If you’re reading this, you’ve probably got a lot on your plate. And when I say a lot, I mostly mean a ridiculous amount that often stresses you out. I know how hard you work. Every day you keep going and going – often without breaks, a real lunch, or even time to think. As you navigate each day you stay busy, so you’re absolutely doing things all day long. But my question to you is, amidst such busyness might you be wasting your energy? If you’re like most people, the answer to that question is yes. And that wasted energy is keeping you from truly being productive AND keeps you stressed. Today we’re going to dive into the key ways most folks waste their energy on a daily basis, so keep reading.
We attended a few conferences this spring, so hopefully we have some new readers. I’ve definitely hit on what we’re talking about today in past articles, but I wanted to touch on them for anyone just joining us. That being said, if you are new, there’s absolutely great value in going back and reading past articles. For those of you who’ve been following me for a while, this should be a great reminder.
Let’s start with energy. If we go deep into quantum physics, EVERYTHING is energy – you, me, the device you’re using to read this, etc. Slightly less deep, energy is your greatest resource. Yes, we often think that time is our greatest resource – after all, if you had more time, you could get everything done, right? But that’s not true. Have you ever been swamped and notice a morning, afternoon, or day that has nothing on it? You IMMEDIATELY blocked it out, so it stayed open and thought, “YES! Finally, some time to catch up with all this stuff. I’m going to get SO much done!”
Did you? For most of us, the answer is absolutely not. And why is that? I mean, you had the time, so where’s all that awesome productivity? You couldn’t be productive because you had no energy. You were exhausted from all the running and pushing through and fire putting outing.
You’ve probably experienced this in smaller ways too. The day after you had a great night’s sleep and your morning went smoothly, you came in and got so much done. Conversely, you had a terrible night and your morning was chaotic and stressful. How much did you get done then? And in each situation, think about the quality of the work you did. I’m guessing when you were well rested and energetic WHAT you produced was of higher quality. Worn out you? Not so much.
That’s why this is titled How Much ENERGY Will You Waste, not How much TIME. Okay, so let’s get to it.
The name of our business is Strengths University. My partner, Alicia, and I are both Gallup Certified Strengths Coaches. So naturally, I want to start by talking about your Strengths. But let’s take a step back for a second. Your Strengths stem from your Talents. And as Alicia says, “Your talents can be your biggest super power, but they can also be your Kryptonite.”
Yes, your talents – the things you do best and come so easily to you – can absolutely help you be more productive. But it depends on how you’re using them. If your talents are supported by the appropriate knowledge, skills, and habits, they can show up as Strengths. If how you use your Talents is aligned with your values and goals, then they can propel you to exactly where you want to go in the most effective and efficient way possible. In other words, using minimal energy.
But – and this is a big BUT – when your Talents lack the right knowledge, skills, and habits. Or if they are NOT aligned with your values and goals, they’re still going to show up doing what they do. But they’re actually showing up as WEAKNESSESS. Your greatest Talents might very well be getting in your way. When that happens, you’re going to work harder and longer on things that at the end of the day MIGHT not even bring you closer to your goal. Again, you’ll still be DOING lots of things. You’ll still be busy and feel exhausted, but you’ve wasted all that energy. And that’s a bummer.
Okay, maybe bummer isn’t the right word. On some level it’s tragic. You need to get things done. But if you don’t know how your Talents are showing up for you on a daily basis, you might very well be the one stressing yourself out with little to actually show for it. All the things that really needed to get done to accomplish your goals didn’t happen, so you’re not really any further along. You’re just exhausted, frustrated, and stressed.
Now, I go into more depth about this in other articles, and I’m sure I’ll do so in future ones as well. But today, I just want you to start paying attention to how your Talents are showing up for you. We tell folks we work with, just take two minutes at the end of the day to assess how your Talents helped you and how they might have gotten in your way. That’s an important first step in better aligning your Talents with your goals, which will improve your productivity – aka keep you from wasting your energy.
I talk about stories A LOT because they have such a huge impact on how we show up in the world. But first, I want to clarify what I mean by stories. We all have beliefs about the world and how we “should” show up in it. Some of those beliefs serve us. Others do not. You’ve probably heard of the term “limiting beliefs.” Those are stories we have about the world that actually get in the way of us achieving our goals or even creating goals that would be in our best interest.
The problem with any belief – limiting or not – is that we feel like they are based in some objective truth. We feel like what we believe is true, especially when we compare it to what others might believe. I’m sure you’ve heard phrases like, “I believe that with all my heart.” In other words, it feels true to you based on your life experiences. If you look at the internet, politics, or the recent arguments about vaccines and COVID, you can see how this plays out on a daily basis. We assume that people who disagree with us only do so because they didn’t have access to the information we have. If they did, they’d OBVIOUSLY realize the error of their ways.
But we all have very limited life experiences. None of us have all the information about a topic, including ourselves. In fact, human kind doesn’t always have all the information about all the things. So even if you’ve thoroughly researched a topic, there’s always the possibility that future research might very well add information that changes those beliefs. I like to talk about beliefs as stories, because as much as we feel like they’re rooted in some objective truth, the vast majority simply aren’t. This shows up dramatically in the public arena, but the same concept impacts all of us on a daily basis.
When your beliefs are not aligned with your goals, they’re going to get in your way. Say you want to be the Dean Students or VP of Student Affairs, but you also believe you’re not great at confrontation. How is that going to impact your ability to achieve that goal? You may just dismiss this goal as unattainable and give up. Or you might work to rise in the ranks, but as you do you spend a lot of energy avoiding conflict. That might mean you only make decisions that you think will be popular. Or it might mean you don’t address any issues with your team members. Now don’t get me wrong, you still may very well end up as Dean or VP, but will you be effective in that role? Or will you be constantly stressed out jumping through hoops to avoid certain situations or worrying that someone is going to figure out you don’t really deserve that position.
