“Energy is not an infinite resource”, with Karolyn Hart

We teach our staff that their energy is not an infinite resource and they must learn to self-monitor the level of effort, and then ensure they build in a margin to recover. For some people that looks like going for a walk and for others that includes taking a nap. (Yes, we encourage naps!) Our […]

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We teach our staff that their energy is not an infinite resource and they must learn to self-monitor the level of effort, and then ensure they build in a margin to recover. For some people that looks like going for a walk and for others that includes taking a nap. (Yes, we encourage naps!) Our goal is ultimately bringing the best innovation and service to our customers.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Karolyn Hart. Karolyn is an award-winning entrepreneur, technology executive, activist, speaker, author and Founder and President of InspireHUB Inc. located in the USA, Canada and Australia. Karolyn has spent two decades building a unique skill set around engagement as a technologist with experience implementing large scale projects in financial services, automotive and healthcare; an entrepreneur launching a national television show; an award-winning economic developer working in community engagement; and a startup founder designing and working with the latest in Progressive Web App technology. Karolyn knows what it takes to keep a team engaged against all odds. Karolyn has been covered in Reader’s Digest, The Globe and Mail, CBC, The Chicago Tribune, GCN and SD Times. She was recognized as one of 99 Limit Breaking Female Founders by Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and was featured as a Top Female Disruptor in Authority Magazine. Her technical white papers have been published by various industry magazines, and her 2017 white paper garnered the support and participation from leading engineers in Google Chrome and Samsung Internet.

Thank you so much for joining us, Karolyn! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I left to attend Bible College, I could have never predicted that I would end up working in technology for some of the largest brands in the world let alone launching a tech company that is now in three countries. Professionals often comment on the departure from my original plans but I like to joke that I put the ‘IT’ in Faith. What my career path has taught me is that life is a wonderful journey filled with surprises. Today, I have the privilege of working with people from all walks of life and with all different beliefs, and I count myself blessed for the wonderful way we all weave our lives together toward a common good. While I could never have predicted this path, it has resulted in a beautiful tapestry that I am deeply grateful to have in my life.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

In every generation, there have always been people who were known for their sense of “time urgency” in the way they conducted their lives. It’s said that the people that worked with Theodore Roosevelt had a hard time keeping up with him and that he literally would run from my meeting to meeting. Thomas Edison was known for his work ethic and stated that “Great things come to those who hustle while they wait.”

Research studies in psychology have shown that people with Type A personalities are characterized as ambitious, productive and competitive. They also point out that in extreme situations these people will embody an unhealthy sense of urgency and will rarely take the time to rest and reflect.

We can see through history that the need for rest and reflection has always been a concern. In 1914, Henry Ford started testing different hours in work weeks to determine how he could optimize a workforce. That resulted in the 40-hour work week that we now have today and that many professionals tend to ignore, believing that working longer hours will somehow give them a competitive edge.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

When we started InspireHUB, we were like any typical tech startup company. Our small team of developers were working around the clock (including weekends) to try and get a minimal viable product to market as quickly as possible.

As we approached our one year anniversary, we began to notice cracks in our performance. One Monday morning, we had six people off with the flu. This wouldn’t be extraordinary except that our team is 100% remote and no one worked in the same building together. Spread across three geographic locations it was hard to believe that everyone legitimately had the flu, yet they all did.

We began to ask tough questions of the culture we were building internally and starting doing research. The last thing we wanted was to have an uninspiring culture. The team felt continued and sustained pressure with a sense of urgency that was completely unhealthy. To say our team felt ‘rushed’ would be an understatement. The result was of this environment was a direct, negative impact on our productivity and our team’s health, and moments of happiness were fleeting.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

We couldn’t afford to lose the people we had on our team, but it was clear our present way of working was not sustainable. We discovered the biggest challenge we had to immediately address was the lack of rest and recovery. We coined the term being ‘stupid tired’ because we noticed the more exhausted our team was the more likely they were to miss things or to make a mistake.

