con•sci•en•tious: A person wishing to do what is right, esp. to do one’s work or duty well and thoroughly.
After my first interview, I already knew that the attendees of the Michigan Townships Association convention would turn out to be a pretty conscientious bunch.
And like so many who serve, and who also have very demanding schedules, township officials can easily fall victim to the More With Less Paradox, in which the positive attributes of drive and responsibility, combined with a demanding schedule, trigger people to live in a way that sabotages their ability to reach their goals.
Does this sound like a day you might have?
• The morning alarm blares. Snooze button. Snooze button. Snooze button.
Two important facts and a lesson: One, nothing sabotages a day faster than starting it off with a little procrastination. Two, there is no form of real, actual torture that will break your mind and body faster than multiple sleep interruptions. The lesson? The snooze button is secretly plotting to destroy you.
• With a grunt of frustration and physical aches, you get up, “Ugh, I’ve got so much to do . . .”
Snoozing yourself into being behind schedule creates a rushing energy, which in turn leads you to think first of stimulation (“Coffee, I need coffee!”) instead of connecting with why you are working so hard. The speed and busyness of your day can fuel a lack of focus and a sense of disconnection with what is important. You may end up thinking of yourself as “struggling” rather than as “thriving.”
• “Breakfast? I’ll just grab some caffeine and get something to eat on my way to or at work.”
Caffeine can be very effective for productivity and health, but too much caffeine, on an empty stomach, creates the perfect biochemical storm for a monumental 3:00 p.m. crash.
• You land at work, and it goes well . . . until around 9:30 a.m., when the first energy lull hits. Time for a little cubicle trick-or-treating or a break-room doughnut.
The first three hours of work are the most productive time in your entire day. You will never be in a better state to be productive, patient, persuasive . . . or any other P word that means you get a lot accomplished. This routine sabotages your peak work time, resulting in more work tomorrow, or even worse, work to take home.
• Lunch. Open the menu and the debate begins. Heart-healthy option or a burger? Living inside the More With Less Paradox, it is too easy to think, “You know, it has been a stressful day. I deserve that cheeseburger.”
BOOM, the post-lunch lull hits you head on.
This day continues, but its tone has been set. Your available energy reserves are low, but the need to keep going causes you to switch to an emergency stress-based fuel—cortisol. This might keep you going, but at a high cost. Cortisol is not a clean energy. It builds up and increases crankiness, reduces our ability to innovate, and increases our chances of dying from the top four killers of men and women.
You make it to the end of the work day, but often with lingering guilt at how long your to-do list still is. Unfortunately, that frustration bleeds into your downtime, and you find yourself thinking, “Why am I so cranky? Why can’t I be more organized? Why do I have so little patience? Why am I so wiped out?”
• In a flash, it’s time for bed. “I’m exhausted, but why is it so hard to get to sleep or stay asleep?”
As soon as sleep starts to deepen . . . the alarm blares into action and it is time to start another day.
As an expert in stress, motivation and wellbeing, I’ve been researching adults in high demand jobs for 23 years. I’ve seen the More With Less Paradox sabotage good people from Penang to Port Lawrence. Each time I immerse myself into a new field, such as township management, I find two categories:
Strivers – Those who work hard and often meet their goals at work, but who also struggle with high levels of stress and fluctuating levels of motivation.
Thrivers – Those who work hard, consistently meet their goals at work, and thrive professionally and personally.
Have you ever wondered, “Why do some hard working adults thrive, while others struggle?” I am obsessed with that question and, as a result, I’ve found a Core Truth. Thrivers are rarely smarter than strivers, and they don’t care more about their work. They just think and live better. The bottom line is that thrivers are better at:
• Mentally approaching their work, especially under pressure
• Keeping their energy up
• Having a clear understanding of why they are working so hard
• Designing the flow of their day
This article and my presentations at MTA on January 29th, 2014 will help you to build a day that fuels the Core Four elements of thriving in a high demand world.
As an example of the Core Four in action, consider a 2011 research study from the University of Michigan and Portland State University on what actually energizes us at work.
First, think about what you do when you are running out of energy at work. Most people take a break of some kind, grab more caffeine, go for a walk, get a snack, switch tasks, etc. But what works? What fuels us best? Could you be accidentally tripping yourself while thinking that you are moving full steam ahead?
If you are like the majority of the 214 knowledge workers who were surveyed, you would:
1. Check email.
2. Switch to another task.
3. Make a to-do list.
4. Offer help to someone at work.
5. Talk to a coworker/supervisor.
Of these most common breaks, which ones were shown to increase energy and vitality? None.
What breaks were positively related to vitality? What steps can you take to help yourself thrive more at work? What ideas can you pass on to your teams that will energize them at work? Here are six evidence-based ideas that fuel the Core Four:
a. More Goal-Setting, Less Reorganizing: Setting a new goal and chasing it down, even if it is a small goal, will energize you more than reorganizing your to-do list.
b. More Learning, Less Worry: Under stress, people thrive more by focusing on learning something new, not by worrying about failing, about what they might miss, or even by winning.
c. More Feedback, Less Venting: Everyone needs to vent, but don’t do it at work. Venting in the workplace is one of the few double jeopardy work breaks, meaning that it is connected to both low vitality and high fatigue. Having high energy at work comes from seeking and giving quality feedback.
d. Help More, Offer Less: Human beings are at their best when they help others, give to others and show concern for others. Those who struggle with fatigue will, with open hearts, offer help to others. Those who rated high in vitality more often actually do something to help others.
e. More Meaning, Less Distraction: Reflecting on what gives you joy and meaning at work will energize you even more than taking a break.
To thrive in today’s busy world, change your day so that it includes more of these elements, and the Core Four will fuel your leadership for the greater good of your communities.
I look forward to meeting you January 29th, 2014!
If you would like to download Andy’s complete infographic on the Suprising Truth About What Energizes Us At Work, go here: www.andycore.com/more-energy-at-work