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Life was busy before the pandemic but now, life is busy in a different way and the options that were available us to recharge and recoup have changed.  To state the obvious, it can be hard to recharge when you have no free time.

How do we manage this new paradigm and optimize our productivity by appropriately managing our needs?

When I start working with clients, the challenge to find the time to recharge is a common topic.  And, over time, it can lead to some more disturbing outcomes.

When you’re a corporate leader, there is very little free time.   So how do you recharge when it seems like you have no free time? 

Why is the idea of Recharging in Corporate America so Foreign?

At the turn of the 20th century, Henry Ford made a wildly controversial move to shut down his automobile manufacturing factories on Saturday and cut daily work hours from 12 to 8.  Can you guess what happened as a result?  Workers enjoyed more leisure time at home and became more efficient and productive at work. Although his competitors screamed in protest, Ford made this decision based on his own research about how far he could push manual laborers before they became so exhausted or resentful that they began making costly mistakes.  Within a few years, the 40-hour work week became standard across the industry.

This discovery was so prominent that it caused famous economists, like John Keyes, to predict that by 2030, we would be working a 15-hour work-week.  Other economists predicted that we would be retiring by age 38 and the question everyone speculated was what we would do with so much free time.  Fast forward to today and the fact is, we have actually gone the opposite direction.

Here are the latest stats from the work place:

  • In the US, white-collar workers work longer and more extreme hours than their peers in just about any other advanced economy, except South Korea
  •  Koreans in South Korea are checking themselves into prison-like meditation retreats to get away from work
  • In Japan, overwork is so common that the Japanese have coined a term for it: Karoshi.  This phenomenon is largely driven in their belief that no one leaves until the boss leaves.  And the boss never leaves
  • Workers in the US give up the most vacation days vs. other countries
  • The US is the only advanced economy with no national vacation policy

The Impact of the Pandemic on Recharging

The early days of the pandemic gave us some breathing room as many of us gained time back in the day by removing a commute.  However, that free time quickly got highjacked as acceptable meeting times started earlier and ended later.  This is partially because of our work-first mentality in the US.  But it’s also because those quick hallway conversations that were so valuable have now been replaced by 30-minute Zoom meetings.  So there are A LOT more meetings.

The lines between work and home were already blurred, they’ve virtually become one at this point.  We are, essentially, living at work!

Let’s get to the good news: while it’s difficult to find this time, it’s not impossible.  And there’s a way to recharge when you have no free time without making your life more burdensome.  In fact, if you incorporate the ideas in this article, life will undoubtedly become easier.

No one is going to delineate those lines for you.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed or simply crave more downtime (which, as you’ll learn, will also help your performance at work), you will have to be proactive to make time to recharge.

Since I work with so many clients who find it difficult to justify carving out time for them when so many other people in their lives rely on them, let’s first explore why it’s important to recharge.

The Importance of Recharging

There are two areas that needs recharging to achieve optimal results: our minds and our bodies.

The Importance of Recharging our Minds

Did you know that being in a constant “go mode” is detrimental to your creative faculties?  That the very act of forcing yourself to respond to emails within seconds, regardless of what time it comes in, is likely decreasing your ability to come up with great, new, innovative ideas and strategies?  

It’s no surprise that our best thoughts hit us when we least expect it- when we’re exercising, when we’re in the shower, when we’re outside grabbing the mail.  This is because you’re letting your mind recharge, and introducing variety.  It’s the same reason writers experience writer’s block- your mind has literally reaching a point where it’s demanding to be recharged.  And the toll you pay is lack of creativity/happiness/fulfillment.  In this situation, you have no choice: in order to return to brilliance, you must pay the piper.  

And there’s science to back this up.

Psychologists John Kounios and Mark Beeman actually mapped brain waves and proved that moments of brilliance and creativity come when we are in a calm and relaxed state- when we are doing anything BUT work. They coined it the “ah-ha” state.

Anders Ericsson studied elite musicians at the Berlin Academy to come up with the notion we now accept as fact: that is takes 10,000 hours of practice to truly master a new skill.  But another, lesser-known finding of that study is the way those 10,000 hours were spent.  What separated the great from the good and mediocre was the way theses musicians practiced.  Those who practiced intensely, for 60 to 90 minutes at a time and then rested, became the great ones.  They honored the rest required to achieve excellence.

An article written in Psychology Today put it best: 

It is challenging to consider alternative paths when we are surrounded by people who glorify their busy lifestyles.  Preoccupation with constant activity has become a badge of honor.

However, those who do carve out the much-needed time to recharge are the ones who will rise above the others.  

The Importance of Recharging our Bodies

I define recharging our bodies as making time for movement.  In today’s overscheduled video conferencing environment, it can be difficult to find time to move around.  However, there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence that proves that finding time for movement throughout your day can have positive effects across the board.

Regular aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety by making your brain’s “fight or flight” system less reactive.  Aerobic exercise gives your body more familiarity with a rapid heartbeat so when it’s triggered by a stressful situation, you have a higher tolerance for it.

Regular exercise can also reduce depressive symptoms and can be as effective as medication and therapy.

Regular movement can also improve your body’s ability to fight diseases, lead to stronger bones, increase your brain health and improve your sex life.  This is all because movement helps to get our blood moving and that’s important for our health (and, also, our pleasure).

