Zen and the Art of Energy Management
With a chill in the air comes a certain reluctance to spend too much time at the worktable.
We’ve been seeing several reels and posts telling us to take a break and relax, and we find that a particular ‘maintenance’ mode has set in, where we are keener to package our Christmas hampers than we are to sign new projects. Either targets have been met, or one is better off focusing on targets for the new year.
In most companies, November is when offsites and conferences are planned, and while we tell ourselves that this is because winter is a short, fleeting time to be used to its fullest potential, the truth may be a bit deeper than that.
Like seasons and periods in time, we have ebb and flow.
It can be a bit of a scary proposition to accept that. We are all committed to our job descriptions and our daily calendars, and the idea that we could potentially do less makes us all uncomfortable. What if we get called out for doodling on a Tuesday afternoon, irrespective of whether our tasks are pending or not?
Two weeks ago, author Cal Newport’s newsletter held a few nuggets of wisdom for us. The now-famous podcast host and proponent of Deep Work dives into the idea that we all have various styles of energy. Some of us may be able to ‘radiate in all directions,' and consequently need more downtime when the downtime arrives. Others can find a steady rhythm of getting things done every day without feeling the need or inclination to stretch too far beyond their internal limits.
What Works For The Individual, And What Works For The System
For an organization, the idea that people may be different in their energy management styles isn’t only incomprehensible, but it is also inconvenient. Teams work on efficiency, and having members who work differently from everyone else can greatly hinder everything from productivity to project delivery.
The easy solution here is to recommend that we all work within the prescribed system, in which case the awareness that the pandemic built, and the point of this blog, would both be lost.
The tough solution involves, as always, a bit of soul-searching both as a company and as an individual. If my energy is prone to have heavier fluctuations throughout the year, what tools and resources do I need to succeed in a relatively predictable job? Likewise, how can I push myself to work in a decidedly unpredictable startup environment if I am a creature of structure and order?
Now, whether you choose to push yourself or find a different workplace more suited to your style, there is no wrong thing to do here. Sometimes, the best gift we can give ourselves is to accept that a certain system is ill-suited to our way of life and, armed with that awareness, to move on to something more suited to our interests.
Recently, we meet an ex-architect who shut her consulting firm at the beginning of the pandemic, picked up the brush and watercolours, and found in her the artists always lurking within. And she isn’t just painting as a hobby, either- her art is showcased in forums, custom pieces are commissioned, and she has, in a span of two years, become a creator to look out for in her circles.
Few of us undergo such radical transformation overnight; she likely didn’t. A keener understanding of who we are and how we work, therefore, can open doors that are potentially more fulfilling.
For companies, on the other hand, this is where the true ramifications of culture begin to show up. We often discuss culture more abstractly, but this is where the rubber of changing priorities hits the road. Startups would do well to hire for ambition and find a more equitable distribution of profits in order to retain talent that clearly has no dearth of opportunities.
On the other hand, established systems could do with a gentle, consistent infusion of creativity- a changemaker who is also not daunted by the prospect of their purported change taking years to transpire, if not decades.
Are there any roles that are immune to energy?
In writing this section, in particular, we tried to look across as many diverse career paths as possible. After considering over twenty different professions, including strategists, finance controllers, startup founders, future leaders, new hires, and doctors, we have concluded that no one is an exception to the rule of working with their own energy.
Indeed, there may be some comfort in knowing that even among the doctors, there are the Derek Shepherds and the Miranda Baileys, if you’d excuse yet another Grey’s Anatomy reference (we couldn’t risk using the names of our actual doctors, lest they choose to let us go as patients).
What does variance in energy in every professional tell us, really? Of course, there is the philosophical consideration that we, much like other living beings, have our phases. More relevant, however, is the fact that our energy translates almost directly into our work and must therefore be taken into account when signing up for long-term adventures.
A strategist who is steady and consistent will likely experience fewer short-term wins, but the likelihood that they will see things through is far higher. On the other hand, a more ‘wildly radiant’ strategist may be just what a system needs when they want to jolt themselves out of their comfort zones.
Do consider- how you would apply this to yourself as an individual. Are you in the right job at this time, knowing yourself better now?
And as a leader, too, it is time to think- what kind of a team are you hoping to build, and what kinds of energy would that need?