Like a badge of honor, I used to tell people about how many hours I worked each week. Talking about how busy I was and how much I had going on. This was all true, of course, and I was very busy. I was responsible for a nearly $60 million retail store and 250 employees at the time. My three boys were young and busy with sports and school activities. Every other Sunday morning I volunteered at my church, and sat on the board of that church. My wife and I are a good team, but after the 70 hours in the store, the sports, the church and family responsibilities, I was spent each day. Not in a good way.
There were a couple of incidents that became red flags for me. I remember sitting on the couch one night watching television and talking with my wife around eight o’clock, and in mid-sentence I fell asleep. It was a quick doze—just a second—but it scared me that I was that exhausted. The second incident happened when we were driving up to visit my brother who lives 90 minutes away. It was mid-morning and I was drifting off while driving. I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open. My exhaustion was putting my family in possible danger. Can you relate to any of this?
When someone asks you how you are doing and your response involves any variety of “I am so busy” or “things are nuts right now,” you may want to pay attention. If this sounds like you, I want to reassure you of a couple things. First, you are not alone, and second, it is not too late.
Through the past few years I have experimented with several ways to perform better and manage my time, energy and life better. I have spent many hours studying and looking for resources. There is an enormous amount of material on this topic, and thanks to Thrive Global, it is increasing our awareness. We are going to look at a simple framework for you to customize your own energy renewal to maximize your performance.
Before we dive in, however, there are some things to keep in mind. Please understand that you cannot manage time. Time is not renewable, always passes, and everyone has the same amount. There are 24 hours in a day. That is 1,440 minutes. If you like big numbers, go with 86,400 seconds. That is the same for you, me and anyone who is the highest achiever in their field. It is how you use the time that matters.
Energy is the currency of high performance, according to Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr, in their book The Power of Full Engagement. Energy is a renewable and manageable resource. How you build, spend and manage your energy is up to you. I am not going to go into depth on this, because Schwartz and Loehr do an amazing job. Read that book.
I want to share with you three simple ideas to help you renew your energy, restore vitality and increase your capacity to perform your best. This is a conscious process I look at almost every day to make sure I am bringing my best to my family, work and any other areas of my life. Each day I think about how I can get out, work out, and chill out. As you read each of these, think about how you can apply it to your situation, and fit it into your busy schedule.
Remember, any excuse you bring to not doing this is simply that—an excuse. I challenge you to examine the belief behind that and find out why you think that way. Try this, and I can guarantee you will find the time and space, and you will feel less busy. As the saying goes, if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got.
My experience in retail, sales, self-employment and high-tech have all been very different. The energy I felt on certain days and from certain activities was always a mystery to me. Why did I work 10-12 hours some days, travel and work and travel again—all in the same day, and still end the day feeling great and restored? And on other days I went home after a simple 8-hour day and I was burnt. It was years before I began to find the source of my energy. For me it came down to my ability to spend some of my day, even just a few minutes, outside. When I could be outside for a short time working, walking or just sitting and eating, I always felt better. Even when the weather was less than great.
There is some very interesting research behind this, but the essence of it is that the time we take to get out and break our minds from our normal work allows for our energy to rebuild. Sunlight, fresh air and being around nature can also have powerful impacts on our energy. Think of the way a hybrid car charges the battery. The car is still moving, but energy is replenished.
I love being able to take a walk on my lunch, even if it’s for only ten minutes. When I get home from work, being able to walk the dogs helps reset me. On my days off or, when I travel, I make it a point to sit outside to read, write, think or even listen to music. I will never forget the first time I went to Central Park in New York City. The feeling of renewal and escape form the busyness of the city was amazing. If people can get out and escape in one of the busiest cities in the world, you can do it where you live. Find out how you can get out and recharge your battery.
Work stress, family stress, money, family decisions, emotions. These can drain you, and honestly, they can make you sick. Not managing your stress will shorten your life. While we need some level of stress in our lives to keep us from boredom and poor performance, too much can cause meltdown and burnout. Engaging in activities that reduce your stress will give you the energy to tackle the tough things you must do each day.
