Recently, a good friend was in town for an extended visit in the old neighborhood.
Exasperated she said, “Doesn’t it seem like nobody has time anymore to get together, to do anything?! Nobody. Has.Time.”
“How did it get to be this way?” she mused.
While I certainly don’t have a definitive answer to her rhetorical question, I couldn’t disagree with her.
Work expectations have ratcheted up with technology leading the way in our around-the-clock workdays, courtesy of our ever-present smartphones. We’re literally available to work—all the time. Many work cultures now expect constant availability from their employees.
Result? A felt sense of acceleration of time, greater distractability from the moment at hand, and little to no sense of respite or renewal (even on weekends).
Add the inevitable self-imposed stress that comes from being even slightly ambitious, and the stress stakes climb higher.
I can handle it!
We get caught up in the belief that we ‘can handle it all,’ juggling on one foot while our current capacities become overwhelmed.
I’ve certainly experienced the pull of ‘being busy.’ And despite my rationalizations, e.g. “I’ve got to get this proposal out first,” or, “I’ll-just-do-one-more-thing-before-I-dash-off,” it’s accurate to state that I’ve found myself caught up all too easily doing life vs. living life.
Being busy – once a twisted badge of success and status – has bolted out of control, leaving a wake of extraordinary casualties among the best of us.
Many of us are plagued by lack of energy and interest in life, difficulty sleeping and heart palpitations, and a decided lack of presence in the moment at hand, not to mention time with friends and family that my friend was missing.
Left unchecked these ‘busyness’ symptoms can lead to serious burnout, a distinctly higher level of stress with serious mental and physical consequences.
Stop wasting energy on time
In fact, it’s easy, when we’re super busy—especially if we don’t like the tasks we’re asked to do nor the time-frames we’re expected to keep—to just try harder to manage it all.
We default to doing it all, to multitasking. This despite the fact we all now know that multitasking is not only a myth, but a huge energy drain!
Here’s the rub, we actually believe that lack of time is the problem.
If we just had enough time to address it all, to reconfigure the day, to figure out who to delegate the project or the soccer driving to, we’d be OK.
So, as we’re multitasking, we’re ramping up our stress. We tense up. We move into fight-flight-freeze mode. It’s simple biology.
And over time our signature pattern of reacting under stress takes on a particular physical shape whether we realize it or not.
Shoulders become tight. Eyebrows furrow. Jaws become set. They influence how we experience ourselves, our ways of coping. In time it becomes a vicious cycle that unless it’s interrupted–by illness, anxiety, divorce, or by conscious choice–it runs the show, further taxing our system.
All those ‘time pressures’ we experience,that can lead to burnout, zap our energies because we’re simply focused on the wrong variable: time.
In fact, it’s really not about time at all. At. All. It’s all about working with our energies.
We are energy bodies. We measure energy in the form of blood pressure, heart rates, and pulmonary rates, as well as knowing when you’re thirsty or hungry or sleepy.
Pressure of stress and multitasking influences your energy levels, mindset and mood. In turn, those dictate your ability to step into powerful action for yourself . . . and those friends you’d love to see!
It’s unchecked pressure that lends itself to burnout, not time.
What to Do
Well over 100 years ago, some pretty sharp folks were conducting research and found that up to a point, energy rises to a challenge, otherwise known as the Yerkes-Dodson Curve” “the relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit formation.”
Too little challenge or stress, and we effectively rust out—we don’t ever reach our full potential, do that thing we’ve always wanted to do, go after that dream, etc.
Too much stress, and we literally burn out (head on fire is how it feels!).
The sweet spot, eustress, lies somewhere in the middle, sustained in that range by alternating between drive and recovery; pushing and renewing our energies. None of us reach it by working 80+ hours or running at breakneck speed despite what we’ve come to believe.
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz state in The Power of Full Engagement that sustainable performance “requires cultivating a dynamic balance between expenditure of energy (stress) and renewal of energy (recovery).”
The real question then is not about how late you stayed at the office, or how many hours you clocked in, but rather, Are you performing at your best and can you sustain the pace?
Said another way, Are you living your life fully at this pace, not only professionally, but your whole life?
The key to sustained high performance and living fully depend upon positive energy rituals, or what I call ‘new practices’ founded on what matters most to you.
To start reflecting on this, it comes down to honestly committing to notice four things:
- How’s my energy now?
- How am I getting caught in the situation at-hand, really?
- What’s the larger, systemic reality at play, and where’s the opening to shift it (or not)?
- What are my personal options since my life — and how I spend my time and energies — is my responsibility?
Let yourself be guided by knowing, “The true measure of your energy is based on your core beliefs.”