Empathy, compassion and coronavirus

Empathy, compassion and coronavirusMcKinsey & Company began a recent article on leading with purpose during the pandemic with a quote from celebrity chef and World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés: “Without empathy, nothing works.” The quote, McKinsey said, “highlights the reasoning behind the organization’s mission: to feed the world by being the first food responders in devastated areas.”

Much has been written about Andrés’ humanitarian efforts in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and, more recently, in U.S. cities struggling with coronavirus. The quote about empathy comes from a Time magazine story with Andrés on the cover in a chef’s jacket. At a moment’s notice, the article notes, Andrés is ready to jump on a plane to help feed those stricken by disaster. Empathy, rather than profit, power or recognition, drives his organization.

Psychologists tell us that empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person. We often equate empathy with sympathy or compassion, but there is a difference. “Sympathy is feeling concern for someone else, and a desire that they become happier or better off, while empathy involves sharing the other person’s emotions,” according to Psychology Today. “Compassion is an empathic understanding of a person’s feelings accompanied by altruism, or a desire to act on that person’s behalf. “

Maybe you’ve seen the RSA animated video by best-selling author and researcher Brené Brown, who has studied and written about empathy. Brown says, “Empathy fuels connection,” while “sympathy drives disconnection.” Empathy is feeling with people, she states.

Sympathy vs. empathy

To illustrate, Brown asks us to imagine encountering someone who is in a deep, dark hole. A sympathetic person might acknowledge that “it’s bad down there” and offer advice from above. Often their response begins with the words “at least…” As in, “At least you still have your job,” or “At least you didn’t get hurt.” They apply a silver lining to the situation, suggesting it could be worse.

An empathic person will climb down into the dark hole to be with the other person. Their response is to say, “It sounds like you’re in a hard place now. Tell me more about it.” They are there to listen and share the other person’s feelings, not give advice or minimize the situation.

Brown cites the work of nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman, who studied professions where empathy is relevant and noted these four qualities of empathy:

  1. Perspective taking: Seeing the world as others see it.
  2. Staying out of judgment: Judgment discounts the other person’s experience and is an attempt to protect us from the pain of the situation.
  3. Understanding another person’s feelings: Removing ourselves and focusing only on the other person.
  4. Communicating that you understand: Making it clear to the other person that you understand where they are coming from.

“Empathy is a choice,” Brown says, “and it’s a vulnerable choice because in order for me to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”

It reminds me of Father Gregory Boyle, whom I’ve written about before. Boyle works with gang members in East Los Angeles and founded Homeboy Industries. In his book, Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle talks about breaking down barriers and building kinship with others. This can only happen, he relates, when we’re willing to step out of our own world and see with new eyes. “Then,” he says, “we are no longer saddled by the burden of our persistent judgments, our ceaseless withholding, our constant exclusion. Our sphere has widened, and we find ourselves, quite unexpectedly, in a new, expansive location, in a place of endless acceptance and infinite love.”

The dark side of empathy

Boyle and Andrés exemplify the good that comes from putting empathy into action, and one could argue that no significant social change can occur without it. But there’s a dark side to empathy, too. For one thing, empathy can be politicized and used to divide. Look at the way empathy has become the litmus test for how we should respond to coronavirus. Certain political leaders are said to have empathy; others are found lacking. The perspective you take most likely reflects the party you belong to.

Against EmpathyYale psychologist Paul Bloom, in Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, argues empathy isn’t a very good way to make moral judgments or policy decisions. According to Bloom, we are naturally biased towards those we identify with, plus empathy tends to focus us on a single case at the expense of many others.

Not to mention, if we truly feel another person’s loneliness or hurt, it can be depressing and exhausting. Bloom advises us to try compassion, which he says increases helping behaviors and energizes us to act. In fact, that is the subtitle of Boyle’s book—The Power of Boundless Compassion.

Bloom and other psychologists point to Buddhist teachings cautioning against too much empathy. Columbia University psychology professor Tara Well writes, “Instead of focusing on empathy to the point of draining ourselves emotionally, Buddhism teaches the practice of compassion, called karuna. This is the idea of sharing in suffering, having concern for another, but essentially ‘feeling for and not feeling with the other.’”

Well recounts a study by neuroscientists Tania Singer and Olga Klimecki, where the subjects were divided into two groups—one practiced empathy and the other compassion. “The empathy-trained group actually found empathy uncomfortable and troublesome,” Well says. “The compassion group, on the other hand, created positivity in the minds of the group members. The compassion group ended up feeling kinder and more eager to help others than those in the empathy group.”

