Most days around 4 pm I make a pot of tea and I sit and reflect. This is in the midst of a busy day as a working mum and I do it even when on business trips in far-flung places. It’s about renewal, reflection, becoming more mindful and finding some space.
Most of the time in our busy lives we refrain from taking this kind of time out during the day. But if we are to perform at high levels we need to be far more aware of not how we manage our time but how we manage our energy levels. No more so than those of you who may be working, studying and juggling family life or other demands on your time. In order to manage our energy we need to become aware of two things: how we spend our personal energy and how we renew it. Personal energy can be split into four categories: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. If we accept that we have “awake cycles” just like we have sleep cycles then the optimum way of doing this is to work in no more than 90-minute sprints and after each sprint change focus entirely in order to restore energy. That can be going for a walk or run, meditating, reading or mindfully drinking a cup of tea.
In this way we can move naturally between spending energy positively (your “performance zone”) and restoring energy in the “renewal zone”. Crucially this way of working and being means you will achieve more in less time! But in reality this is the opposite of what many of us do, myself included. If we have a deadline for an assignment or for work we keep slogging away, no matter what. If you’re a working mum you know you only have a finite time period in which to work so the pressure is even higher. But when we keep going like this rather than working with our natural cycles we are just oscillating between the “performance zone” and the “survival zone” which is where we spend energy negatively. And when the energy dips we reach for coffee, chocolate or distractions through email and Facebook. We sleep badly and feel more anxious. Spend too long in the “survival zone” and you will eventually end up in the “burnout zone”.
The good news is that we do not have to work harder to change our rhythm and regain the energy we so badly need. We can do more, with less.
To be truly productive and effective we need to move seamlessly between performance and renewal during the course of a day. This is done through a combination of the 90-minute sprints coupled with seven to eight hours’ sleep, walking, eating healthily and mindfully, drinking plenty of water, being grateful and aware of what is going well, uni-tasking rather than multi-tasking (easier to say than do – but switch off your phone and Internet browser if you’re on a deadline!) and having a sense of purpose.
I’m starting by making time for tea.