If you’re tasked with leading anything, there is no doubt that you will experience, at least from time to time, what I like to call “energy lag.” If you’re like most of us, these low energy periods come more than occasionally. As I’m sure you know by now, this is a problem.
When our energy level is depleted, bad things happen. We become impatient and irritable. Our critical thinking skills are significantly impaired. We’re groggy, lethargic, and overall, we’re just far less productive. So what do you do? How do we insure a higher level of energy, sharp thinking, patience, alertness, and increased productivity. Well, there are a few things you can do.
- Get enough sleep. According to the National sleep foundation, you need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. About 30% of the current US workforce does not get the adequate amount of shut-eye. Decide what time you need to get up each morning and then determine what time you need to go to sleep (not just climb in the bed) in order to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. Once you’ve done the calculation, try to do the same thing every day. It’s gets easier to go to bed on time – and wake up on time – when it becomes a routine. Remember, it all starts with the proper amount of sleep.
- Take short breaks throughout the day. We’re not wired to work for countless hours without reprieve. According to Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, in their book, The Power of Full Engagement, we operate within a series of rhythms and, as a result, our bodies need short periods of rest and recovery every 90 to 120 minutes. If you begin to yawn, daydream, feel tense or hungry, or begin to feel an increase need to stretch, it’s probably time for a break. Try this – set a timer of some kind (on your phone, a kitchen timer, on your computer, etc) for 90 minutes (I actually set mine for 50 minutes because it works better for me), and each time the timer goes off, take a 10-minute break. During this break, get up, walk around, stretch, catch up on the news for a couple of minutes, get a glass of water and a snack, and interact with others. At the end of your break, you should be able to stay focused, alert, and productive for another “work period” (whatever that time is for you – 50, 90, 120-minutes or anything in between).
- Always eat breakfast. You may have heard, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Well, it’s true. First, when we’ve been asleep for 7-9 hours, our body has used up most of our nutrition intake from the day before. We must eat to refuel. Other benefits or eating breakfast everyday are increased vitamin and mineral intake, a jump start to our day’s metabolism, and weight loss… yes, I said weight loss. When we eat breakfast everyday, our metabolism works more normally. When we don’t eat breakfast we tend to eat more that we should at our next meal and we’re much more likely to “over-snack.” Oh, and keep in mind, breakfast is a time of day not a type of food. It’s not so important what you eat (as long as it’s healthy), but more that you eat.
- Eat less, but more often. Most of us have been conditioned over the years to believe that the only normal way to eat is three meals a day – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The problem with this is by the time those meals show up on our schedule, we’ve become far too hungry and, as a result, we eat too much. In addition, according to the experts, eating more frequent meals is directly linked with weight loss. Studies have shown that we accumulate more body fat when we eat larger and less frequent meals than when we consume the same number of calories while eating smaller portions more often.
- Exercise! According to the Food Research and Action Center, the obesity rates, for adults and children, have more than doubled since the 1970′s. They go on to point out that two-thirds of the adults in the US are considered overweight or obese. Until this year, the US was considered the most overweight of the world’s developed countries (we moved into the #2 spot this year – but barely). Why do Americans regularly top the charts of the world’s most overweight? Among the most noticeable (at least to me), is our lack of exercise. We are, in general terms, an over-fed and under-exercised group of people. We fight for the parking space closest to the building… even at the gym. We don’t walk. We’ll get in our car to drive to our neighbors three houses away. I love New York City. There are a number of reasons, but near the top of the list is the fact that walking is the primary mode of transportation. How cool is that? Okay, off my soapbox. Basically, for the purposes of this blog post, I’ll say that you need to exercise for at least 45-minutes, 3-5 times per week. Your exercise should be a combination of some type of cardiovascular exercise and some form of strength training (I’ll do another post in the next week or so with more suggestions for a regular exercise routine). The bottom line? Get off the couch and do something. Walk, run, do push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, take an extra lap (on foot) around the mall. Do something to get your heart rate up and give your muscles a little extra strain.
- Drink enough water. Water is responsible for somewhere around 60% of our overall body weight. Our organs and vital systems require water to function properly. Dehydration, even at the smallest levels, can make us feel sluggish and more than a little cranky. The Mayo Clinic suggests we drink 8-9 cups of water per day – even more if we’re regularly exercising. Other fluids (juices, teas, milk, sodas, etc) also contribute to our fluid intake, but keep in mind, anything with caffeine has the negative effect of a diuretic. So, relying on coffee or caffeinated sodas for our fluid intake can actually have a negative effect. It’s best to shot for the 8-9 cups of water per day. I keep an empty water bottle near my desk and I set a goal of emptying and refilling it at least 8 times per day. Most people ask, “Doesn’t that mean more trips to the restroom?” The answer is yes, but hey, that’s exercise, right?
- Avoid (or at least limit) caffeine. While coffee or caffeinated sodas may give us that quick burst of energy, the net effect caffeine has on our overall productivity is negative. First, whatever energy “high” we experience thanks to caffeine, is offset with the inevitable crash that comes a few hours later. The effect of the “caffeine-crash” alone is devastating to our productivity. Whether we realize it or not, the positive effect of the caffeine-generated energy increase is almost always less (usually far less) than the negative impact of the unavoidable crash that awaits us. In addition to the post-caffeine nosedive, there is also the diuretic effect (see #6 above) and the nThis was a tough one for me personally so, a couple of years ago, my wife and I made the switch to decaf. While the initial switch was painful (we experienced all the normal caffeine withdrawal pains (headaches, irritability, grogginess, etc), the payoff has been great. You don’t have to completely eliminate caffeine. There are positive effects, but limit your intake and you’ll just feel better and be more productive.
There are lots of things you can do to increase your energy level and, as a result, be more productive. Almost all of those things however, will fall into one of the seven areas outlined above. Give it shot. Remember, it takes a minimum of approx. 21 days to form a new habit (remember this number varies for each of us), so don’t give up to soon. Stick it out for three, four, or six weeks and you’ll feel better, be easier to get along with, and get more down… no really!
QUESTION: What is the number one culprit (from the list above) contributing to your energy depletion?