As business leaders, we often fall into the trap of thinking that pushing ourselves harder than everyone else is expected of us. We believe that by burning the midnight oil and working tirelessly, we are setting an example for our team and demonstrating our commitment to our goals. But the truth is, this kind of mindset and the accompanying behaviours can lead to burnout, a common problem for leaders that can lead to reduced productivity, mistakes, and less-than-desirable interactions with our teams.
If you’re reading this, you may have been experiencing fatigue and stress in your personal life, which is starting to affect your work performance. Or perhaps you’re struggling to keep up with the demands of your job and feel like you’re running on empty. It’s important to recognise that managing your personal energy is crucial, not just for your own well-being but also for the success of your team and organisation.
In this article, we’ll cover some personal energy management techniques you can use to proactively manage your energy and those of your team and organisation. You may already know that managing your energy is important, but you’re not sure where to start. This article will provide you with tools and strategies for personal energy management, so you can take control of your own energy and also think of energy management from a larger, more holistic perspective in your business.
So let’s get started on this journey of self-discovery and exploration of energy management. Together, we’ll learn how to be more mindful of harnessing our personal energy and those of our team and organisation to achieve our goals and create a culture focused on the long game of sustainability and well-being.
Energy Systems From A Leadership And Organisational Perspective
Before we dive into personal energy management, let’s take a step back and consider energy systems from a leadership and organisational perspective.
What are energy systems?
The first question is actually, what is a system? I like this definition from Lex Sisney.
“A system is a series of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole.” ~ Lex Sisney, Organizational Physics: The Science of Growing a Business
Within our bodies, we have lots of systems – respiratory systems, digestive systems, and so on. All of those systems work together to create the macrosystem of our body.
And it’s important to remember this because as human beings, we are ourselves a system comprised of many smaller systems. And we are also part of many larger, interconnected systems.
We’re each part of a community, a species, an ecosystem. And we could go even higher and talk about the biosphere, cosmosphere, and multi-sphere.
But you get the point. We’re a complex adaptive system that is part of many other interrelated, interconnected systems.
And in a similar way, your business or organisation is also a complex adaptive system made up of smaller systems, including you and the other people on your team.
The next step is to consider what makes a system successful. What causes complex adaptive systems like the human, a culture, a society – or a business – to succeed or stall or fail?
I’m sure you know that energy management is a big part of it.
Systems and energy management
Now, when we want to think about energy management, we need to think about how energy works in a system.
The way energy manages or behaves within a system can be related to two concepts within physics:
- Conservation – At any point in time, the potential energy available in the system is finite and must be conserved. And to get new energy, you must acquire it.
- Entropy – Every system is falling apart over time. You must manage the entropy within the system.
Looking at these concepts from a human perspective, we have certain needs if we want to survive. We all know we need to take in air, water, and food (conservation).
But there are other types of energy also vital for a human being to thrive. Getting enough sunlight and connection with others are both incredibly important to keep our systems alive and healthy.
And we need to continually bring in new energy because our bodies are slowly falling apart over time (entropy).
Take our houses as an example. If we don’t take care of and repair things within our home, it starts to decay over time. When we don’t pick things up and keep things tidy, entropy begins to happen on our desks, in our homes, and in our environment.
And the same can be seen when you look at an organisation. How do we bring energy into the system (our business) as an individual and as a leader? And how do we manage this system that is falling apart over time?
To manage these systems, we need to manage:
- Our own health (mental, physical, emotional and spiritual)
- The health of the individuals on our team
- The overall health of our team as a whole
- And the health of the organisation
Energy Systems Within A Business
Looking at systems in this way is key to understanding why managing energy systems throughout our business – our own, that of others, and the business itself – is so important.
In McKinsey’s book Leadership at Scale and their article, they define leadership as being “ a set of mindsets, skills and behaviours used to help people align their collective direction, to execute strategic plans, and to continually renew an organization.”
It speaks to the role of the leader being one is continually renewing an organisation who brings new energy into the organisation and manages the friction within it.
So how might we do it?
How to bring new energy to your business
New energy in your business can take many forms, including:
- new revenue
- new partnerships
- new customers or deeper engagements with current customers
- resh routes to market
- new employees with different talents and capabilities
- new ideas and strategies
- new vision
- new platforms, systems or tools
- revamped processes
- upscaling existing team members with new skills, capabilities, mindsets
- and so on
Managing the entropy in your business
At the same time, we need to think about things that cause friction or fall apart within the system that is our business.
