This might be a sign of my age (along with recently needing reading glasses for the first time!), but things ain’t like they used to be. Gone are the days when work was pretty consistent. In fact, the only consistent thing for many people these days is the inconsistency.
There’s increasing choice over what hours we do and where we work. And it’s possible – and in some cases seems to be an expectation – to be in contact with work 24/7.
With this accessibility and these choices comes a challenge. How do we consistently bring the best out of ourselves in this inconsistent working world?
One factor that enables people to navigate their way through these challenging waters is planning to manage energy for performance on various types of day.
Below you’ll find 3 different stories. Each deals with a different kind of day. One working from home, one where there’s travel involved in work at a venue away from home/office, and one where they’re based in an office.
They’re real plans built with real people to help them manage their energy in the reality of their daily lives. You’ll see they’re about more than work, they’re about family, well-being, and energy to do all the things you want to do.
Explore and you’ll find some helpful hints that might just help you to discover your own best energy rhythms
- Tim’s work from home time
- A day on the road with Tessa
- Cathy’s office code
1. Tim’s work from home time
Tim has recently changed job. He’s a sales leader. He enjoys his work and wants to do well.
The reason for the change of job was to work closer to home and spend more time with his family.
After testing out different approaches, here’s the rhythm he’s now using as a template on his regular work from home days:
Start well: He’s an early riser, up at about 6. He likes to check in and get a few key things done to start the day well. So he’ll do an hour or so of work early. He’ll then do some of the morning routine with his 2 children. That means his wife can exercise on her way to work, which works best for her. From a work perspective he could do without doing the school drop off, but he reminds himself of why he made this move. Also he’s finding that the break early in the day leads to more energy and productivity later.
Choose your environment: After the school run he’ll head to a coffee shop and do a couple of hours there. It’s an environment that encourages him to be more strategic and less task focused.
Fitness for purpose: He heads to the gym late morning for a 30-40 minute energising training session. There are 3 benefits to this: 1. It’s energising and helps him feel physically good for the rest of the day. 2. When he doesn’t do this, he’s noticed the afternoon is often less mentally productive. 3. He often has good ideas and insights while exercising.
Refuel and refocus: He has some lunch at home straight after training. We’ve found that if he eats well straight after training this reduces the amount he wants to eat in the evenings. While eating he re-focuses on the outcomes he wants to achieve for the afternoon.
Post lunch performance: He’s then refreshed, fuelled and focused ready for more good quality work. Previously this early afternoon time could often be relatively unproductive. Now he’s more consistently working well in this time.
Recharge: At 3.20 he stops to collect the kids from school. He brings them home and spends 20 minutes with them. His wife gets home at about 4.
Final flourish: He’ll then do another 90 minutes work. There’s a hard stop for dinner with the family at 5.30. This final 90 minutes or so is a great time for focusing tactically on preparing to perform well in the key moments over the next few days.
The bigger picture: This gives 4 blocks of between 90-120 minutes of highly productive working time and that seems to be about optimal when he’s working from home.
Close the day down: When the children are in bed Tim briefly checks in to see if anything has come up from the team as they’ve completed their day. He deals with anything that is quick and urgent, but parks anything that can wait or needs more time. He powers down all technology by about 8.30 and spends the evening with his wife. He’s in bed by 10.30 at the latest.
So what for you?
There are a few simple disciplines and habits that Tim uses? Which ones might work for you if and when you work from home?
2. A day on the road with Tessa
Tessa is a leader in the construction industry and spends about half of her time travelling round various sites. Managing energy while travelling, especially to construction sites, is not easy.
We’ve worked together to build an energy plan that looks like this:
Make a quick start: Rush hour traffic is particularly challenging in Tessa’s part of the world. This can often mean that what is normally a 75 minute journey can take twice that long. To be time efficient she likes to get ahead of it by setting off by 5.45. She’s not very hungry first thing, so she’ll have a hot drink and a snack, perhaps a small handful of nuts or a piece of fruit, before heading out.
