In 2006, Google became concerned that their highly intelligent, passionate employees were burning out.
The effect on Google was significant: illness, lost innovation (even though people still worked long hours), and turnover. In 2007, the company experimented with training 15 director-level Googlers on healthy energy management. Based on the results, Google began expanding the program to other employees; by 2013, about 7,000 Googlers had completed The Energy Project training course.
If Google –
widely acclaimed as a high-performing, data-driven company – believes personal energy management is a high priority, what about you and your team?
Like many leaders, I find it more difficult to keep my batteries charged in the winter (and especially during the holidays). Among the many reasons: less sunlight, harsher weather resulting in less time outdoors, and more temptations for unhealthy eating and drinking.
Here are the re-charging tactics that I have personally found effective over the years:
- Eating right. Nothing impacts energy more than how you eat. Finding the right mix of foods (especially protein, veggies, fruits, and limited starches) that supports your specific metabolism can mean the difference between distraction, overwhelm, and sluggishness on the one hand, or focus, creativity, and action on the other hand. One of the best resources I’ve found is the book The New Me Diet (though the writing could be better, the concepts work.)
- Moving more. Some years ago, I looked forward to a few drinks at the end of the work day to relax; unfortunately, the effect only lasted an hour or so. Then I discovered that getting some exercise provided a relaxing (and paradoxically energizing) effect that lasted all evening. Here are four types of physical activity that make a difference for me:
- Walking. Perhaps the greatest stress reliever is walking 20-60 minutes each day. Furthermore, walking resets your metabolism
resulting in healthier energy levels and improved weight. Steve Jobs famously used walking as a preferred way to hold meetings. Don’t think of walking as exercise; think of it as boosting energy, metabolism, and creativity.
- High-intensity short workouts. Although I’m a marathoner and triathlete, I’ve come to the conclusion that long workouts are much less impactful on my health than high-intensity, short workouts. It’s amazing how 20 minutes can relieve stress, boost energy, and improve metabolism – with the resulting lasting for many hours. I hate these workouts because they are so hard, but I love their efficiency and results. I typically do three high-intensity works each week, alternating between cardio intervals, strength circuits, or a cardio/strength mix depending on my mood.
- Long run or bike ride. I still like to do a long (1-2 hours or even more) run or bike ride about once a week. There is something about endorphins and solitude that is incredibly relaxing and re-energizing.
- Stretching, yoga, or similar activities. The older I get, the more I discover that bad things happen when I don’t do proper stretching 1-3 times each week. Many middle-age people mistake these pains and injuries as signs they should stop their active lifestyle; I thought the same thing after some ankle and knee issues, but I learned that five minutes of stretching solved the problems. Twenty minutes of yoga, once or twice a week, goes even further and seems to improve my mood and energy.
- Sleeping. It’s the most-underrated performance booster. Getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night is the #1 risk factor for burnout. And in The Energy Audit survey of over 148,000 people worldwide, 59% said they don’t regularly get at least 7-8 hours of sleep and/or often wake up feeling tired. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep restores your body and mind, and (assuming you don’t eat for at least two hours before bedtime) resets a healthy metabolism by giving your body time to burn fat.
- Eat-Move-Sleep virtual cycle. “These three elements – eating, moving, and sleeping – build on one another,” says researcher and bestselling author Tom Rath . “As a result, working on all three at once is easier than focusing on one area in isolation.” Harvard’s Russell Sanna called them the three pillars of health.
- Sex. You didn’t really need me to remind you of this, did you? Seriously, it can be difficult to make time for sex. Sometimes one or the other spouse isn’t quite in the mood. My suggestion: for the sake of your relationship and your energy, commit to at least a “quickie” X times per week (where X is determined based on your personal needs). It’s a wonderful secret of marriage romance that quickies often transform into memorable times together.
- Light. The effect of natural light on your energy levels is surprising. Despite proving it to myself over and over again, I tend to discount the enormous impact of light on my energy levels. I try to get at least 30-60 minutes outside every day. In the winter, I make it an even bigger priority on sunny days, and I also run a Phillips goLITE on my desk for about 30 minutes each morning.
- Supplements. I use ADAM™ Men’s Multiple Vitamin. I also take Vitamin D; in the warm months, I take 1,000 IU per day; in the cold months, I take 5,000 IU per day. During winter months, I also take one daily capsule of Moodlift Complex, a Shaklee product that I buy through a family member (though probably any quality source of St. John’s wort would be effective). During stressful seasons of life, I also take natural supplements to support healthy adrenal and thyroid functioning.
- Alone time. Some people need more solitude than others; I find that my energy drains if I spend too much time interacting with others (especially electronically). Channel your inner-introvert and spend some time in nature, in self-reflection, reading, creative writing, etc.