The first thing we did was to discourage staff from working weekends. It would seem that this would be a normal and welcome request but the team was very concerned about the impact on their timelines. One of our team found a prestigious study that shows the power of a four-day, productive work week. We implemented a test run of this for 90 days over the summer with the promise that if we were not more productive that we would revisit it.

The test was a great success but ultimately the team opted for a traditional five-day work schedule with one tweak. We keep Fridays free of any planned meetings and the team is able to use that time in any way they wish. We discovered the draw of working on a Saturday was there were no meetings so by recreating that experience on Fridays we became extremely productive.

More importantly, the stress levels of our team decreased and our team’s happiness and innovations significantly increased.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  1. Have one day a week with no ‘pre-planned’ meetings.
    We looked at how Google gives their employees 20% of their time to work on being creative. Our developers had already been provided this option but we were still struggling with scheduling and feeling like we were never quite getting ahead. We found our answers not in other tech companies but in hospital management. An article published in February 2014 called “Cut Your Company’s Fat but Keep Some Slack- Why excess capacity leads to greater efficiency.” offered us the solution we were seeking.

    The article discussed the operating rooms of St. John’s Regional Health Center that were running at 100% capacity. (Sound familiar? It did for us too!) They brought in an outside consultant who gave what sounded like crazy advice: leave one room empty. They were already running at capacity, falling behind, and the consultant was recommending to remove an entire operating room?

    It turns out this was a genius recommendation. As the article pointed out, “On the surface, St. John’s lacked operating rooms. But what it actually lacked was the ability to accommodate emergencies. Because planned procedures were taking up all the rooms, unplanned surgeries required a continual rearranging of the schedule.”

    The moment we reviewed the article a light bulb went on for everyone at InspireHUB. Our schedules were definitely planned but we needed to incorporate “margin.” Giving our developers 20% of their time to work on creative solutions was a step in the right direction but we needed something more. We tested and tried a few different things until we finally landed on what is now called “ShipIt Fridays” (in honor of Atlassian’s ShipIt Days) and also because of our ability to get things done and out the door.
  2. Plan for recovery days after a big project.
    Every team will understand the exhaustion that comes from the completion or launch of a large project. Whether that is pushing out new code, launching a marketing campaign, or finishing up a tradeshow. We carefully track the number of hours and amount of energy that our staff are putting out during that time and then intentionally design the following week of work around ‘rest and recovery.’ During this time, we will block the type of work that is low-energy and necessary but not critical. This includes completing a Post Implementation Review but also items like organizing files and projects. It allows the team to reset and get a breath before diving back into the heavy, hard-hitting work that we do. This ‘down time’ has become absolutely critical and some of our best suggestions come out of this week that allows people the ability to think and not just constantly ‘do.’
  3. Teach your staff the power of “margin” and work it into everything.
    Recovery days came after we noticed that our team’s problem-solving and coding abilities were muted after a major release of our software. In technology, research shows that those with a high cognitive load are most at risk. Protecting our company’s intellectual assets became a matter of survival in the early days and a matter of innovation as we matured and stabilized.

    We began by teaching our team that not all work carries the same level of energy. Working eight hours troubleshooting a major technical problem is not the same level of effort as spending eight hours researching a new feature. The crisis aspect of resolving a time-sensitive technical problem is completely different than researching and planning.

    We teach our staff that their energy is not an infinite resource and they must learn to self-monitor the level of effort, and then ensure they build in a margin to recover. For some people that looks like going for a walk and for others that includes taking a nap. (Yes, we encourage naps!) Our goal is ultimately bringing the best innovation and service to our customers.
  4. Pay attention to your team’s energy levels.
    Even teams working in supportive environments who are taught how to build margin into their week and encouraged to recover will end up with energy levels depleted. We have discovered the individual who is exhausted typically will underestimate the level of exhaustion they are experiencing.