The practice of karuna, often accomplished through loving-kindness meditation, seems to be a healthy approach, one that cultivates an awareness of true compassion and the skill to avoid false compassion.

Finding a middle ground

At the very least, we need to get closer to a middle ground that promotes open and caring behavior toward others, no matter what our political leanings may be. We can start with:

  • Being objective
  • Being an active listener
  • Avoiding quick judgments
  • Wanting the best for others, even those we dislike
  • Validating other viewpoints and perspectives
  • Balancing competing needs
  • Understanding that we can’t help everyone or solve every problem

When we live and act in this way, we can focus on the good aspects of empathy and steer clear of the negative ones. Thankfully, we are seeing this play out during the pandemic as quarantined Americans take the time to check on a neighbor, volunteer to drop off groceries to a shut-in or Zoom with a friend who’s feeling down. Social distancing is actually spurring connection. As Brown says, “Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued, when they can give and receive without judgment.”

Stained glass image by Cindy J Grady
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‘Ain’t That Peculiar’

Sometimes a word strikes our fancy, delighting us like a rainbow after a storm or refreshing us like a splash of cold water. Maybe a word is used in a novel way. Or it sparks a connection, triggers our imagination or gives us a new take on an old refrain. So we stop, and we ponder. At least I do.

This past week, I had such an encounter with the word “peculiar.” I was working on some FAQs about coronavirus for an insurance client. One of the questions was whether COVID-19 would be covered by workers’ compensation.

OK, sounds boring, I admit. But I learned that in order for a disease to qualify for workers’ comp, it must “arise out of or be caused by conditions peculiar to the work.” A good example is black-lung disease, which is peculiar to the work of coal miners. It’s not a disease you’ll find in any other occupation.

Being a bit of a word nerd, I was intrigued that “peculiar” had become a term of art in the insurance industry. According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, the use of peculiar reached its highpoint in 1834 and has been on a downhill slide ever since. And while insurers have continued to use the word in its original sense, today we are more apt to use peculiar to mean “odd,” “strange” or “unusual.”

The Online Etymology Dictionary dates peculiar to the 15th century, originally meaning “belonging exclusively to one person,” from the Old French peculiaire (“special, particular”) and the Latin peculiaris (“of one’s own)” Peculium is Latin for “private property,” literally “property in cattle” (in ancient times the most important form of property).

But by the 17th century, peculiar had taken on its second and more current meaning of “unusual,” “markedly different” or “out of the ordinary.” Anyone listening to Marvin Gaye’s hit, “Ain’t that Peculiar,” in 1965 probably thought Marvin was singing about how strange it was to be in love with a woman who “hurt [him] more and more.”

Ain’t that peculiar?
A peculiar-arity
Ain’t that peculiar, baby?
Peculiar as can be

But maybe, just maybe, the songwriter, Smoky Robinson, knew the etymology of peculiar. Couldn’t he have been referring to the particularity of the narrator’s experience? For anyone who’s been in (or out) of love, the emotion is surely quite personal. It’s the narrator’s pain, and no one else’s. Love may be universal, but it belongs exclusively to the person who feels it.

So my mind wondered here and there, Peculiar as can be. I began to speculate on the peculiarity of writing and wondered if any writer had ever successfully filed a workers’ comp claim for our peculiar condition, writer’s block.

As it happens, the Literary Hub has collected the thoughts of 25 well-known writers on this very subject. Well, not workers’ comp, but writer’s block. The consensus, I found, is that writer’s block is all in your head. So get over it. Consider this response from Mark Helprin, from an interview in The Paris Review:

Assuming that you are a professional and that you know how to write, why would you be unable to do so? If an electrician said, I have electrician’s block. I just can’t bend conduit. I can’t! I can’t! I can’t run wires! Help me, please! he would be committed. One thing would be certain, and that is that his paralysis in the face of his work would have only to do with him, and not with his craft. I’m of the old school, I guess, and I would call writer’s block laziness, lack of imagination, inflated expectations…

I doubt if any self-respecting writer has ever filed for workers’ comp for writer’s block. Besides, freelancers and independent contractors generally aren’t covered by workers’ comp (since they aren’t employees), unless they buy the coverage for themselves.