- Flying with eagles. I also get low energy if I don’t spend enough time with people I call “eagles” – energetic, optimistic people who love to kick around new ideas with me. Erin and I enjoy double-dates with couples who are mutually energizing. In addition, I periodically have breakfast or lunch with business, church, and community leaders whose energy I plug into (and vice versa).
- Travel or other ways to change the scenery. Sometimes, I just can’t get my mind off work. In those moments, even a couple days around home doesn’t work; everything I see reminds me of something that needs to be done, and my energy just won’t re-charge. Unless I’ve recently been doing a lot of business travel, I’ve found that 1-3 days away can be a big energy boost. For me personally, it’s most energizing to travel with one other person (such as Erin or one of my kids) rather than alone or with my whole family.
- Unplugging completely. The effects of 24/7 connectivity have been well documented. First, there’s the feeling of “always on” and the apparent obligation to respond to everyone who contacts you or shares a Facebook update. Second, there’s the artificial light that works against the circadian rhythms. Whether for a day, a weekend, or an entire vacation, re-charge your batteries by avoiding things that require their own batteries.
- Vacation. I know of one executive coach who advises clients to take a week of vacation every six weeks. It’s during those times away, he says, they get the ideas that end up making them millions of dollars.
- Volunteering. Getting the focus off yourself, and investing in the lives of other people, can be surprisingly re-energizing.
- Coaching. Leadership can be isolating. It may feel difficult to talk frankly about problems facing you, either with people at work or with loved ones. I find it liberating to talk to someone with experience and coaching skills to help me sort through issues from an outside perspective. (If looking for an executive coach, consider our podcast guests Tom Henschel, Achim Nowak, or George Bradt.)
- Short breaks. Brief mental breaks help you stay focused on your task. According to The Energy Project, intermittent renewal fuels higher productivity. After working an hour or two, take a 1-5 minute stretch or stroll around the office. Half-way through your day, take a 20-minute walk or nap
- Learning something new. I personally get jazzed up when I learn a new principle or skill. This can be particilarly stress-relieving if it’s not related to my work –for example, one winter I took guitar lessons, and the next winter I took karate lessons.
- Re-establish routine and healthy habits. Sometimes when my energy is low, I notice that I’ve fallen into a lifestyle that feels a bit chaotic – for example, after a lot of business travel, or after a week or two off at Christmastime. By re-committing to a consistent bedtime and waking time, I start feeling better after only one day. Other routines that make a difference are healthy meals, exercise, and setting boundaries on work times.
- Limiting stimulants (like caffeine or sugary foods/drinks). If I notice myself drinking more coffee or soda, or snacking, it’s usually because my energy feels low. Paradoxically, these crutches actually make things worse. I remind myself: sleep is the new caffeine.
- Limiting depressants (such as alcohol). Again, these are crutches that don’t actually help in the long run. I remind myself: exercise is the new alcohol.
- Smiling and laughter. Don’t take yourself or your work too seriously. Even God isn’t panicking about all the world’s problems. Lighten up, share some humor with others, and enjoy the journey.
- Stopping. This is really hard; as leaders, we tend to favor starting and doing – not stopping. But simplifying your work and life can be powerful. By saying “no” to things that have creeped onto your to-do list, you can say “yes” to the things you are most passionate about. What do you need to stop today?
The idea for this post came from Bill Holston, executive director of a non-profit organization. When I asked Bill for his own experience on re-charging, he added these great tips:
- Nature. “Getting out in nature is the number one way I re-energize. There are several reasons for this. It forces me not to think about anything else, to reflect on keeping balance, being dry, and not getting lost. It also is a perspective-giver, the grandeur of nature is a great reminder that it’s not all about me. It’s also the best way to experience quiet reflection in solitude.”
- Journaling. “I combine a journal with my time in nature. This helps me to look back and notice themes and patterns in my thoughts and anxieties.”
- Art. “My wife and I are subscribers to local theater and try to take in art shows, openings, and other cultural events. These provide networking opportunities for my non-profit and also keep me engaged in areas outside our mission.”
These re-charging tactics may not all work for you, based on your personal wiring and season of life. I certainly wouldn’t try more than a handful at a time – otherwise the pressure to do all of them will actually create stress.
Pick 1-3 tactics to try this week or month. Keep what works, discard what doesn’t, and try an additional tactic or two later. Keep experimenting, and keep notes about your findings. Often I will experience a long period of high energy; later when I need to re-charge, I will have forgotten which tactics were most effective for me unless I look at my notes.
As leaders, we are wired for action, for serving others, for carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. As Google discovered, we need to invest some time and learning into re-energizes practices like these. Otherwise we risk “killing the golden goose” by sapping our health and/or losing our passion.
What have you found to be the most effective ways to re-charge your batteries?
Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the Engaging Leader podcast and managing principal of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. If you know anyone who would benefit from this information, please share it!