If you think of your body as an organization with the different parts holding various positions, your brain would be the Chief Financial Officer. Instead of money, the brain manages the energy required for us to live.
Your CFO manages the revenues and expenditures for your body, developing budgets for different “departments” such as glucose, salt, water, temperature, and hormone regulation. The CFO is constantly estimating the body’s energy requirements, keeping reserves for long term projects like stressful events or illness. Once the event is over, the reserves are released. This is simplifying a very technical process, but you get the gist. Technically, it is called “homeostasis”—the ability of an organism or environment to maintain stability in spite of changes.
A department consistently exceeding budget, or low revenues, create an out of balance body budget. The toll of being out of balance manifests in a myriad of ways to include; illness, depression, overly sensitive, inability to concentrate, impaired memory, reduced emotion regulation, and excessive tiredness.
In physics, energy is the capacity for doing work. While only 2% of our body weight, the brain consumes 20-30% of our energy requirements. So if we want our brains to work optimally, we need to make regular “deposits”.
Chronic stress — breaking the budget in more ways than one
Not a shocker, stress demands a lot of our body budget. Stressful moments are not the issue. A stressful event is like an unbudgeted emergency expenditure. You may have enough in the “account” to cover it or temporarily use another department’s budget.
Sustained stress tells the CFO that we need a permanent budget, just like the other departments, because of the constant withdrawal. Now your body is using precious energy and regularly releasing cortisol (the stress hormone), whether you need it or not, creating detrimental physical effects. This is why stressed people are typically extra tired and hungry.
The impact of stress isn’t limited to the body. According to stress.org, job stress is costly to organizations. Job stress carries a price tag for U.S. industry estimated at over $300 billion annually as a result of:
- Employee turnover
- Diminished productivity
- Direct medical, legal, and insurance costs
- Workers’ compensation awards as well as tort and FELA judgments
How can a company reduce the physical and financial price? Focus on how people manage their energy, not their time.
More isn’t better when it comes to work hours
Dare we forget the war unions waged on business owners to reduce the workday to eight hours? After the companies succumbed to the unions, they found their businesses to be more productive and profitable. The article Bring back the 40-hour workweek says that 150 years of research proves that long hours at work kill profits, productivity, and employees.
What these studies showed, over and over, was that industrial workers have eight good, reliable hours a day in them. On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day. Likewise, the overall output for the work week will be exactly the same at the end of six days as it would be after five days. So paying hourly workers to stick around once they’ve put in their weekly 40 is basically nothing more than a stupid and abusive way to burn up profits. Let ‘em go home, rest up and come back on Monday. It’s better for everybody.
Is hour reduction enough? Is it reasonable given a company’s current landscape or development cycle? I don’t know if a start-up has that luxury. So how can we help ourselves and our employees? Energy Fairies.
Energy Fairies and Vampires
When I teach my course, THE Resilience Recipe, people usually laugh when I get to the slide below. Fairies always bring you good things. I think of Tinkerbell and her pixie dust. The slide below contains things you can do to generate revenues or release energy reserves held for estimated expenditures (i.e. stressful events).
The Energy Vampires slide receives an equal giggle. I picked vampires as they are infamous for withdrawing. Much like the picture of the pretty vampire, things that aren’t good for us can be very attractive. This slide contains a few items that are culprits for putting us in a deficit.
Most of the items on these lists we probably already know, it is more a matter of what are we doing? What are you doing?
Sleep, diet, and exercise are three highly impactful areas in which we can make improvements. As individuals, we can incorporate a few small practices into our day to help manage our budget. As employers, you can share these tips with your employees or offer programs that support these practices.
- Take regular breaks. In moments where you feel you lack productivity or are feeling blocked, get outside. Take a walk. While walking, take deep sustained breaths. Notice your surroundings, trying not to focus on whatever was stressing you. These actions say to your brain, “I am on a stress break.” At that time the CFO says “We don’t need the extra energy and stop creating cortisol.” It takes a few minutes to kick in, but you start to feel the difference. This is true for all Energy Fairies.
- If you can’t get outside, then take a mental vacation. Your brain is pretty much in a dark room awaiting sensory input. While I am sure anyone would prefer going to the actual place, a cerebral trip to your favorite vacation spot will do in a pinch. Visualize the scene, scents, sounds, and the tactile sensations while taking those deep breaths — then book your next vacation!
- Meditate. Companies can provide meditation rooms and offer education on how to meditate. I would meditate in my car at lunchtime because there were no other options. Meditating for 5-10 minutes can be enough. Some people shy away from it because they think meditation is too spiritual or new age feelgoodery. It can, but only if you want it to be. My childhood religion told me that if I meditated, I was opening my mind for demons to enter. That hasn’t happened. Meditation has many health benefits and is associated with slowing down Alzheimer’s disease — a clear sign that its good for the brain. A skill developed from meditation is controlling our “monkey-minds”. My friend John Izze teaches meditation and is creating custom meditations for my course. He tells his students that when random thoughts interrupt their mediation, imagine putting them in a box on a shelf where they can be accessed later. Developing the ability to control your thoughts can also make you a better listener.
- Volunteer. Organizations can provide opportunities for volunteerism and make it a part of their workday. Harvard Health stated that “a growing body of evidence suggests that people who give their time to others might also be rewarded with better physical health—including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.” If you don’t work for a company that has a program, suggest it or do it on your own time. Either way, the need for volunteers is in every community. It is truly a win-win for all involved.
- Create boundaries. Establish a boundary between work and personal time. When you finish for the day or week, you are done with work. Put down the phone and close the computer. Set the expectations with co-workers and management. In fairness, the same should be true for family and friends. They should respect your time at work, so set boundaries as to when you interact with them during the workday.
- Talk to yourself. Because time and energy are limited, a good habit to cultivate is asking yourself “If I say ‘yes’ to this (insert meeting, project, event, etc.), what am I saying ‘no’ to?” This question makes you present for the decisions you make as to how you spend your time.
If we become better at managing our energy, managing our time should come with more ease. Think about the balance of your Energy Fairies and Energy Vampires. Are you overdrawn?
If you have questions or are curious about THE Resilience Recipe course, contact [email protected].