So ended my reverie of silliness. Then came a more sobering thought: We are in the middle of Holy Week, and Christians all over the world will be celebrating Easter on Sunday. I remembered that in the New Testament, followers of Christ are described by Peter as a “peculiar people” in 1 Peter 2:9 (King James Version):

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

The King James Bible, published in 1611, most certainly used peculiar to mean a people belonging to God. For many years, I applied the more recent meaning to this verse, thinking the early Christians were unusual to believe in a crucified king, and certainly in grave danger for worshiping him. When Peter wrote his first letter to the early church, it was around 64 A.D., after the great fire that destroyed Rome. Nero was the emperor and a notorious persecutor of Christians. Indeed, it was during his reign that both Peter and Paul were executed.

Peculiar is used in the Old Testament a number of times as well. For example, Deuteronomy 14:2 says, “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.” Again, the meaning is clear: the people of Israel belong to God; they are distinctly his.

As we come to Easter and remember the passion of Christ, his death on the cross to end all death, and his resurrection, we celebrate Jesus’ peculiar triumph in a most peculiar time. In the age of coronavirus, unable to gather in worship houses, deprived of sharing the Eucharist, it is up to us to witness to rebirth and redemption in new ways. Yes, it is a peculiar time. But we have in Holy Week the model for the most peculiar moment in history. Let us not lose sight of that.

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Is your blog on life support?

(This post originally appeared on the Aartrijk blog.)

Do you have a blog that you haven’t posted to in a while? You’ve been meaning to write something, but you just haven’t gotten around to it. Or maybe it’s a company blog, and no one has taken ownership. There are a few posts from that marketing guy who left last year, but nothing much since.

You’re not alone. Every once in awhile, I stop by The Wayward Journey to check on it. I’m still getting visitors, even though I haven’t posted anything new in about 18 months.

When I got the blogging fever about eight years ago, I was a regular writing machine. I would sometimes post two or three times a week. I kept it up for a good six years. Then things started to peter out. Lately, I’ve been embarrassed to give out the link. I keep telling myself I’m going to get back to it. Soon.

Here’s the sad truth: an estimated 95 percent of all blogs are abandoned. That’s an oft-cited statistic from a 2009 New York Times article, and not much has changed in the intervening 10 years — although I would guess even more bloggers have given up with the advent of newer social media tools.

It means if you recently started blogging, the odds are you won’t be doing it for long. You’ll lose interest. You’ll discover it’s a lot of work. The top reasons given in surveys for bloggers quitting usually include lack of time, not making any money and not enough followers.

Some social media watchers say blogging is dead anyway. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn are more immediate and easier for building a following. So goes the reasoning.

Except that companies with blogs produce 67% more leads per month than those without blogs, according to Demand Metric. In addition, marketers who have prioritized blogging are 13 times more likely to enjoy a positive ROI, and companies that blog receive 97% more links to their website.

The folks at the content firm Codeless compiled “101 Blogging Statistics for 2019” earlier this year. Here are a few other attention-grabbing facts about blogs:

  • 60% of consumers feel engaged/positive with a brand or company after reading custom content on their blog.
  • 47% of B2B buyers read 3-5 blog posts or content pieces prior to talking with a salesperson.
  • 59% of B2B marketers consider blogs the most valuable channel.
  • 2% of companies say content marketing increased their lead quality and quantity.
  • 69% of marketing professionals say content marketing is superior to direct mail and PR.
  • 70% of consumers prefer learning about a company through custom content than through paid advertisements.

Okay, so blogging is a good thing. But how do you resuscitate a blog that’s on life support? Here are a few helpful tips:

Planning is key. It starts with creating an editorial calendar and setting firm deadlines. I have to give kudos to the Aartrijk team for keeping the Brain Food blog going, especially Roni Acord, who gets on our case to contribute to it and stay on schedule. So make sure your blog has a calendar, and then stick to it.

Post consistently. Pick a day and time to post that works for you (e.g., every second Tuesday at 9 a.m.). Readers reward bloggers who keep to a schedule. Followers especially appreciate receiving posts on time. Not every post needs to be written by the same person. Many blogs lighten the writing load by featuring guest bloggers or curated content.

Add photos, video and infographics. Including images and infographics can increase your traffic. They also make your blog more interesting and more likely to be shared with others.