Fuel for the day ahead: When she arrives at site she’ll then have breakfast. By this stage she’s more awake and amenable to some food. If the on-site facilities aren’t great, then she has some muesli with her as a plan B. In the past she used to skip breakfast and rely on coffee and sugary foods though the day and then eat a big meal in the evening. We’re trying to move quite a bit of her food intake earlier, fuelling ahead of the demands of the day. Then she can keep energy topped up and available by eating little and often through the day. This is both practical, healthier and enables her to perform better.
Fluid balance: She’ll then work through the morning always with a bottle of water to hand so she can sip away. This is reducing her coffee intake and means she can use caffeine as a stimulant when she needs it, not as a routine part of her day.
Take control: The quality of food available on a construction site is predictable, and not in a good way! So, in her car she has a picnic, which she prepares the night before. This means there’s always a more healthy choice available. Fruit, chopped vegetables, nuts, seeds are a part of this stash, as are some bottles of water. She keeps a coolbox in the boot of her car (good for keeping the milk cold for her muesli too!). This means she never needs to leave things to chance. We’re looking for her to have a light lunch, a healthy snack mid afternoon (to make sure she has fuel for the journey home) and then a not too heavy evening meal. This means we’ve planned for her to eat on 5 occasions on her on the road days.
So what for you?
If you sometimes need to be a road warrior, is there anything in Tessa’s plan that might help you to better manage your energy and performance?
3. Cathy’s office code
Cathy is in the office pretty much every day. She leads a team who write computer code. It’s a funky office, in a pretty cool part of town.
There are times when the hours are long, projects need progressing at pace and grabbing convenient food when working late is standard practise. Late working is no bad thing for Cathy because she’s not one for early starts and more often does her best work later in the day.
In her life outside of work she doesn’t enjoy too much planning, structure and routine. She loves to be able to be spontaneous and explore.
Food, beyond being fuel, has important social and emotional purpose for Cathy.
We’ve built her approach to energy around some practical principles:
Choose well: Spend most of the time choosing healthier foods, with occasional meanderings to a less healthy place. She has a good working knowledge of what healthy food is and we’re making good use of her character traits here by exploring interesting healthy foods. Locally there are artisan food shops that she loves to explore, get to know the people there and take their recommendations about what’s delicious and nutritious.
Engage with the journey: Keep a journal of what she eats and how she then feels in the following few hours. This is engaging her with cause and effect and building up her knowledge of the more helpful/unhelpful food choices for her. She’s followed a few fads in the past that have had some unhelpful side effects for her. So finding her own best path seems to be helping her test things out, refine the approach and embed good practises.
Fuel ahead: Start with a healthy breakfast and then eat smaller amounts throughout the day when she starts to feel hungry.
Convenient health: She looks to make the convenient option a healthy choice. Simple.
Move more: When you’re coding, you often need to remain focused for long periods of time and stay with the logic. This can mean developers often have their bums fixed to their chairs for long periods of time. This inactivity can be counterproductive to mental performance as well as physical well-being. Cathy and some of the team are trying some different stuff. The option of variable height desks so people can choose to stand while they work. Having meetings standing up. Walking one-to-ones. Regular reminders to get up and move about a bit. This may not seem a lot, but accumulated over time it makes quite a difference to health and well-being.
Relax at the right times: Choose the times to relax around these principles – and that’s not during an intense period of work. She has take away as a last resort when she’s working late and even then she’s learning that some are better than others if she wants to maintain energy. And, generally, they’re now saving the take away (and a few drinks) for a celebration at the end of the high demand projects.
So what for you?
Are there any of Cathy’s day to day principles and practises that would be good for you to test out for yourself?
There are lots of options when it comes to food and fluid intake and there are definitely no one-size-fits-all approaches. We face different demands and work in different environments. Now think about the different sorts of days you have and build your own plan for managing your energy through that day based on what you’ve learned from Tim, Tessa and Cathy.
Here’s a tool that to help you with that…
If you’d like even more help building your own plan then please contact me on mattb@planetK2.com.