That’s just one example of how your beliefs, or rather stories, can get in your way. But what if instead of continuing to believe you’re not good at confrontation, you challenge it? What if instead of living up to the low expectations that were set for you around this area, you tell yourself, “Hey wait a minute. As a child I was always told to keep my opinions to myself, and that I wasn’t allowed to question my parents or any other authority members. So, I just never learned HOW to effectively navigate conflict or confront folks. But I’m a functioning adult now and can learn how and then practice until I’m skilled at doing so.” Challenging that belief suddenly opens up new avenues for you to be successful and achieve your goal.
You need to assess the stories you have about yourself, your abilities, and how the world works. What you were told and the limited information you got to support it, is not the whole story. So how do you know when there’s a story at play that might be getting in your way? Well, they often include terms like “should, must, I have no choice, or I have to.” In other words, these are stories that are limiting your options in some way in a situation. Challenge whether those are true and you’ll free up the energy you’re using to keep yourself small or on activities or ways of thinking that keep you stuck.
When I say systems, what I’m talking about is really your habits or clusters of related habits for you as an individual. Or your policies and procedures if you’re talking about your team or organization. You and your team operate on auto-pilot the vast majority of the time. And by that, I mean like 95% of the time. In a nutshell – and I’m going nutshell here because I’ve gone into detail in other articles, your brain wants to conserve energy, so it takes the important things you do. And again, remember what we talked about a minute ago about your beliefs. Your brain just thinks what you believe is what’s important, even IF those beliefs aren’t true. But whatever beliefs you have, it creates habits to make sure you’re doing all the things necessary to support those beliefs on a daily basis.
If you brush your teeth every day, it’s just because someone told you that you should, you believed that story, and after brushing your teeth repeatedly – even if it was under protest as a child – your brain created a short cut to make sure you did so, but using the least amount of energy possible. Brushing your teeth is a pretty classic habit example, but you have a BLEEP-ton of habits that play out on autopilot every day.
You have habits around how your Talents show up. You have habits around how you think about situations. You have habits around how you get to work. You have habits around how you show up in a meeting. A system is simply an interconnecting network of things that work together. Think of it this way, brushing your teeth might be a solo habit, or part of your system for oral hygiene that might include flossing and going to the dentist. But this all applies to how you show up at work.
When your habits and/or systems are aligned with your goals, it means when you’re on autopilot you’re effectively moving towards those goals. A perfect example is when your Talents show up as Strengths. Even more specifically, I have Input, which basically means I love to collect information that I think might be useful. When I’m working on something, my autopilot will Google information about that project to help me create a better end product.
When my Input is acting as a Strength, I’ll research just enough to get me moving forward and then start implementing what I’ve learned. And that’s opposed to when it’s showing up as a weakness and I spend the next two days researching and possibly holding myself or others up from completing the project. When your habits are aligned it means you’re using the least amount of energy possible to accomplish the most you can – aka being productive.
This same idea applies to the people you work with, whether they be coworkers or your team members. When their habits are aligned with what they need to accomplish, they get there automatically with minimal effort. This is true on an individual level, but it also applies to the policies and procedures you have for your department or the organization. I’m sure you’ve encountered procedures that actually work against your goals. Or maybe they’re aligned with one goal, but unintentionally work against another. Everyone is concerned/obsessed with retention these days, right? From my experience, most institutions have policies, whether formal or informal, around putting “students first.” I mean, if we want students to stay at our institution, let’s do everything humanly possible to support them and keep them there, right? That makes total sense! Oh wait, until you see all the exhausted faculty and staff from doing all that “student-firsting.” These folks then burn out or quit. Now that support mechanism has a giant hole that actually reduces retention rates. Oops.
I can guarantee that you and your team are wasting quite a bit of energy on a daily basis in these three areas. That’s why it’s so important to assess…
How your talents are showing up for you.
What your stories are and whether they’re serving you.
What your habits and systems are and whether they’re helping you get where you want to go.
Does assessing these things take time and energy? You betcha. But it’s energy well spent. When you can align all of these things with where you actually need and want to go, you can accomplish more on a daily basis. That means that huge pile of work on your desk suddenly becomes manageable. And just to clarify, that doesn’t necessarily mean it becomes manageable because you get it all done. It means that you start to question what actually NEEDS to be done and what are you and your team able to do with the resources you have. It means not wasting energy on things that seemed important because of stories you had that weren’t serving you. It means changing policies and habits to ones that make sense given where you are in your life now and where you want to go.
Whatever your goals or dreams are, you need the right support to get there. I try to cover things in these articles that will help point you move in the right direction, but sometimes you need more support to really implement the things that will upgrade your supervision skills and your life.
We offer individual coaching, team workshops, and online courses to help you do just that. Right now, we’re enrolling for the summer Supervisor Strengths Institute that kicks off on Wednesday, May 31st. It’s a fantastic opportunity to build on what we’ve been talking about here AND use up any remaining professional development funds before the new fiscal year kicks in.
And if you’re thinking, “Gee that sounds great, but I should probably spend those dollars on my team or the students,” there is no better gift to give your team and your students than your growth as a supervisor. Everything you do directly impacts your teams’ and your students’ engagement, retention, and productivity. Investing in yourself as a supervisor is the ultimate win-win-win.
Here’s a link to register - https://www.strengthsuniversity.org/supervisorstrengthsinstitute
And until next time, stay strong.