Use social media. You should definitely be integrating your blogging with your other social media platforms. It’s easy to share posts on your Facebook and Twitter feeds. You can also post content to LinkedIn. Use quotes or excerpts or push readers to your blog. As marketers like to say, amplify your content!

Measure your results. Make use of the free analytics that come with your site or set up Google Analytics. Over time, you’ll start to see trends and can tailor your content to what your readers respond to best.

With my own blog, I’ve seen steady growth in traffic through what are called compounding posts. These are posts that continue to bring more traffic to your site long after they are published. HubSpot says one compounding post generates as much traffic as six regular posts combined. In fact, they generate 38% of all blog traffic.

Last year was my best year ever for traffic, yet I didn’t post a thing. It turns out that several compounding posts have become the gift that keeps on giving. Most of my traffic now comes from just two or three posts that date back to 2012! It’s one more reason to take the long view when it comes to blogging. Even if you’ve been on an extended break, it’s never too late to fire up that blog and get it going again.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

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Email and echo chambers

I’ve been doing some work for Aartrijk, a content marketing firm in the property-casualty insurance space, for the past year or so. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I met Peter Aartrijk years ago when I was working at the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and he was at the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America.

One of the great things Peter does is keep up with his blog. That’s something that I admit I’ve slipped a bit on The Wayward Journey. Okay, I admit, I’ve slipped a lot lately. But then, Peter has folks like me and other Aartrijk associates contributing! I highly recommend that you give the Aartrijk blog, Brain Food, a peek.

Here are two posts that I’ve contributed recently. My thanks to Roni Acord of Aartrijk, who edits the blog and keeps us all on track.

Email. It’s Red Hot!

November 21, 2017

Aartrijk-Red-Hot-Email

By Jay Morris

If you’re a baby boomer, you probably remember this gem of a marketing slogan from the 1980s: “Radio. It’s Red Hot!” It was radio’s claim to relevancy and continued clout at a time when advertisers were salivating over new media like cable TV and consumers were falling in love with CDs and videocassettes. But as an Esquire magazine headline announced in March 1984, “RADIO LIVES!” In fact, radio experienced a renaissance of sorts in the 1980s. It was portable, it was immediate, and it was local. [Read more…]

Are You Caught in an Echo Chamber?

August 8, 2017

Escape the Echo Chamber - Aartrijk

By Jay Morris

Have you ever been in a large room or somewhere outdoors where every word you say is repeated back? Such echo chambers are an amusing diversion, especially for kids who delight in hearing the same words over and over. But when it comes to news and social media, echo chambers can have a polarizing effect on the way we receive information and perceive the world. [Read more…]

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NAFCU turns 50

This past week, the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions turned 50. Given that I’ve been associated with NAFCU since 2000, first as a vice president and in recent years as an independent contractor (one-third of NAFCU’s existence!), I’ve developed an affinity for this organization that supports America’s federally insured credit unions.

In an article I wrote earlier this year for NAFCU’s magazine (“NAFCU Turns 50: Celebrating a Half-Century of Service“), I noted that NAFCU remains just as nimble, just responsive to its members and just as innovative as it was when it was founded.

Credit unions have come a long way since 1967 when they had 19 million members and $13 billion in assets. Today, credit unions have over 107 million members and $1.3 trillion in assets. They’ve made a difference in the lives of countless Americans, and NAFCU has been a major part of that.

In my estimation, NAFCU has been successful for three reasons:

  1. Over the years, it’s stayed true to its principles of federal advocacy, compliance assistance and education.
  2. It’s built a culture of member service that its employees embody in everything they do.
  3. It is unswervingly committed to bringing the benefits of credit union membership to consumers.

So hats off to NAFCU and 50 years of serving America’s credit unions!

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What we need is a little optimism

optimist-citationI was going through some dusty old things the other day and found a “Youth Appreciation Week Citation” I received in 1969 from the Optimist Club of Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Wow, I thought, that’s a long time ago!

What was ironic is that I had just written a blog about the importance of optimism for Aartrijk, a content marketing firm here in the DC area. If ever there were a time when we needed a little optimism, 2017 would be it. Can you think of a more fractured, divisive or uncertain time than today?

Well, yes…1969, as a matter of fact. The year the Optimists gave me that citation was not exactly a tranquil moment in our nation’s history. Nixon was sworn in as president, and the Vietnam War and protests against it were in full swing. The Woodstock music festival was that summer. It was a time of sexual experimentation, counterculture politics, long hair, drugs and psychedelic music, pop art (remember Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup can?), feminism, environmentalism, radicalism and revolution.