These can look like:
- processes and systems within the organisation eroding, being forgotten or being superseded over time
- communication between people can be a point of friction
- relationships between individuals, including stakeholders and across an organisation
- values and relevant behaviours associated with those values not upheld, rewarded or acted upon
So to reduce the friction and entropy in the business, we have to consistently manage:
- Building trust within teams
- Aligning people on their roles and the direction of their project, the team or the organisation
- Clarity about the metrics within the organisation – what great looks like and what failure looks like
- Assessing if the systems support the people to do their job well
- People have the tools to do their jobs well
- Consequences for not acting in line with the mission, values, and vision
You may already be doing many of these things, either instinctively or because it is baked into the DNA of your company, without realising the true reason why they are important.
Managing Human Energy Systems
When we think about managing energy and keeping internal entropy at a reasonable level, we have to think about the human system. Especially with the amount of pressure and stress we have sustained due to uncertainty over the past few years.
Within the human system, it is well known that unpredictability and uncertainty create a large cognitive load.
As humans, we’re always trying to create certainty for ourselves. Certainty in our relationships, about where and how we live, and in other ways.
For example, we have homes because it creates certainty about where we’re going to sleep every night, among other things.
Because when our environment is uncertain, it creates internal entropy friction levels. Which makes the levels of biological functioning become too great.
That’s when we start to develop coping mechanisms to minimise entropy, both physically and psychologically.
Did you know that it takes a lot of physical energy to run our brains? And when we have a predictable environment, we don’t have to burn as much energy to manage the psychological load.
But when we perceive things in our lives to be uncertain, we burn more metabolism resources to manage the stress we experience.
Consequently, it’s crucial to be conscious and deliberate about the:
- inputs we provide to our system
- environments we find ourselves in
- structure and consistency we can build into our lives
Of course, there will always be unpredictability and uncertainty. But as leaders, we have to find ways to manage that for ourselves and our teams to create more certainty for them, even in uncertain circumstances.
Personal Energy Management Techniques
So, taking all of the above into consideration, how can you, as a leader, maintain a good balance between bringing energy into your system and managing the energy you have available?
Of course, you’ve heard all of the usual tips, such as:
- Get plenty of good quality sleep
- Drink enough water
- Eat right
And it can be easy to dismiss these as trite. But the reality is that they really do have a significant impact on your daily energy reserves.
Because remember – not only do we need to bring enough energy into our system but we must also manage the internal entropy – physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Otherwise, over time, we become more erratic and unstable both for ourselves and for those around us. That makes it really hard to bring your best self to work each day.
I get it – you may not like a lot of structure (me either). But the reality is that structure creates freedom. And establishing structure around the things your body, mind, and spirit need to operate at their optimum levels can have a very positive impact and influence on those you lead.
So, here are some recommendations to get you started on the path to managing energy for yourself and those around you.
Establish a solid routine and structure around the most important elements of your energy systems, including:
- Sleep – get enough sleep every night to keep your cognitive function at its peak. What time do you go to bed at night? Can you limit the amount of blue light you get before bed to make sure you get the best sleep? Can you limit caffeine intake? For more on the research of sleep and optimal performance you might be interested in the work by Dr Peter Attia or Dr Matt Walker who wrote “Why We Sleep”.
- Good nutrition and hydration – keep your system replenished for the best performance through whole foods and plenty of hydration. Be mindful of the fuel you are putting into your body and how you feel before and after you eat and drink to find out what feels right for your body.
- Movement – it’s well known that movement and exercise increase your energy stores. And it doesn’t have to be the usual like going to the gym or for a run. It could be something as simple as free-form dancing when no one is around. The latest research indicates that we require cardiovascular and strength training movements to create optimum longevity.
- Breath – research has shown we tend to hold our breath when reading emails or looking at digital devices. And that can increase the stress in your body. So mindfully breathing deeply can both energise you and reduce your stress levels. For more information on breath, you might be interested in the research by James Nestor
- Light – The latest research from Andrew Huberman PhD, neuroscientist and tenured professor at Standford School of Medicine indicates that “sunlight within the first hours of waking increases early-day cortisol release (the ideal time for elevated cortisol) and prepares the body for sleep later that night. A morning spike in cortisol will also positively influence your immune system, metabolism and ability to focus during the day.”Connection with people you care about and who care about you – as human beings, we thrive on connection. In fact, this is not really an optional one but is required!
- Human touch – studies have shown that human touch is very important to us as an organism. So it’s important to get enough. One question may be how to introduce more of it into your life. As Nicole K. McNichols Ph.D suggests in her article “even for those lucky enough to live with families or other people one has podded with, the amount of touch we are receiving has undoubtedly decreased since before the pandemic.” So whilst we might be able to get this from our loved ones, there are opportunities to increase our touch quota from remedial massages, pedicures and even petting your dog or cat has shown similar benefits.
