As an executive director, consultant, board member, wife, friend or sister, I often felt there was never enough time in the day. When I felt pressed for time, the small voice in my head would spew negative self-talk about “not being organized enough, strategic enough or committed enough.” More recently, I learned a different perspective on time management and the lofty goal of feeling truly engaged in life and work, minus the exhaustion. I learned the issue is not really about time. We all have the same amount: 8,760 hours per year. No one has any more or less. It’s about our conscious or unconscious decisions, moment by moment, that determine the quality of life we have.
Experts tell us to get eight hours of sleep a day – that equals 2,920 hours per year – a full one-third of all time available. I know some nonprofit colleagues of mine would say it’s a waste of time to sleep that much. Yet when we lack enough sleep, our immune system suffers and we learn that pushing our physical limits isn’t sustainable. Sleeping less may seem like it creates more time, but in the end, it doesn’t.
This message isn’t about guilting you to get more sleep. It’s about you as a leader in your organization, your family or your community being as effective and joyful as possible. You have to make choices about how to spend those precious hours. Thoughtful investment of your time and energy is more important than ever because:
There are fewer resources available to do the work, and “doing more with less” requires you to be smart and strategic.
Generational trends show that today’s emerging leaders expect a greater work/life balance.
But rather than focus on managing time, Tony Schwartz from The Energy Project identifies four core needs every leader should consider. When these four needs are met, you are fueled and inspired to bring more of yourself to life. These needs include:
1. Physical Health – achieved through nutrition, sleep, daytime renewal and exercise.
2. Emotional well-being – grows out of feeling appreciated and valued.
3. Mental clarity – ability to focus intensely, prioritize and think creatively.
4. Spiritual significance – comes from the feeling of serving a mission.
Considering these core needs, what practices or rituals can you adopt that will help you feel more energized, focused, productive and peaceful? Here are some examples of simple habits you can adopt throughout the day:
Upon waking, instead of thinking about your to do list, stretch your body, wiggling your toes, and think about what you are grateful for in your work and life.
Get up from your desk and emails and go talk to a staff person with whom you don’t interact often. I developed this practice regularly as an executive director, but the first few times, my staff wasn’t quite sure why I just wanted to “chat.” Making those personal connections outside of task delegation helped build the bonds we needed for all the work coming down the road. I was sincere in wanting to know more about my staff and their work. It energized me to hear what they were doing on the ground with our clients.
In parts of Europe, Latin America and other regions, a resting time is a normal cultural practice. Maybe a power nap of 10-15 minutes in a quiet place is just what you need to go into your Board meeting refreshed and focused.
End of day
Jot down three key results that make you proud of your accomplishments for the day. Maybe it is completing a report or following through on a difficult conversation with a peer. And before you forget, write down what the most important thing you need to do the next day is. It’s fresh in your mind now and you can focus on it first thing in the morning. Writing it down at the end of your day allows your mind to relax for a good night’s sleep.
Find whatever motivates you to be conscious about how you spend your precious 8,760 hours. For me, it was being diagnosed with cancer and realizing that I had to make better choices about how I spent my time. Ask anyone who has endured a life-threatening illness or event how his/her experience has changed his/her perspective. Then ask what lessons you could apply to your own life.
Our society, more than ever, needs everyone to function in that energized state, contributing and renewing him/herself. You can be a more effective leader and serve your mission and your clients when you consider a commitment to daily practices that reenergize you, bring you peace of mind and inspire a joie de vivre.
Image credits: PreparingYourFamily.com, RunningwithCake.com, AlmostBohemian.com
This article was originally posted at CausePlanet on 5/23/11.