Diagnosing Why You Feel So Drained

We often attribute our exhaustion to back-to-back obligations.  On the surface, this is the culprit.  But it’s the way we are responding to these obligations that is really leading to our exhaustion.  So, before we go to solutions, let’s make sure we’re appropriately identifying the ailment.

Most common reasons people feel drained:

  • Too much or too little physical activity
  • Jetlag or something else that confuses your circadian rhythm
  • Insomnia or lack of sleep
  • Medications such as antihistamines and cough medicine
  • Poor eating habits
  • Stress
  • Trauma
  • Drug or alcohol use

When you take a list at this list, which of these are your biggest offenders that you can address to help yourself recharge?

Now explore solutions that will enable you to recharge when it feels like you have no free time.

How to Make Time When It Feels Like You Don’t Have Any

In a cadence that feels feasible and appropriate for your needs, calendar time to recharge.  Protect this time as you would protect a meeting time with your boss.  When you’re on an airplane, there’s a reason we’re instructed to first put on our own oxygen mask before putting on our child’s.  

If you’re not taking care of you, you won’t be able to take care of others- your co-workers, your boss, your kids, your partner, your spouse, your parents, etc.  You MUST prioritize making time for you.

Since your day is so packed, this block of time doesn’t have to be large.  It can be 15-30 minutes 3-5 days/week.  This is sacred time- it’s YOU time.  Put it in the calendar so you’re committed to It and others can’t highjack your time.

I guarantee, if you do this, you’ll find that the non-essential things you were prioritizing over you-time will take care of themselves.  And you’ll be recharged to deal with the really important things.

Before you calendar, think about the best time to do this.  Some people like to do this first thing in the morning and set their alarm 30 minutes early to start their day off on the right foot.  Some people (like me) like to do this at the end of their work day to help them transition from work into home life and reward themselves the time and energy they’ve put into their vocation.  Think about the time that would be best for you and put it in the calendar.

Since many of us are still home during the day with family members, if you need to, communicate to anyone who might interrupt you at home that this is your time and you are not to be disturbed.  Explain to them the importance of this time for you and how it helps you take care of them.

Now that you’ve carved this time out, let’s talk about how to fill this time.

How to Recharge your Mind

Find a way that resonates with you to reconnect with yourself, your core values and your core needs.  Tune into your emotions, your unconscious thoughts, and how you are feeling during this time.  Before you dive into this exercise, be sure to shut down any distractions (turn off phone/computer dingers, etc.) so you can focus on the task at hand.  Remember, you’ve been tending to everyone else’s needs all day- this is the only time you tune into YOUR needs.

Here are some good ways to recharge your mind:

  • Meditate
  • Journal/write
  • Listen to music
  • Sit out in nature and just observe the world around you
  • Breathing exercises
  • Set intentions
  • Think about everything you’re grateful for
  • Pray

How to Recharge your Body

This doesn’t have to involve a hard-core cardio workout for 60 minutes to be effective.  In fact, trying to hit a target that you consider too aggressive can leave you skipping the movement altogether because the goal is too hard and therefore, not motivating.  

Think about easy ways to introduce movement.  Even little things count towards the positive impact movement can have.  

Here are some ideas:

  • Window shopping
  • Gardening
  • Stretching
  • Playing with kids/animals
  • Walking/hiking outside
  • Online fitness class (my personal favorite is FitOn and it’s FREE!)
  • Dancing
  • Swimming

You may even have some more casual meetings that you can take while walking to help you fit this in (invest in a good pair of ear phones that won’t pick up the wind while you walk).

Rethink How you Prioritize and Use Unexpected Downtime

Implementing the above will yield large improvements in your mood and ability to manage stress over time. If you start by focusing on those things, you’ve already made a lot of progress.

If you’d like a little more, consider how you spend the little moments of downtime that serendipitously appear through the day.  For example, when someone pops on a meeting late or cancels last minute.

I have a TERRIBLE habit of jumping into another deliverable when I have downtime.  Sometimes, this is great as I’m able to get through my to-do list faster than expected.  

Other times, it leaves me in a state of stress when my contact does show up because my mind has shifted to the new task and now I have to refocus and the stress of completing that last task I started is weighing on me.  This compounds my state of stress, which then increases my need to recharge.

When you do switch gears during unexpected free time, be mindful about how long the tasks that you start will take.  The largest and most common temptation is to dive into your email inbox.  Where, inevitably, you’ll find things to do that could keep you busy 24/7.

To help you stay focused and not fill your day with miscellaneous tasks that would otherwise work themselves out or aren’t top priorities, get really clear on what you need to achieve that day/that week/that quarter (and absolutely include self-care on this list).  If you start working on something that isn’t a priority as outlined in your to-do list, ask yourself if your time would be used better elsewhere.  Make sure you address the must haves before you jump into the nice to haves.

If you successfully carve out time for you to recharge, you’ll notice a tangible difference in your mood, your energy level, and your ability to manage stress.  There’s no downside to taking care of your needs.  But there are very dangerous downsides if you don’t.  

Give it a try and see if it makes a difference for you.  Most of my clients who do this magically end up with a promotion, a new job offer, an increase in satisfaction in personal relationships, and a more kind, supportive relationship with themselves.  What will happen for you?

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