?
The first thing is to take good care of yourself. And work smart.
Your positive emotions can be increased by good personal energy management. Stop treating your life and work like a marathon, which is an idea we often cite, Tony Schwartz advises us to see it more like a sprint, where we work full out and then take a good break to fully recover. Please note, he does not suggest working for hours on end, but rather in 90-minute increments and then resting. Other recent research advocates for even shorter work periods such as 52 minutes of work followed by a 17-minute break.
Manage yourself in the following 4 areas as this can boost your energy:
- Your physical energy – Get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, drink lots of water and move your body a lot. Sit less. Stand more.
- Your mental energy – Stop multi-tasking- it shrinks your brain as well as its speed and causes you to make more errors and increases your health risks. Take a break in nature (see more about this tip below).
- Your emotional energy – Cultivate positive emotions, and perform random acts of kindness.
- Your spiritual energy – Reflect on what you are grateful for. One advantage of doing this is that we experience more life satisfaction.
Choose work-related strategies that really have an impact.
One study examined the ways in which employees managed their vitality at work by asking them to what extent they engaged in certain strategies with the intention of managing their energy at work. Here below are some of the things they reported doing:
Employees’ top 5 most commonly used *micro-break activities were:
- Drinking water
- Having a snack
- Going to the bathroom
- Drinking a caffeinated beverage
- Doing some form of physical activity including walks and stretching
*Short mini-breaks taken away from one’s desk which aren’t directly related to the doing of work. They are not full breaks.
Employees’ top 5 most commonly used *work-related strategies were:
- checking work emails
- switching to another task
- making a to-do-list
- offering to help someone at work
- talking to a co-worker
* Strategies used while working.
What the researchers discovered was that many of the typical approaches workers used did not have any impact on either increasing their energy or even reducing their fatigue while at work. The researchers suggest that these strategies were employed as distractions when employees were already tired and needed a time out in the hopes of reducing their fatigue and increasing their energy.
The results of this study indicated that if employees were seeking to effectively manage their energy at work, they should pursue strategies in the doing of their work rather than in micro-breaks.
Here are the work-related energy management strategies that were found to be most positively related to vitality (in order of magnitude):
- Learning something new
- Focusing on what gives you joy at work
- Setting a new goal
- Doing something that makes a colleague happy
- Making time to show gratitude to someone you work with
- Seeking feedback
- Reflecting on how you make a difference at work
- Reflecting on the meaning of your work
*Meditating was the only micro-break which positively impacted vitality.
Why do these strategies work?
Learning and seeking feedback: When we’re learning we’re growing and developing, which in turn creates psychological resources. When we’re in a learning mindset we become open to new things, rather than being resistant to change. This in turn creates more vitality and vigour.
Cultivating high-quality relationships: <a
Positive relationships at work are both physically and emotionally energizing and lead to better health. To fully appreciate this, consider the opposite: negative relationships which suck our energy and deplete our psychological resources. When we feel we’re lacking in psychological resources this in turn can impact our interpersonal relationships. The power of our high-quality relationships at work helps us to generate and sustain our energetic resources, which in turn equips us to perform our job and do it well.
Finding meaning and purpose: When we feel our work matters we’re more likely to be creative, satisfied, engaged and committed. For example, when we feel our work has an impact on others we will experience our job as more motivating and this will lead us to be more effective in our work.
Here are some other strategies that can help replenish your energy levels:
Play to your strengths. Actively using your strengths, whether it’s in your personal life or at work has been shown to be energizing. A study showed that people who felt they were using their strengths had more positive emotion, greater vitality and self-esteem, compared with people who felt they didn’t use theirs. When you’re faced with a task at work you find difficult, use one of your strengths. The more you can employ your strengths in different situations, the more you will experience the state of flow.
Why you should take your lunch break and why not all lunch breaks are created equal. In another recently published study on lunch break patterns in office workers, it was found that the absence of a proper lunch break can cause greater fatigue and lower productivity. However, this research also showed that while some lunch break activities, such as relaxing or enjoying lunch on one’s own enhanced recovery, other types of midday breaks which involved work and social activities, such as lunching with clients or your boss, were detrimental for work recovery during the workday because they required self-regulation.
Being autonomous in deciding how you want to use your time at lunch also aids in recovery.
Give your brain cells a rest … Take short breaks where you do nothing in order to reboost your levels of creatine phosphate. This organic compound provides a quick source of energy for muscle fibers to contract when they need an initial burst of energy. It is also found in the brain and provides a similar burst of energy for our neurons.
See green: Go for a short break outside in nature … Going outside in nature is not unproductive lollygagging, says Dr. Jenny Roe. Her research has found that taking a break from work and going for a walk in a green space or just sitting, or even viewing green spaces from your office window will have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery.
Breathe. Your breath is your life force. Shallow breathing prevents much needed oxygen from reaching your brain and vital organs leaving you feeling drained. Practice a few minutes of slowly breathing in deep and breathing out long. This will calm your nervous system and deliver the much needed oxygen you need to function optimally and give your energy a boost.
Now it’s your turn: What energy-management strategies have you used that have positively impacted your performance? Which of the above strategies do you want to try out? Please share with us all. Now go do it! Thank you for reading and contributing to our community!