Forget Time Management. Try This Instead.

Jody Michael is the CEO and founder of Jody Michael Associates, a boutique executive coaching and career coaching company based in Chicago, with coaches in Atlanta, New York, and San Francisco. Our Accountability Mirror™ and MindMastery™ workshops will help you explore the ways you might be standing in your own way — and train you to break nonproductive patterns. Honing your inner game will drive your performance to new levels. The results are immediate, measurable and sustainable.

Too much to do; too little time. It’s a dilemma common among — but certainly not exclusive to — leaders.

We are busy.

In fact, we’re busier than we’ve ever been. We have more information to consume, more distractions to filter and, seemingly, more on our plates than ever before — and still, no matter how much time we crave, every day serves up just 24 hours.

The resulting stress that many of us feel, if left unchecked, can result in overwhelm and, eventually, burnout. For some, the ramifications are even more dangerous, leading to serious illness — or worse.

And so, in an effort to manage our competing commitments, multiple priorities and overflowing to-do lists, we’re constantly striving to find newer and better productivity tools.

But here’s what so many leaders fail to realize: the answer doesn’t lie in a better time management system. Rather, the secret is in creating a better energy management system.

Tom or Ted: Which One Are You?

Tom and Ted, 52-year-old twin brothers, are both chief financial officers. Both work for and in large metro areas. The pace of life is fast, and their plates are full.

Tom works on the West Coast and Ted works on the East Coast.

But it’s not just geography that sets them apart. Tom is on the fast track to burnout. His to-do list feels unmanageable, he doesn’t sleep well, and he struggles with back pain. He’s tired, and it shows.

On the other side of the country, Ted is faring far better. He finds his busy work days fulfilling, and equally enjoys his weekends. Sleep? Not a problem for Ted. Although they’re the same age, Ted, who looks and feels good, could easily pass for Tom’s younger brother.

While both might use the same time management processes, what really sets Tom and Ted apart is how they manage their energy, which ultimately determines their mental fitness, performance and results.

As a leader, you’re likely pulled in many directions all day long. Drinking from the proverbial fire hose, your day rarely goes as planned.
What Zaps Your Energy?

As a leader, you’re likely pulled in many directions all day long. Drinking from the proverbial fire hose, your day rarely goes as planned. As a result, like Tom, you feel overwhelmed, and the stress is taking a toll on your wellbeing — and your performance.

Like any other limited resource (including time and money), unless you prudently manage your energy, it can become depleted.

In the workplace, external drains on your energy take two forms:

Constant busyness — The “never enough time” conundrum is prevalent among today’s leaders. Understaffed, under-resourced and overstretched, there always seems to be too many things to do and too little time to do them. When you experience continued waves of “too busy,” against a backdrop of “I’ll never catch up,” it becomes exhausting.

“Emergency management” — Sometimes, the waves are more like spikes. Questions, issues and crises that you didn’t see coming demand your attention. Sometimes caused by the actions of others, breakdowns in communication or an unexpected turn of events, something has gone wrong, and it’s up to you to make it right. The stakes are always high, impacting you (personally and/or professionally), your team and, at times, your entire organization and its stakeholders.

Ted takes both busyness and crises in his stride, while Tom finds himself easily triggered. The reason: Ted is a master at managing the biggest energy zapper of all: internal depletions.

Internal depletions are the direct result of the self-talk that streams — like a playlist of “oldies but goodies” on your iPod — throughout the day. The problem is, while old (as in habitual), many of them are not good. They don’t serve you well.

And yet, if you’re like most people, you’re completely unaware of this constant barrage of messages. I’m not good enough … I’ll never get caught up … I’m so tired.

You’ve heard it for so long, you become accustomed to it, much like you would if you listened to the same playlist over and over again.

It becomes background noise. Worse, you accept it as truth. And that depletes your energy.

Replenish Your Energy: Create a New Playlist

While Tom and Ted are fictitious, they represent two very real types of people. If you feel more like Tom, take comfort in knowing that you can choose to become more like Ted. “Yeah, right!” you’re might be saying. “Easier said than done. You don’t know how much I really have on my plate.”

The cold, hard fact is: your “busyness” is no different than Ted’s “busyness.” And you can change your perceptual lens.

All it takes is a new, healthier mental playlist.

Your perspective — the lens through which you interpret your world — has a profound bearing on your energy, far more than you realize. Developing an awareness of the thoughts that create your moods, influence your behaviors and impact your results is the first step in becoming proficient in managing your energy.

By reframing the thoughts that no longer serve you, you literally rewire your brain, forming new — and more efficient — neuropathways. Like any skill, it requires practice — repeated and committed practice. But the end result is more than worth it.

Let’s face it: How many of us really want to be the passenger on an airplane with an exhausted, pilot at the helm? When you’re in a leadership role, managing your own energy is vital to your ability to impact and influence others. Replacing your mental playlist with one that is energizing — rather than energy-depleting — is the most overlooked, yet perhaps most critical key to effective and efficient leadership.

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