I suppose if I wanted to be glib, I could say that it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. If you had just been drafted or were fighting for equal rights, you might have thought it was the worst of times. But on July 15, 1969, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and everyone in America cheered, you surely thought it was the best of times.

Having lived through Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, the Reagan revolution and the Clinton impeachment, I take the long view. I don’t like this era’s vitriol, the intolerance and the downright meanness of our discourse. But I remain optimistic. I can’t explain why, but I think we’re going to be okay. And so I give you the Optimist’s Creed, written by Christian Larson in 1912 and adopted by Optimist International in 1922:

The Optimist’s Creed

Promise Yourself…

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature you meet.

To give so much time to improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud word but in great deeds.

To live in the faith that the whole world is on your side, so long as you are true to the best that is in you.

Christian D. Larson

In my post for Aartrijk, I noted that optimism is good for your health, too. Here are a few points to consider:

  • Studies show that people who look on the bright side have fewer heart problems and better cholesterol readings. “Even more impressive is the impact of a positive outlook on overall health and longevity,” notes the Harvard Medical School “Research tells us that an optimistic outlook early in life can predict better health and a lower rate of death during follow-up periods of 15 to 40 years.”
  • The Mayo Clinic catalogues a host of benefits from positive thinking, including lower rates of depression, better coping skills during hardships and times of stress, and greater resistance to the common cold.

Would you like to put more optimism in your life? The folks at the Mayo Clinic recommend that you cut down on negative thoughts and focus on positive ones, be open to humor, follow a healthy lifestyle and surround yourself with positive people.

Seems like a good prescription for our times.

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Writing: the fundamental building block of communications

Last month, I was interviewed by Jimmy Minichello for the Public Relations Society of America – National Capital Chapter’s Insider newsletter. I talked about the basics of good writing in this video.

I firmly believe that good writing is the fundamental building block of communications. It takes a passion for storytelling, a keen sense of curiosity and lots of practice! For more on writing, see these previous posts:

Does writing still matter? Let me count the ways

Can’t think of a good lead? Try writing a story

Tips for making your writing plain, clear and scrupulous

Strunk & White’s little book on style still packs a punch

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How to succeed in business the ‘indie’ way

idea-1855598_1280Last month, I invited Ami Neiberger-Miller and Sandra Wills Hannon to speak at our Independent Public Relations Alliance meeting about what it takes to become a successful independent practitioner.

Both Ami and Sandra are long-time members of IPRA and have built thriving businesses. Ami’s company, Steppingstone LLC, provides communications and graphic design services to nonprofits, associations and small businesses. Sandra’s The Hannon Group LLC helps clients engage consumers through research-based public information campaigns.

The points that Ami and Sandra made were good advice for anyone thinking about starting a business—or wondering how they might take their business to the next level.

Here are the five main takeaways from Ami’s presentation:

  1. Network with people, not with computers or Twitter handles. “Find a water cooler crowd. I my case, it was IPRA—people  who would celebrate success with me, give me advice when I needed it, and support me when life didn’t go well.”
  2. Learn from others the things you don’t know and keep striving to improve. “One of the challenges I faced is that I didn’t come from a PR agency. So I had to learn how to market myself, compete for business and service clients. I learned through trial and error, read a lot of advice online and had coffee with wonderful people like my co-presenter Sandra. I partnered with others who knew things I didn’t know.”
  3. Be shrewd about your time. “I did a lot of networking early on. But I became more shrewd about how I invested my time. I’ve dropped my membership in organizations that don’t lead to the type of clients we want or take too much time. I’m also shrewd about my work time. I’m aware of the time I spend on deliverables, billing or marketing. So efficiency is important.”
  4. Invest in building a public persona and good systems. “My first website and business cards were awful. I made them myself. Lucky for me, my husband is a graphic designer and he joined the firm. Today, I have a much better website, a well-developed blog, a LinkedIn profile, a business Facebook page and a very active Twitter feed with about 7,000 followers. It’s important to have sound financial management tools, too. I use QuickBooks Self-Employed, and I love it.”
  5. Persevere and keep a cushion. “I always advise people who are self-employed to keep a cushion, a cash reserve. It gives you options.”

About four years ago, Sandra started landing large contracts and needed to staff up to stay competitive. She now employees 50 people and has done work for NIH, General Motors and the White House, among others.

