Updated: Feb 27
As I mentioned in Part I of our Strengths Summer Safety series, we instinctively protect ourselves from the summer heat and sun. We rarely think about protecting ourselves from something we encounter much more frequently–wasting our mental energy.
PROTECTING YOUR ENERGY
According to studies published in the Harvard Business Review, we only have about 90-120 minutes of peak mental energy (1) and 5 or fewer hours of near peak mental energy (2) each day. If you haven’t gotten enough sleep, that amount is lower. How do you use your energy? If you’re like most supervisors, constant interruptions and “emergencies” quickly eat up your precious energy reserves.
1. Focus Your Attention | Where your attention is, so goes your energy. Every time you focus on making a decision, meeting with someone, or solving a problem, you spend energy. If you’re a chronic over thinker, all of the back and forth doesn’t just eat up your time, it depletes your energy. If you have a tendency to over think or replay things over and over, develop strategies that help you make decisions efficiently. When you start to over think, ask yourself if that’s the best use of your energy.
Likewise, whenever you’re asked to weigh in on an issue, it takes energy…huge amounts of energy if you have chronic over thinkers on your staff. How many decisions do you actually need to be involved in? How many people have access to you, even though other people should be handling those situations? All of these distractions add up and prevent you from using your best energy on your most important tasks. Empower your staff to make decisions and handle most things without you. Schedule regular meetings with team members to discuss the issues they need your input on. There’s a huge difference between being available and ALWAYS being available.
2. Stay in Your Strengths Zone | Gallup found that employees who work in their Strengths Zone are more productive. Why? Because when you focus on the things you do well, your energy is used efficiently. In fact, when you’re operating in your Strengths Zone you’re often energized. Think about the last time you did something where time seemed to both fly by and stand still. Maybe you were working on something all day, but when you stopped you were surprised at how much time had actually passed. If you’re like most people, you were left with a sense of satisfaction, not exhaustion.
Look at your dominant Talent Themes (CliftonStrengths). What parts of your job best match your Strengths? That’s where your Strengths Zone lies. While you can’t just not do things that don’t fall in your Strengths Zone, there are ways to get them done more efficiently. One way is to reframe those tasks so they better play to your Strengths. For example, Empathy is low for me talent-wise, but in Res Life I wouldn’t be effective at my job without it, so I reframed it in terms of my Strategic. I needed to develop empathy skills (skills, not the talent) to be able to do my job strategically.
Another way to handle non-Strengths Zone tasks is through complementary partnerships. That’s when you find people who LOVE working on the crap you hate and vice versa. We often assume if we hate something, everyone does. I HATE spreadsheets and analyzing data, but I found a student worker who LOVED it. Other people on my team HATED brainstorming, but I was always happy to help develop ideas and it energized me. Win-win. Think about the last time you had to do something that definitely was NOT in your Strengths Zone. How long did it take and how drained did you feel? I guarantee someone whose talents were in sync with that task can do it faster and use less energy.
3. Stay Out of the Basement | If you aren’t familiar, Gallup talks about using talent in terms of basements and balconies. Basically, when you’re on the balcony, your using your talents productively. When you’re in the basement, you’re not. Being in the basement can be a huge energy suck. The over thinking I mentioned earlier is usually from basement behavior.
I have Input, which is great for getting relevant info to help make decisions. Unfortunately, when it’s in the basement, it wants to research forever. That can mean too much research to realistically use and less time for getting things done. I can waste huge amounts of energy looking up articles and websites if I’m not careful.
Several of my friends have Achiever. Man o’ man can then get things crossed off their lists. Unfortunately, when they’re having a basement moment, it means that they’re not taking the time to assess whether the things on their lists are worth doing. In other words, they’re busy but not in a productive way, which is ultimately a waste of energy.
Back to me again. When I had a particularly challenging supervisor, my Strategic often slid into the basement. This supervisor had a habit of jumping into certain situations and making mountains out of molehills. Thus, I started spending huge amounts of energy trying to keep situations under her radar by being overly strategic with EVERYTHING. I started over thinking every step I took, even though 8 times out of 10 she never got involved. It was exhausting for me and a huge waste of my energy.
When you start thinking about your energy as a finite resource, you become more careful about where you use it. When people or situation try to get your attention, make sure it’s the best use of your limited energy. That doesn’t mean ignoring the needs of your students or staff. It just means setting systems and structuring your energy that allows you to use your peak energy on the most important things first.