This weekend, I facilitated a workshop about change and transformation with a large group of leaders. Once we finished talking about the perilous task of transforming an organization, we started talking about the importance of leaders investing in their own resilience. I said something that caused a light bulb to go on for many of the participants. It was a simple idea, but perhaps one that you can apply to help you cope. Essentially, the idea is the resilience declines throughout the day and throughout the week. If you look at your calendar, can you move things around so the work for which you need the most resilience is scheduled at the time when you have the most energy?
Resilience & Energy
Ok, let’s back up. What is this magical resilience of which I speak and how do I get me some? When I talk about resilience, I’m actually referring to your mental and physical fitness to do the job. When you’re resilient, you have the energy and focus to get the job done, even in the face of distractions. When you’re resilient, you can absorb stresses and strains and keep functioning effectively. When you’re resilient, you are in control and can make good choices. When you’re not resilient, even the smallest thing can take you off track.
It turns out that being resilient to stress requires a whole lot of the frontal lobe of your brain. That’s the part of your brain scientists call the “executive office,” because it takes input from the rest of the systems and makes good decisions about what to do (and, importantly, what not to do). Unfortunately, just like the executive office in your organization, your frontal lobe is an expensive system to run. The result is that we can easily deplete our energy to maintain it.
You deplete your executive functioning when you don’t sleep, when you eat sugary carbs in lieu of long-lasting protein and whole grains, when you lock yourself in a meeting room for hours on end (sound familiar). Even when you’re making good choices to fuel your frontal lobe, studies suggest your ability to forego immediate gratification and make good long-term choices wanes over the course of the day and the week.
The Cost of Low Resilience
I asked the participants at the session what the result is for them when their resilience gets low. Each person could easily describe what his or her low resilience behavior looks like. Interestingly, it was very different for different people. Some reported checking out and procrastinating, some said they withdraw, others said they are more likely to become impatient and lash out. There were many different costs of low resilience, but it was clear that those costs were high.
One Small Change
In my speech, I encouraged the leaders to make systemic changes to invest in their own resilience. But it was one small change that the audience found most helpful. I asked them, “What meetings do you have that require the most resilience and where on your calendar do they fall?” At first, they squinted back at me, thinking. And then, the eyebrows started to lift. One person said out loud what many were thinking, “Oh my goodness, I just realized that my one-on-one meeting with my most challenging employee is at 4 in the afternoon. I need to change that!”
I encourage you to open up your calendar and take a look. What is filling the morning slots where your resilience is high? Where are the most contentious, arduous, or emotionally taxing tasks on your calendar? How might you shuffle things around to maximize your high resilience time and to de-risk your low resilience time by filling it with less sensitive tasks?
It’s a simple idea, but one that just might make you (and your team) more successful. I’d love to hear if you make a change to better use your resilience.
What Does Your Stress Look Like?
Many thanks for this – great example of how research can help us to do our best work.
Do you have any thoughts on how to balance between ones ‘Peak Effectiveness Time’ and resilience/willpower? If I’m at my peak effectiveness from 4pm, might I be better off scheduling that tough conversation for then?
Hi Jonathan, it’s hard to know if emotional resilience and peak performance overlap or how fully. If you assume that you’re most resilient at the time you’re most productive, you might want to move that meeting. Unfortunately, very few people will be feeling equally resilient at 4pm, so it might mean finding a time that works for both of you. Perhaps not first thing in the morning, but not likely at the end of the day either.