A humpback whale spends the summer feeding–ingesting two tons of krill daily. Two Tons. That’s more than 6,300 Big Macs.
Some might have thought I was imitating the mighty humpback during my summer vacation—a three-course breakfast, yes, please! Dessert at lunch—absolutely!
But I digress, back to the whales.
The humpback whale needs to fuel up in the summer because their migration path requires them to travel 15,000 miles across nutrient-scarce waters and spend up to six months without food. As a result, an average whale will lose a third of its body weight. A nursing mother will lose closer to forty percent. For a humpback, winter is a long battle to survive.
Sometimes I think that we behave like whales.
We treat summer as our one annual chance to rest up and then try to run off our reserves for the rest of the year.
To be fair, most people I know aren’t exactly binging on rest in the summer. I talked to a friend recently who was frustrated with himself for only taking two weeks off, and worse, splitting them into single weeks with little time to decompress before having to ramp back up. And there’s no meaningful break in sight for him this fall.
If you, too, are staring down a marathon stretch until the December holidays, with only one long-weekend pit stop along the way, you need to think about how you’ll sustain yourself, charge your batteries, and prevent burnout.
How to Keep Your Energy Up
Here’s the good news—you’re not a whale. You don’t need to go six months without rest or nourishment. You can tap into many sources of energy and resilience. How will you integrate some of these into your schedule?
I’m starting the list with joy because it feels so radical and out of place in a business article.
You’re thinking, “Joy?!? I’d settle for less misery!”
We’ve banished joy from our vocabulary. Sure, you can probably remember a time when you felt joyous, but it’s likely a distant, fuzzy memory. And it certainly wasn’t at 2 pm on a weekday.
Start with considering sources of joy in your personal life. For example, when do you lose yourself in the moment and lose all track of time? When do you feel light?
Is it when you’re working on a hobby? My friend David Baker wrote an eloquent post on Facebook recently about how his woodworking hobby is a source of joy because he gets lost in trying to hone new skills so he can solve increasingly complex problems.
I had my own two-year saga of trying to add more joy to my life. I learned that I needed to create opportunities for joy every week and not wait for some artificial Hallmark holiday moment to spark joy. You can read this post if you want to commiserate about how miserably I failed the first year and hear a few things I figured out in my do-over attempt.
But don’t stop at off-hours joy. It’s just as realistic to find moments of joy in your work.
I get joy when the research and writing are done on a project, and I get to play with the design and visuals. Likewise, you might get joy from creating an organizational system that will make life easier for your whole team. Maybe your form of joy is when you get to be strategic and future-oriented.
Put your hand up for the assignments that create joy for you—onboarding new people, doing a site visit, validating the plans for a new project. Whatever it is that gives you lightness, that gets you to a state of flow. Seek it out. Joy will nourish you.
Another bountiful energy source is to tap into something that gives you purpose. It’s astonishing what is possible when your task feels meaningful.
What activities connect you to a purpose? Is it doing something at work that you know will have an impact? Is it contributing to your community or your family? Pick out a few things each month that are important rather than urgent, and you’ll get that sense of traction that is sustaining.
For most humans, strengthening your connection to another person is a powerful source of energy.
If you’re a more gregarious and extroverted type, that might mean being in large crowds (I went to the Elton John farewell concert recently and got so much energy from singing along with 45,000 strangers.)
If you’re more introverted, you might enjoy reconnecting with someone you haven’t seen much lately. A quieter, more substantive conversation might bolster you.
At work, a connection can come from mentoring others, having a candid conversation with a customer, or simply asking a co-worker to join you for a coffee. Feeling seen and understood can provide a long-lasting boost as the days get shorter.
Other Energy Sources
Joy, purpose, and connection are only a few things you can consider as you build a refueling plan. Another is to find opportunities to solve problems. The sleuthing, tinkering, and iterating required to solve a vexing problem might be highly engaging for you.
Some people find energy in vigor. Being active—chasing daunting physical goals like doing a triathlon or climbing a mountain—makes some people feel more resilient and energized. If that’s you, where have you carved out time to push yourself physically after the mental marathons of knowledge work? And don’t forget to look for daunting physical tasks at work that others shy away from (like working a booth at a trade show) that would be great for you.
You might be the type who finds creativity is the bottomless well of enthusiasm. Picking up a paintbrush, writing a poem, or engaging in fantasy role play might be the weekend versions, but there are often ways to engage your creativity at work as well.
Interestingly, most of the tactics I’ve shared are active pursuits. That’s because many endeavors require you to expend physical effort but give back so much more in emotional, intellectual, or spiritual energy.
Maybe you’re the type who can keep up that pace indefinitely. I’m not. And if you aren’t either, I encourage you to look at your calendar and book some rest. Schedule days to work at home to avoid the exhausting commute. Capitalize on afternoons where you can grab a 20-minute power nap. Protect a day off where you can sit on the couch from morning to night.
I just looked at my schedule for the next two weeks, and I already know it will tire me out. I have multiple client offsites. That means air travel, time zone changes, and late-night dinners. I will also be away the next two weekends, which will be fun. However, it will also mean that I don’t have my regular Sunday morning date with a newspaper to chill out. To compensate, I’ve already blocked off three days in October and three days in November when I can change the pace and get some rest.
Stop trying to be a hero (or a humpback). You don’t need to go months of running on your reserves. Instead, choose a couple of these strategies that will work for you, and then get them on your calendar. Stay energized and avoid burnout.