For me, chilling out was always difficult. I enjoy being on the move and getting things done. Over time however, this has become a much simpler area to manage. Often it happens simultaneously with getting out or working out, but I can chill out in several ways. I have a playlist on my phone titled Chill, and another one titled Relax. I also have one titled Fun that can energize me in a different way. Music has always been a way for me to unwind and refocus. Meditation is also a good practice I have developed in the past year. I was hesitant at first, but as I eased into it, I have found it to be very valuable. Consider this and see how 10 minutes in the morning could change your life. Seriously. Go to the app store and check out Headspace. It is a great meditation app to help guide you. There are also a ton of guided meditations you can find that are free or low cost.
Reading is a favorite chill out activity for me. The power of a good book to restore vitality is often underestimated by many. Maybe you have said “I don’t have time to read.” Really? How often do you check your Facebook or Instagram? How many texts did you send today? It’s okay if you lie to me, but don’t lie to yourself. It only takes 15 minutes a day to read a few pages from a good book to get the many benefits it can have on your energy, not to mention the personal growth that can come from it.
Reflecting is another great way to chill out. Taking time to pause and think about what you are doing and the impact of your activities can provide some amazing insights and help you be your highest performing self. I used to think reflection was unproductive time, and I had a lot to do. But by not taking the time to reflect I was doing low leverage tasks, needlessly spending energy, and not thinking strategically. I was moving fast, but so do hamsters in their little wheels. Tons of motion, not much movement. Take 15 minutes today to reflect on your day, what went well and what didn’t, and think how you can be more effective. It can give your energy a big boost.
See what chill out activities you can come up with. It doesn’t take long, but the impacts on your energy are huge.
“Maintaining a complicated life is a great way to avoid changing it.” -Elaine St. James
The third component of my daily energy renewal process is to work out. If you still need convincing that exercise has a positive benefit on your energy capacity and feeling of well-being, then I can’t convince you in this article. Taking some time to exercise each day helps build your total energy capacity, but it can also be a great source of renewing your energy when you are feeling low.
I first discovered this when I was working in retail. My days were filled with walking all over a huge warehouse store, lifting heavy products and loading them, and moving and stocking merchandise. I would come home and still have plenty of energy to exercise, play basketball or hockey with friends, or go to the gym. As I moved up in my career into leadership positions, and the heavy lifting went from physical to mental, I came home and would feel exhausted. Not in the mood for hitting the gym or playing sports. My energy was down and I was gaining weight.
Mostly by accident I discovered something amazing for me. I began working out again even though I didn’t feel like it. After a few minutes, the surge of energy was profound. It was incredible how much better I felt. After a 10-hour day and feeling drained, I was completely restored! It dawned on me that my exhaustion was mental, and that my body had tons of physical energy. It was the imbalance of mental and physical energy levels that caused the wiped-out feeling. When I was mentally exhausted, spending some physical energy brought me back into balance, and gave me a great feeling and high energy level for the remainder of my day.
I have tested working out at various times of the day from first thing in the morning to after work. Test what works for you, and see how you can incorporate a few minutes of exercise into your day to recharge your battery, build your energy capacity, and boost your performance.
While I have kept these three components of my daily energy renewal separate for explaining in this article, I want to wrap up by mentioning that for most the year, I am able to get all three done at the same time. When I get home from work, I will get ready to work out by putting my headphones on and listening to some good music while I walk to the park near my house. Once I get there, I begin my workout, whether running or lifting rocks, or using playground equipment. Whatever I can find to get the work done while being outside. After I exercise, I find a bench to sit down at and turn off the music. I think about my day and take a few minutes for reflection. Maybe I will open my reader on my phone and read a book.
Other times, I will take 30 minutes at lunch time to go for a walk around my office, sit by a small pond nearby and do some simple stretching and flexibility work. All three components in a short time mid-day.
How can you Get Out, Chill Out and Work Out today? Build these three pieces into your daily routine and see the impact on your energy and performance.