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Walking the Tightrope

Nov 2, 2011 3:34:06 AM
By TPD

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The realities of employment can have a number of unexpected consequences. As demands on employees change and businesses search for new ways to increase profitability, many elements of our lives become taken for granted. Ultimately, it can be difficult to grapple with the rigors of the workplace and our physical and psychological need for respite. Work/Life Balance is certainly not a new discussion, a great deal of informative literature exists on the topic dating back to the 1980s, yet the majority of the literature is presented as a paradigmatic shift in the way we live our lives and can be intimidating or, in some cases, inapplicable to our situation. It isn’t always feasible to take a half-hour walk around the block, take short naps at work or think positively about a difficult situation. In short, no single solution works for everyone, but there are still lessons to be learned and small practices an individual can adopt.

In “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time”, an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy provide one of these paradigmatic shifts that offer an alternative to the typical cycle of extended workdays followed by bouts of exhaustion; a cycle that the duo feels can be broken. In brief, Schwartz and McCarthy identify four reserves of energy and offer ways to sustain them:

  • Physical Energy
  • Emotional Energy
  • Mental Energy
  • Spiritual Energy

The solutions offered by Schwartz and McCarthy may be difficult to adopt in your workplace, many of the initiatives require the approval of your employer or manager but there are some key elements that can be considered universal.

Eat Less and More Often
Missing breakfast, eating only large meals infrequently and eating on the go all result in flagging energy levels. Your body needs fuel and it needs it often. How often do you skip breakfast, eat a huge lunch and then not eat again until you get home? By only eating large meals your body lacks a consistent source of energy. Keep simple sources of nourishment nearby, such as fresh fruit or nuts, and make sure to eat them throughout the day. This is one of the most common causes of fatigue or exhaustion and is easily remedied.

Be Positive But Honest
The power of positive thinking is a persuasive argument; simply think positively and positive things will happen. The scientific basis for this argument is largely circumstantial but the common sense instinct is undeniable. Positive thinking definitely has benefits, shifting your perspective on a critical situation at work or a temporary set-back can allow you to tap into unrealized reserves of energy and resolve. However, this outlook can also lead to a crippling inability to be honest about the challenges to be faced. Combining positive thinking with a critical outlook on the plausibility of solutions and the ability of individuals to succeed at a given task leads to more stable emotional and mental states and most substantial successes. Be supportive, but realistic of your limitations.

Sleep When You Need To
Our bodies have an optimal sleep duration and sleep window that is specific to each of us; my energy peak may be different from yours, while another person may need more hours of sleep before feeling fully rested. Despite the differences, a large body of scientific research shows that for the restorative benefits of sleep to be administered, adults require between 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

This observation is not revelatory, the rejuvenating powers of sleep are well known. However, what research is starting to show is how sleep deficiency can impede our immune system, mental health, memory building and stress levels. In short, sleeping regularly, and when your body tells you to, will keep you healthy, happy and energized. Mental functions and the ability to concentrate deteriorate rapidly as sleep deprivation increases. This means that waking up early to get to that report may produce better results that putting in longer hours.

Identify What Matters, Then Make It Happen
Employment can be a source of motivation and satisfaction, but for many of us there are other things that drive us. Whether it be hobbies or spending time with friends, deliberately making time for those activities that satisfy or fulfill us is critical to reducing stress levels and increasing a sense of competency. Even if your passion is your workplace, making specific time away from your day-to-day duties to engage with whatever activity sparks your interest is essential to maintaining your energy levels.

These simple shifts in behaviour can help remedy stress levels and increase energy, thereby increasing job satisfaction and emotional health. Find what works for you and try applying some of these helpful tips today!