Sandra advises solo practitioners to identify their niche, i.e., what they’re good at, and to develop that market. By creating a virtual agency of specialists who complemented her skills and experience, she was also able to offer more to her clients than she could possibly offer on her own.

“Collaboration is important in growing a business,” she says. “By collaborating, you can expand your subject expertise, extend your capabilities and enlarge the scope of your business. You can attract new clients and offer them more.”

She credits the success and growth of her practice to building good teams, sharing the work and delivering superior customer service. She has taken as her business model the PR agency approach, assembling teams based on client needs and projects, and focusing on client satisfaction and retention.

“I am constantly looking for new ways of partnering,” she says. At the same time, she has become selective in responding to RFPs, mindful of what her niche is and what her firm can offer prospective clients.

Both Sandra and Ami believe in giving back and have been active members of IPRA and other professional groups. They have made the indie life work for them and are good examples for others who might want to take the plunge.

Says Ami, “Having an independent practice has allowed me to balance my work and home life. My husband and I work mostly from our home office on the third floor of an old house we are renovating in western Loudoun County. Our practice supports our family, and we are on the leading edge of the new economy—one where people work for multiple clients and on their own terms.”

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Instead of time management, consider energy management

runner-888016_640Time is something that we constantly obsess about. An army of business consultants and self-help gurus has made millions with countless time management courses, day planners, books and apps that we eagerly devour.

Organize your day, get through all your emails, conduct efficient meetings, tackle big projects, eliminate distractions, carve out time for family and personal fulfillment—you can do it all if you just learn to master time!

Yet we may be stressing about the wrong things. A new generation of consultants now says we should focus more on managing our personal energy—not our time. I have to say, there’s something to it. There are only so many hours in a day that we can be productive. The human body just wasn’t made to go full-bore for 12-16 hours straight. Energy management recognizes that your day has its ups and downs—energy peaks and valleys. It suggests that you build in breaks where you can rest and reenergize.

Personal energy expert Tony Schwartz notes in a New York Times essay, “Human beings aren’t meant to operate like computers—at high speeds, continuously, for long periods. Instead, we’re physiologically designed to pulse, to move rhythmically between spending and renewing energy.”

Drawing on research by sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman, Schwartz explains that our bodies need a break about every 90 minutes. Unfortunately, he says, we override those signals with coffee, sugar and stress hormones.

“In a workday devoid of real breaks, we don’t think as clearly, logically or creatively in the eighth hour as we did in the second,” Schwartz says. “We don’t listen as attentively in the third hour of an endless meeting as we did during the first. Put in too many hours, too continuously, and collateral damage eventually ensues, in the form of disengagement, broken relationships, sickness and a lower quality of work.”

There are many sources for learning more about managing your personal energy, including Schwartz’s 2007 Harvard Business Review article, “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” where he talks about his research with employees at Wachovia Bank. The employees in Schwartz’s control group practiced energy-renewing techniques and performed better in a range metrics, from engagement and personal satisfaction to customer relations and loan production.

Managing your energy starts with eliminating those things in your life that can deplete your energy levels. It isn’t hard to figure out what those are:

Are you working too many hours without any clear boundaries?

Are you getting enough sleep?

Are you eating properly?

Are you exercising?

Do you let too many things worry you?

While you work on removing these energy zappers, you can also begin to rearrange your day to maximize bursts of peak energy and build in time for renewal. Here are a few tips:

  • Make a list of activities that give you energy. Examples might include taking a short walk, sharing ideas with a friend or colleague, listening to music or meditating. Make sure you are doing these every day.
  • Schedule your work so you “sprint” in blocks of 90-120 minutes. Try not to have interruptions during this time so you can totally focus on your work. Do not multi-task during your peak energy times.
  • After each sprint, relax and do one of your energy-renewing activities. Make sure your breaks are long enough. Most people don’t allow themselves nearly enough time to recover.
  • Resist scheduling back-to-back meetings or an impossible travel schedule. Give yourself enough time to unwind, breathe and enjoy yourself.
  • Break down big projects and goals into smaller steps. Reward yourself and your team when milestones are achieved.
  • Stay positive. Learn to avoid or minimize the amount of time spent with individuals who are a drain on your energy. Encourage your employees to bring you solutions, not just problems.
  • Get your family and friends to help you prioritize your time so you can spend quality time with them. Allow them to hold you accountable for your downtime.
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