More than work-life balance, focus on your energy

How do you ensure work-life balance? I heard it a lot after my third child was born, and I hate this familiar question. It implies that work is an energy drainer and life an energy restorer. We spend a third of our time at work and many things there energize us, while plenty of things at home deplete us (like getting children to bed). The idea that we need “work-life balance” to stay motivated is too simplistic.

The idea that we need “work-life balance” to stay motivated is too simplistic.

Rather, we simply must manage our energy. We must learn critical skills to balance our energy levels to ensure we alternate high-performance periods with resourcing times. Athletes do this by alternating training with resourcing activities, and we must do the same via activities that give us energy.

There are four primary types of energy: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

Physical energy is the most familiar. It defines how tired we feel and how well we feel in our bodies. It is why we recognize we must get up and walk periodically. Physical refresh points in our daily schedules matter, and not just long-term plans to get fit.

Mental energy is what we get from analytical and thinking tasks. Consider times when you are fine physically but mentally tired after a long period of concentration. We each have mental tasks that seem to drain us or lift us.   

Emotional energy derives from connecting with others—from giving and receiving love or appreciation, or helping a friend or colleague discuss their troubles. In turn, negative emotions such as fear, frustration or anger drain energy and cripple performance. 

Spiritual energy is what we get from doing something meaningful to us, something that speaks to our spirit—it can take the form of wisdom, compassion, integrity, joy, love, creativity or peace. We each have experienced working hard, and maybe late, on a project, and becoming physically and mentally tired. But somehow, we gain the energy to continue because it’s something that has fundamental meaning.

Understanding these types of energy is important for leaders who are confronted with constant change. Most of my clients are managing an organizational transformation of some sort. For instance, a client told me how nervous she was to see her team burn out when their change journey was just beginning. She wasn’t sure how to retain the momentum and pace over the long run. Also, she felt that all eyes were on her and worried people would pick up on any flagging energy level and fret that they were doing poorly or the organization was in trouble. As a leader, your emotions affect—and infect—the organization.   

So, what can we do to better manage our energy?

  1. Recognize you can’t stay at high energy and that time to recuperate is essential. Accepting this idea is the first step to better managing your energy.
  2. Don’t bundle all the bad stuff together, which eats into your energy reserves and makes it harder to bounce back up.
  3. Give yourself little boosts each day. Expressing gratitude, for instance, is a potent energy booster.

Basically, adopt ways to quickly boost your energy by identifying what drives and drains your personal energy levels. Then, incorporate them in your daily life at work and at home. Whether it’s a three-minute song you listen to between energy-draining meetings or a quick phone call to a best friend, find what it is. It could also be something that doesn’t seem natural, such as smiling when you don’t feel like it. Smiling actually releases happiness-inducing brain chemicals, so faking it can have a positive effect. Grinning at your screen now can help boost your energy!

Hortense de la Boutetière also contributed to this post.

This post draws on sources that were an inspiration to me as its author - How Remarkable Women Lead, Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston, 2011 and The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz 2005.

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