The great sag usually hits around 3 p.m. You feel drowsy, cranky, lethargic - or all of the above. But before you make that dash to the coffee maker or candy machine, take the time to examine the factors that deplete your energy. A few simple adjustments can help keep you humming all day long - even without the caffeine or sugar hit.
Type the e-mail while talking on the phone while monitoring the company's stock price? Of course you can do it all! Actually, you can't, says Laura Stack, a productivity expert and author of SuperCompetent: The Six Keys to Perform at Your Productive Best. She explains that multi-taskers frequently fritter away their energy on many small and insignificant tasks, while neglecting the bigger, more important ones. "
So you feel really busy, but you don't feel like you have any real results," says Stack. "At the end of the day, you feel exhausted and unhappy with yourself to boot." By focusing on one task at a time, you'll not only have more energy, you'll also get more done.
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It's slightly counterintuitive, but the less energy you expend, the less you have. That's why sitting at a desk all day can feel so much more exhausting than taking a bracing hike. "Our forced sedentary lifestyle is not the human condition. Our bodies were made for hunting and gathering, and for walking miles and miles," says Stack, who recommends getting up and moving at least once an hour.
A busy life full of obligations to work and family can become a vicious circle--we decide we have no time to take care of ourselves, and thus become even more exhausted and inefficient. "We're running 80 miles per hour on bald tires," says Linda Hawes Clever, M.D., founding chair of the Department of Occupational Health at California Pacific Medical Center and author of The Fatigue Prescription. Self-care, including exercise classes, massages, healthy food, hot baths, not only feels good in the moment, it will also improve your performance later.
If you don't find meaning or satisfaction in your job, you will very likely feel sleepy during much of those eight hours. Mira Kirshenbaum, clinical director of the Chestnut Hill Institute and author of thirteen books including The Emotional Energy Factor: The Secrets High Energy People Use to Fight Fatigue, says that when you put a lot of time and effort into your job--as most of us do--it needs to provide more than just a paycheck. "We now know that people want a sense of reward or satisfaction from their work. When the effort-to-reward ratio gets out of whack, our emotional energy goes down," she says.
Office din--clattering keyboards, speaker-phoned conference calls, gossiping co-workers--raises blood pressure, reduces concentration and causes headaches and tension. "All of that ambient noise really takes a toll," says Stack, who recommends using music, noise-canceling headsets or good-old fashioned earplugs as a buffer.
Whether it's a junior employee who cries every time the boss gets snippy or an unhappily married colleague who constantly vents about his wife, Clever says women should be particularly wary of these energy vampires. "In the workplace women are often seen as more sympathetic, and so people tend to gravitate to them for advice or mentoring that they may not be prepared or trained to do," she says. Better to politely explain to these world-weary souls that you're not qualified to help them with their problem, and gently offer suggestions for where they might get assistance, such as any employee counseling programs your company might offer.
An Uncomfortable Environment
You might think you've successfully adapted to that misaligned chair or flickering overhead light, but Stack says the body never really gets used to pain, bad lighting or excessive heat or cold. Instead, it remains subconsciously aware of these irritations--and expends a significant amount of energy trying to distract you from them. "Any time your body has to compensate for discomfort, it will take a lot more energy to concentrate," says Stack.
The average workplace offers multiple opportunities for anger and resentment: co-workers receiving promotions you think you deserve; bosses accepting accolades for work that was 90% yours. But stewing about the unfairness of it all is a huge emotional drain, says Kirshenbaum. While she certainly advises addressing inequities when you have a legitimate case, she also notes that, for the sake of your emotional health, sometimes you just have to let it go.
"The world is full of people, some of whom have better deals than we do, some worse," she says. "One thing is for sure: Other people's lives usually look better on the surface than they are from the inside. It's a lock that if you switched places with the person you resent, it wouldn't seem as great as you think."
A messy desk or hard drive doesn't just give a bad impression to clients and co-workers, Stack says it also slows you down. "It takes a tremendous amount of re-work, re-reading and re-shuffling," says Stack. Remember: The more time you spend searching for the file or scrolling through your e-mail inbox, the more energy you're leaking.
Used wisely, technology can make us more productive--as we all know, sending an e-mail is easier than mailing a letter. But if you have a multitude of gadgets constantly bleeping and binging for your attention, you'll be stressed out and working far less efficiently. "Every time you let e-mail interrupt you, it takes you a surprisingly long time to get back in focus. That's wasted energy, which drains you," says Kirshenbaum. Rather than keep yourself in the loop 24/7, turn off gadgets and close out e-mail accounts, checking in at designated times, anywhere from once an hour to twice a day.