April 24, 2023
The way we work has changed forever. According to recent research by Zippia, 74% of U.S. companies are using or planning to implement a permanent hybrid work model. This trend is forcing leaders to enhance their time-management skills to survive the new ways of working.
While flexibility and the comfort of working from home can be exciting, leaders increasingly suffer from unintended challenges, on the edge of burnout . Before the pandemic, physically separate workspaces and commuting to and from the office helped many employees separate work-life and home life.
Unfortunately, after two years of telework, many leaders have filled their commute time with additional to-do's and responsibilities, increasing mental exhaustion. When work and life blend into each other without physical structures, the discipline of building healthy boundaries falls back to a leader's will and resilience. Establishing and sticking to healthy boundaries is vital for everyone's mental, physical and emotional well-being.
In my coaching and consulting practice, I work with leaders to create healthy routines to optimize their performance and well-being.
One fundamental behavior to help create healthy boundaries for leaders is their ability to control their calendars. Here are six strategies you can apply to detox your calendar and regain your energy.
1. Protecting your calendar is protecting your energy.
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy talk about the importance of paying attention to your energy levels and needs and scheduling your life around those. They write, "Defined in physics as the capacity to work, energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. In each, energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed by establishing specific rituals—behaviors that are intentionally practiced and precisely scheduled, with the goal of making them unconscious and automatic as quickly as possible."
They explain that people "need to recognize the costs of energy-depleting behaviors and then take responsibility for changing them, regardless of the circumstances they're facing."
So what does this look like in practice? Say you have a long, somewhat taxing meeting scheduled for the afternoon. That means that, in the morning before, you commit to going out for a refreshing walk in nature, eating a healthy lunch and attending the meeting prepared and attentive.
Consider the habits and rituals that recharge you. It could be yoga. It could be cooking a meal with your significant other or as simple as getting a good night's sleep. Make sure you integrate these recharging rituals into your life to keep your energy reserves full for when you need them most.
2. Understand your body's rhythm and adjust your calendar to your mental, emotional and physical needs
This consideration goes along with the first point. Part of preserving your energy levels entails getting to know your personal habits. Are you a morning person or a night owl? How many hours of sleep do you typically require each night to feel rested and ready for the day? During which hours of the day are you most productive?
Once you have created a personal profile of needs and habits, you can create a calendar based on your peak performance times. Not the most energized first thing in the morning? Consider using that time to complete less mentally taxing tasks like responding to simple emails.
3. Prioritize your to-do list
We all have a million things to tackle at any point, which can lead to serious overwhelm. To get a handle on your To-Do's, use the Eisenhower Matrix , i.e., the Urgent-Important Matrix. This is a way of breaking down your task list into four categories based on urgency and importance and offers an essential strategy for getting things done. See below:
- Urgent & Important; do first — Start by focusing on critical tasks that need to be done today.
- Not urgent & important; schedule — You will want to schedule tasks that are important but less urgent for a later date.
- Urgent & not important; delegate — Assign urgent but less important tasks to others on your team.
- Not urgent & not important; don't do — Is something on your To-Do list not all that important or urgent? Cross it off the list.
Utilizing the Eisenhower Matrix is a simple way to help you determine the most important on your weekly or monthly To-Do list and what can be left undone or delegated.
4. Categorize your calendar, and block out time for specific tasks
We can generally break our calendars into various distinct categories. For example, we can label specific tasks as administrative and others as managerial or personal/family. Our digital calendars, Google or Apple, offer easy ways to color code or label tasks and events, and this is a simple way to visually.
Your calendar should be a reflection of your To-Do-List. Each critical task and work deliverable needs a dedicated time block to empower yourself to accomplish it. Are you expected to review and edit your Board-Presentation? Block dedicated time.
Anticipating an emotionally challenging conversation with a report? Schedule it on your Google calendar with 15 minutes of preparation and debriefing time. If you are struggling to follow your exercise routine or missing out on family dinners, block your calendar. Want to spend a few hours with your significant other on Saturday morning before the day's chaos begins? Block out the time on your calendar. Not following this principle will leave you disappointed week after week for not working on your priorities but being directed by external demands.
5. Ditch the idea of work-life balance and aim for Work-Life-Integration
We often talk about the notion of work-life balance , but there are better ways to conceptualize the balance between work and personal duties. Instead, reframe your time understanding: prioritize establishing a Work/Life-Integration. Stephen Kohler, the CEO and founder of Audira Labs, describes Work-Life integration as such: "Work-life balance is focused on keeping your work life and your personal life separate, but equal, whereas work-life integration is centered on the belief that there is no distinction between the two and that both must coexist in harmony."
So what does this look like? You may be scheduled to be on a two-hour conference call that doesn't require your full and undivided attention. You could take this call on a walk in nature or cook while listening.
Or, if you work from home, you can break up your day into various segments. Maybe you spend the first two hours of the day preparing your children for school. Then you spend two hours holding virtual meetings and answering emails. Then you take an hour to get in some exercise. In the evening, you may want to spend 30 minutes learning your long-desired new language.
All your priorities must be reflected in your calendar, personal and professional. It's all about establishing a healthy relationship between your work and personal life and valuing both aspects.
6. Carve out space for meeting-free "creative days"
While we may feel compelled to fill our schedules with tasks, we must designate spaces in our calendars. Recent studies have shown that a little free time, a space for boredom in your day, is essential. According to Andreas Elpidorou of the University of Louisville , boredom is a "regulatory state that keeps one in line with one's projects. Without boredom, one would remain trapped in unfulfilling situations and miss out on many emotionally, cognitively, and socially rewarding experiences. Boredom is both a warning that we are not doing what we want to be doing and a 'push' that motivates us to switch goals and projects."
At least once a month, designate a free day to release your mind from all of your to-do's. Allow your mind to wander onto new ideas, projects, and solutions. Give yourself the space to be creative.
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