    We researched and discovered that 17 hours awake is the equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.05 and cognitive abilities are obviously negatively impacted. We spend time getting to know our team’s energy levels and when we see them appearing lower than normal we will ask specific questions on how much rest they are actually getting. In some cases, we’ve done “nap interventions” where the person is requested to go and rest. Invariably, they return with a comment such as “I really needed that! I had no idea I was that tired.” In other cases, we’ve been able to uncover serious issues happening with our staff and create a success plan that helped them optimize their workload, but it all starts with paying intentional attention to your staff.
  5. Learn to prioritize.
    If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. One of the greatest frustrations for teams is feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work that is before them. When we have staff who are expressing they feel overwhelmed the first thing we do is to have them list everything they must do. Then we make them select the three things they must get done today. It’s not always easy to set priorities which is why we ask our leaders to constantly clarify and to ensure their staff have no confusion on what their priorities are for today.
  6. Silence. Every single day.
    Science says that silence is proven to make you smarter and helps to rewire your brain. Among its many benefits, it helps to grow new brain cells, activates your memory, and encourages self-reflection. Fortunately, at InspireHUB, our team does not have to contend with an open office environment as our 100% remote workforce means that teammates have multiple times a day where they can work uninterrupted. As a leader, the first two hours of my day are spent in complete silence and journaling. The effect of this early morning ritual has been powerful. Indeed, some of the most pressing problems we have overcome today were sparked from a moment of inspiration that happened during that time of silence.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

Mindfulness is a skill to be practiced and mastered. For some people, it comes quite naturally. From the time I was a child, I was blessed to have the ability to be fully engrossed in whatever was before me to the point that the only way to draw my attention away was to touch my shoulder. The same holds true for me as an adult and I believe it was because early on I was encouraged to learn the exercise of journaling.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

One of the most effective exercises to integrate mindfulness into your everyday life is to journal. It helps to sort through the dizzying amount of priorities and things that are requiring your attention, and will also reveal the very few things that are actually top of mind in your life. It is very effective for setting priorities and being able to remember what truly matters.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

As a leader, the very best thing I do for our team is leading by example. Practically here are some things you can do:

● During meetings with people, completely remove all distractions (including the phone) by not having it in sight whatsoever. Place it under the table so you can remain focused on those in front of you.

● When you are being distracted by another priority, do not present that you are fully focused. Often, telling the person “I’m sorry but I’m very concerned about ______ and it’s making it difficult to focus.” is enough to help them remain focused. People are very understanding of the situations we face. They are less understanding of being made to feel unimportant.

● Write down everything. During meetings, one of the easiest ways to remain focused and attentive is to take notes. It will help to keep your focus on what is in front of you.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices

Accidental Genius: Using writing to generate your best ideas, insight and content by Mark Levy
This great book will teach you the power of free writing and how it works to create organization in your life. It allows you to creatively see situations from all angles as well as open you up to potential opportunities you have not yet considered.

One Thousand Gifts: A dare to live fully right where you are by Ann VoskampThis book will help to unleash the power of gratitude in your life no matter how difficult the present circumstance. Becoming consciously aware of the small moments of joy all around you and in every moment has a way of providing a fresh perspective that we all need.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“For what does it prosper a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” As a recovering workaholic, this verse came to be a guiding light to balance in my life. Being successful on behalf of those that I am entrusted to lead is still important but not at the cost of my health and joy. The fascinating discovery is that by protecting the things that matter and feed my soul it ensures a sustainability that will allow me to continue to lead, to help more people and run the endurance race which is life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Helping people to understand that they are human beings, not human doings and their value is far greater than the work we put our hands to each day. The first time we lose a job or are forced into a career change we are faced with the fact that our identity is much more than just the work in front of us. It is a terrifying moment for many and yet, when embraced, it is also liberating.

When I sit with teams I ask them: “Who are you if tomorrow you have no reputation, no job, no friends and are sitting homeless on the side of the road? What is the intrinsic value that is still uniquely you?” It is that value that I wish to unleash in the individuals who work for me. What is fascinating for me as a leader is that, when you focus on who the person is and not simply what they do, they will end up doing more and accomplishing more than even they thought possible.

I suppose this is the great truth that we hopefully all have the opportunity to discover: that our unique gift to the world is simply who we are and that our work is just an excuse, a tool, to reveal the masterpiece which is the person that lies within.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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