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In today’s fast-paced, business-oriented society, there is a clear hierarchy of work ethic. Those who sacrifice everything for the company are lauded as loyal and hard-working. They are highly regarded in the workplace for their commitment and selflessness.
Without a doubt, these workers are admirable for their effort to stay relevant in their competitive environment. Often times they don’t ask for recognition, they don’t bring up the emotional toll of their work to their superiors, and their compromises have very real consequences in their interpersonal lives.
But recent studies suggest that all the effort put forth by these superstars does not mean much if that individual is physically rundown or unhappy with the job. In short, there’s more to the ideal worker than sheer will, and interestingly, energy levels have a lot to do with the effectiveness of such employees.
What are the experts saying?
Tony Schwartz, the president and CEO of the Energy Project, has become a prominent voice in the movement to redefine work productivity strategy. His in-depth research (1) in the effectiveness of work habits has allowed him to make some striking prescriptions. Among them: take care of your health, tap into that powerful brain of yours, manage your mentality, and find your drive.
Simple enough, right? Let’s break it down.
Start with the body
We all know that we should be eating a good breakfast. We should be turning in at a reasonable hour to get a full night’s rest. We should be fueling our bodies with nutritious food.
But many of us simply don’t make an effort to take care of our bodies. There are various reasons for this: we don’t have time, or we don’t have the energy. Additionally, the benefits of physical health manifest themselves gradually, making it difficult for us to notice just how much of an effect a healthy lifestyle can have on our professional lives.
Making small changes for physical health, like snacking on health foods, sleeping well, and maintaining an exercise routine, though, can have dramatic effects on our energy levels and make us infinitely better workers. As energy coach Annie Perrin (2) says to employees who are feeling a little burned out, effective physical renewal is “generally comprised of very simple actions and behavioral practices that individually may seem ‘trivial,’ but when done consistently can cumulatively add up and make a profound difference in our quality of life.”
Take care of the powerhouse
As it turns out, in addition to making sure that our physical health is at its best, there are ways that we can take care of brains, too. Caring for that massive powerhouse in our head is incredibly important if we want to be energized in the workplace.
A useful tip: take frequent breaks. Schwartz found the participants of his study to have increased work performance when the workday was interspersed with short, distracting breaks.
Also, don’t multi-task. As tempting as it is to catch up on emails during a meeting, or listen to your voicemails while writing up a report, the experts say that our brain is at its most productive when it doesn’t have to juggle more than one request.
The result: higher quality work produced in less time.
Next, fuel your emotions
Now that you’ve taken the steps to maximize the energy reserves in the brain, the next step is to make sure that your emotional state doesn’t get in the way.
According to Schwartz (3) in an article posted in the New York Times Dealbook, emotions have a profound influence on how well we can perform tasks. The reason, he says, is because humans are driven by two brains: the survival brain and the rational brain. When we allow ourselves to get bogged down with the everyday triage of stress at work, the rational brain takes a backseat to the fight or flight responses of the sympathetic (or instinctual) nervous system.
You may be saying to yourself, I never feel like I’m in physical danger at work. Why would my body go into survival mode? Well, the science shows that sympathetic responses can be triggered by emotional threats, such as interactions that leave us feeling vulnerable or unworthy.
While in this state, we lose our ability to think clearly and our emotions begin to slide into negativity. This is an energy-intensive state, and can leave us feeling ragged at the end of the day.
Luckily, there is a simple solution. Change the narrative. The trick is to identify the moment when our cognitive mind begins to tip towards those unsafe feelings of self-doubt. Instead of giving in to those fears of worthlessness, Schwartz encouraged the participants of his study to think of the situation from a different, more positive angle.
Because we’re often harder on ourselves than an onlooker would be, changing the perspective - asking questions like how would someone else describe this situation? - can strengthen the rational brain by focusing on a less emotional view on our role in the workplace. Participants found this practice empowering and energizing, making them more productive and aware employees.
Last, and probably most important: don’t forget your spirit
Each of the steps outlined above will do nothing to improve the productivity of your work if you are lacking one very important element: fulfillment. According to Schwartz, the most productive work comes from what he calls a “sweet spot,” in which an individual’s best skills match up with that individual’s personal goals and desires.
In this overlap, workers can benefit from a well of energy that also gives off feelings of happiness, fulfillment, and a sense of purpose. As mentioned earlier, these are the perfect emotions for rational cognitive function, leading some of our best work.
How can you make sure that you’re dedicating your time to finding the “sweet spot?” Here are a few questions to get you started thinking about what motivates you:
What are your core values?
Are you forced to compromise on those values for your job?
Do you feel that you are contributing to a cause that you believe in?
Answering these questions honestly can be very helpful in make sure that your career goals align with the work that you’re doing. Otherwise, you may experience dissatisfaction, disengagement, and exhaustion at your job, the perfect storm for the sympathetic brain to step in and damage your productivity and deplete your energy reserves.
All in all, there are many ways that we can make sure that we are at our best in the workplace. And the research shows that the answer is pretty clear: Take care of yourself, and find your passion.