I spent much of last year waking everyday only to be more tired than the day before. I would anticipate every weekend, hoping it would be the recharge I desperately needed. I tried being active; I tried being inactive. I tried long weekends filled with activities, and long weekends parked on the couch in my theater room. I tried healthy eating and when that didn’t boost my energy, I tried comfort eating. Next, I sat down and made a mental list of things I had done in the past that “got me back on track”. I then resorted to the extreme of repeating previous vacations that I had found refreshing (all the way down to the same resort, and same restaurants). When you’ve been a CEO for 15 years you develop a bag of tricks to get you out of the valleys. But this time was different; every trick in my bag was failing me.
I began to wonder if that was that. Maybe I just couldn’t get out of the hole. Were my best days behind me? The encouragement I kept getting was that I was doing all the right things and it was just going to take time. So, all I could do was get up every day and grind away at every problem I saw. Some days were awful, some decent, but none left me feeling fulfilled, they were no longer great.
Then one day the sun started to shine (literally…spring came). But it wasn’t just that, I found myself more rested, more excited, dealing with fewer problems, and I found myself happier. Being the analytical person I am I couldn’t just let that be, I needed to know why! What had changed? The problem with trying so many things is I didn’t have a clue what finally worked, or if it was a combination of things. I would love to blame this on analytics but, I think it’s more like self preservation; wanting to know how to get back to myself quicker next time.
Here are the top five things that allowed me to move from exhaustion back to excitement:
We were all designed for something, and we have to ask ourselves, “What are those few things that only I can do?” “What are the few things that I am truly one of the best in the country at?” And now for the painful question…“How much time do you actually spend on that?” For most of us the answer is probably less than 10% of our time. Once you determine the answers to these three questions, get rid of almost everything else! Seriously, delegate it, let go of it, or just stop doing it. What makes you great will never make your organization great until you are focusing the majority of your available time and energy on it.
This may seem contrary to the first point, but only doing what we enjoy is unhealthy. Let’s use baseball as an example; if you are amazing as a first baseman then stick to it, hone that skill! That doesn’t mean leaving out all the things you may find lacking in enjoyment. We all see the play on ESPN that makes the highlight reel, but no one talks about the hours of training every day, the routine, diet, coaching, heat treatments, and ice baths that play out behind the scenes. Do you think ball players find that part enjoyable? Remember, there are numerous hours of hard work involved to make up 15 seconds of ESPN fame.
American culture is to avoid the things we dislike. We were not meant to avoid pain, in fact embracing the things we dislike or find painful make the things we do enjoy that much more satisfying. Imagine waking up every day in paradise, after a while every sunset is just a sunset; every wave is just a wave; and the relaxing sound of the ocean…fades away.
Top performers almost always struggle with this. We thrive on challenge, we enjoy being at the top of our game, and we dislike sitting in the back row whether it be at a networking event, the office, or even at church. This leads to over commitment. Not because we don’t know how to say no, but because we lack the ability to be a spectator. We see everything as what could be, and what we could contribute to it. For years I tried to figure out how to shut my brain off and just enjoy “participating”. Then I realized the real key is accepting the fact that I’m not a spectator and never will be. So, I have to limit the things I put myself in front of. I have to admit to myself, if I even attend a coaching group I will end up leading it. I have to enter every activity understanding that fact before I even choose to participate. I have to ask myself, “Am I willing to dedicate a significant portion of my time to this?” If the answer is no, I don’t get involved.
Start your day the right way. Many of us jump right into our email box and find ourselves hours later still trudging away; exhausted and having not completed anything of true importance. That’s because email is the art of fulfilling other peoples’ requests. You have to start your day the right way. List your work, AND THEN work your list. Only after doing this can you take control over your day. Once you have a list you can look through your email for additional tasks (which is all emails really are these days).
PRODUCTIVITY TIP: Now that you have a prioritized list, the old adage of “do what’s most important first” isn’t always the best approach. When looking at your tasks determine which ones will leave you energized, and which ones will leave you exhausted? Arrange your tasks by doing energizing tasks first, and then build from that momentum to tackle more draining tasks. Be honest with yourself, there are some tasks that once completed you are just “mentally done” for the day. I always schedule those meetings/tasks for the very end of the day so that I have the energetic momentum of the entire day behind me backing me up (and so I can go home afterwards, as I know I am going to be “done”).
It takes 21 days to develop a habit and only 2 – 3 to get out of one. You need to have control over your day, something you can rely on. Our minds have to be kick started. We are forced to make hundreds if not thousands of decisions on a daily basis. By having a routine you are telling your brain to fire up and pointing it in the right direction. Having and sticking to a routine naturally leads to a more organized day. Once you have established a routine, it becomes automatic; you will start performing tasks without realizing it. So, you get done what needs to be done even while your mind is occupied with other things.