- Nature – spending time in nature has been shown to be a powerful way to reduce stress levels and boost energy. In fact, Japanese culture has a specific term for it: “shinrin-yoku,” or forest bathing. Research shows that spending just 20 minutes in a natural setting can significantly lower cortisol levels and reduce blood pressure. Another study found that spending time in nature can increase vitality and energy levels by as much as 40%. Even just looking at pictures of nature can have a positive effect on our mental and emotional state. So, try to spend time in green spaces, parks, forests, or even just sitting by a tree or a plant. Make it a priority to get outside and breathe in some fresh air. Not only will it help to reduce stress, but it can also improve your cognitive function and creativity, increase your immune system function, and provide a sense of connection with the natural world. So, next time you feel stressed or overwhelmed, take a break and go for a walk in nature or find a green space to relax in.
Here are some other tips from Andrew Huberman for the workplace: 5 Science-Based Steps To Improved YourWorkspace
Another way to manage your energy is to notice what affects your energy levels on a regular basis, either positively or negatively. For example:
- What types of work do you love and get energy from and which ones deplete you?
- Does the size of groups or projects energise or drain you?
- What kind of interactions drain you or give you energy?
- Are there certain times of the day that get the best out of you for strategic and creative work and discussions?
Becoming mindful of these things is key to managing your day in a way that continually brings energy into your system and minimises the energy drain.
For example, if you are going into a meeting with personalities you know are draining for you, how can you be purposeful and deliberate in preparing for and managing these interactions? You might think about using your core strengths to minimise that effect.
Invest in your emotional and spiritual needs
And of course, don’t forget about your emotional and spiritual needs. This is where things like meditation, reflection, and stillness can come into play.
We live in a very hectic, noisy and distracted world. And as a leader or manager, you’re dealing with demands and needs from many directions. Where can you create time for meditation and reflection?
Quiet contemplation, reflection or stillness, is an essential part of our mental and emotional wellbeing.
- It helps us to gain perspective – In a world that is constantly on the go, we can easily get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Taking a moment to be still allows us to step back and gain perspective. This can help us to better understand our emotions, thoughts and actions, and allow us to make more conscious choices about how we want to live our lives.
- It helps to reduce stress – Research has shown that quiet contemplation, such as meditation or deep breathing, can help to reduce stress levels in the body. When we are stressed, our bodies release the hormone cortisol, which can have negative effects on our physical and mental health. Taking time for stillness can help to lower cortisol levels and promote a sense of calm.
- It helps us to connect with ourselves and others – When we are constantly in motion, it can be easy to lose touch with ourselves and our relationships. Stillness allows us to connect with our inner selves and understand our needs and desires. It also provides an opportunity for us to connect with others on a deeper level, without the distractions of technology and the outside world.
As Ryan Holiday explains in his book Stillness is the Key, quiet contemplation is not only beneficial for our personal lives but also for our professional lives. It can lead to increased creativity, better decision-making and improved overall performance.
This is re-iterated by Professor Kramer, Clinical Professor of Management & Organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in his article on How Self-Reflection Can Make You a Better Leader. Leaders today are under constant pressure to respond to an ever-changing and complex world. In this fast-paced environment, leaders often find themselves reacting to events rather than reflecting on their decisions. This is where the need for reflection comes in.
Reflection is a process of thinking deeply and intentionally about one’s actions, beliefs, and experiences. It helps leaders to step back from the constant barrage of information and to gain perspective on what is important. By reflecting, leaders can identify their strengths and weaknesses, evaluate their decisions, and learn from their experiences.
Moreover, reflection is not just about individual leaders, but it is also about creating a culture that values and encourages reflection. Leaders who model reflective behaviour can inspire others to do the same, creating a more thoughtful and intentional organisation.
Finally, Professor Kramer argues that reflection is not a luxury, but a necessity. Leaders who take the time to reflect are better equipped to make wise decisions, communicate more effectively, and inspire others to action. As such, he encourages leaders to prioritise reflection in their daily lives and to create space for it in their organisations.
Make Personal Energy Management A Priority
As a business leader, it’s important to be aware of your own energy levels and how they impact those around you. Managing your energy can help you stay focused and motivated, as well as lead to a more productive and positive work environment.
It can be easy to get drained as a leader. Often, we don’t take the time for personal self-care and end up feeling depleted by our work. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
By being mindful of your needs, you’ll not only feel better but also lead more effectively with greater focus and motivation. Implementing personal energy management techniques will keep your mind clear so you’re able to make decisions based on what’s best rather than how tired or stressed out you are at any given moment.
Once you become more aware of your own energy levels and how they are depleted and replenished, you will find yourself able to manage not only your own energy but help your team to do so as well.