How to Regain Your Energy
This article originally appeared on Microlearning, our bite-sized online solution for leaders and individual contributors.
“Constant energy comes from a pattern of constant renewal.” —Leigh Stevens, productivity expert, from The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity
Most people want to perform at a high level and care deeply about their work, making it easy to fall into the trap of putting work obligations first and leaving self-care—things you do for your health, well-being, and energy—last on your list of priorities. But doing so is unsustainable, especially when you have a demanding, high-energy job.
Follow these tips to help you focus on building good habits in areas where many people struggle. Think of forming these habits as an investment in becoming happier and having more energy, both at work and in the rest of your life.
Many people struggle to sleep well and sleep enough.
Your mind is racing—thinking about what went wrong today or what could go wrong tomorrow. You struggle to fall asleep or spring wide awake at 4 a.m. or feel like you’ve already lived a full day in your head by the time your alarm goes off.
But, according to sleep and workplace expert Els van der Helm, you can make adjustments to your bedtime routine that will improve your energy, focus, judgment, and how you handle your emotions at work. “People have more control than they think to change things around them and improve their sleep.”
To do so, you might:
- Determine whether you’re getting enough sleep. You can’t necessarily think, I’m getting seven hours of sleep a night, so I’m good. Everyone has a unique ideal that changes over the course of their lives. Do you zone out during afternoon meetings? Do you try to catch up on sleep on weekends? Then you likely need more sleep. During one full workweek, try setting a bedtime that’s 30 minutes earlier than usual. Do you feel alert all day with no catch-up needed on the weekend? If not, keep adding 30-minute sleep increments until you do.
- Create physical and mental space between your waking activities and bed. Keep your phone out of the bedroom or, if you feel you must have it, leave it in airplane/do-not-wake mode while you sleep, says Van der Helm. And devise a brief presleep ritual to help you unwind that has nothing to do with checking emails or making to-do lists (e.g., read a story to your kids, brush your teeth, and then get into bed).
- When struggling to fall back asleep, stop and shift your attention to something else for a while. Try distracting your brain with soft music, 15 minutes of reading, or a brief meditation. You could also get up and write down the thoughts racing through your head in order to help you let go of them until morning.
- Stop hitting the snooze button when the alarm goes off. Rather than setting the alarm but not getting up until after you hit snooze twice, try setting your alarm 20 minutes later. You’ll end up with more consolidated, better-quality sleep. Van der Helm says this recommendation is one of the most effective in her workshops on improving sleep.
Many people struggle with the emotional burden that comes with their jobs.
You learn in a meeting that higher-ups have cancelled the big initiative you’ve been working on. Your teammate is making noises about leaving. Your manager nags you daily about whether you’ll hit your sales quota. When people are under pressure, they can feel whipsawed by their moods and emotions. While you can’t easily change how stressful work is, you can change how you react to the stress.
To do so, you might:
- Practice accepting your emotions and seeing them as separate from your sense of self. Research suggests that when you’re able to identify and observe your own emotions, you can decrease the level of negativity you experience. Try imagining that you’re hovering above the room and observing your situation. Or list all of your worries and separate out those you can’t control, then put your focus on the ones you can.
- Notice and challenge your worst-case-scenario thinking. It’s easy to get caught in a spiral of negative thinking that, if you stop to analyze it, defies logic. Is your company’s new strategy really an absolute disaster—or does it just need some tweaking before it can be effective? When you challenge your original thinking, you’ll be surprised by how often things are not quite as dire as you first thought.
- Adopt rituals to help you transition in and out of work mode. For example, devise an end-of-day routine (e.g., putting together the next-day’s to-do list or listening to a podcast during your commute) to free your brain from the workday.
Many people struggle to maintain strong personal connections with colleagues and outside of work.
When you’re focused on plowing through your to-dos, it’s easy to let personal interactions with workmates fall by the wayside. And with long work hours and the potential for work to bleed into your off hours, relationships outside of work can slip or suffer neglect. But with a little thoughtful attention, you can make and maintain strong connections that fuel your engagement at work and enrich your life outside of work.
To do so, you might:
- Build a strong peer network. Because of their similar level in the organization, peers—whether or not they’re teammates—can help you deal with company change, manage work/life stress (maybe they have coping tips), and think about your career progression.
- Learn about your teammates as people. When you make the effort to learn more about your co-workers’ backgrounds, motivations, and goals in work and life, you’ll build stronger professional relationships and help everyone feel more connected and engaged. Invite a teammate for coffee or lunch or set a check-in with them (once or on an ongoing basis) to talk about work and nonwork topics.
- Stop work from infringing on your personal life. Be ruthless in setting work/life boundaries, and be sure you’re mentally unplugging from work enough that work stress doesn’t spill over into the rest of your life. For more, see 8 Tips to Manage Work/Life Tension When Work Invades Your Home.
Many people struggle to find the time and motivation to exercise.
Too often, people sacrifice their own well-being in a heroic effort to make a dent in their to-do lists, forgoing a workout to answer emails, skipping lunch to save the 10-minute trip to get it, or stacking meetings back-to-back with no chance of a break to stretch.
These kinds of behaviors may help you get things done in the short term. But if you rely on them daily to get by, your body and brain can suffer. Keeping your body strong and active gives you more stamina and resilience to handle the stresses of your job. To be sure you’re moving enough, take a personal inventory of your exercise routines and devise a plan for improvement.
To do so, you might:
- Schedule exercise (e.g., a trip to the gym or an after-work walk or run) around your work requirements and deadlines.
- If you’re able, use the stairs instead of the elevator, and park farther from your destination to encourage walking.
- Take breaks to stand up and move every 90 minutes or so.
- Suggest walking 1-on-1s.
Start by making one small change to your routine until it becomes a habit, and notice how it makes you feel. When appropriate, enlist buddies to join you in elements of your plan—research suggests that people have more success starting and sticking to new behaviors when they have an accountability partner.
Many people struggle to eat nutritious meals during their busy days.
You may not have envisioned working at a desk cluttered with snack wrappers—yet, here you are. But if you’re able to find ways to eat more healthfully, even just a little bit, you’ll be nourishing your mind to make better decisions and to better handle the things that make you irritated, both at work and at home.
To do so, you might:
- Stock your work area with good-for-you snacks. You could squirrel away fruit, nuts, or energy bars in your desk, locker, or kitchen cabinet or store sliced vegetables in the fridge. If you go to the trouble of buying healthier foods and keeping them on hand, you’re less likely to binge on sweets or fast food or to forego eating at all.
- Hold healthy lunch meetings. If your Tuesday lunch is catching up with a peer over a hearty salad or sandwich, you’re scoring a win-win of connection and healthy eating—way better than eating a slice of pizza alone.
- Set postwork eating routines. After work is about the most tired and irritated you’re likely to be all day. Have healthy snacks at the ready and plan to eat a nutritious meal promptly to refuel.