Energy always flows from a source to a sink. The energy required to generate heat flows from the source to the water (the sink) in your hot water heater. The same happens in our personal and professional lives—particularly for those in leadership roles. We’re surrounded by all manner of energy sinks. These time and energy draining activities dilute our effectiveness, deplete our spirits and keep us from the work that matters.

And like the water heater we are dependent upon in our daily rituals, there’s just so much capacity before everything turns cold.

In an excellent article in the Winter, 2017 issue of Rotman Management, Jesse Sostrin, Ph.D. and a leadership expert at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, shares his perspective on the topic of “capacity” in leadership. In his words:

A leader’s capacity is the time, energy, resources and focus that she needs to effectively address her priorities and responsibilities—it’s the fuel that every leader needs to accomplish what matters.

The three most important words are: “accomplish what matters.

If you’re like most leaders I encounter in my work, your personal fuel gauge is hovering somewhere just above “Empty.” The low fuel warning alarm is blinking and sounding, and everyone sees and hears it in your performance.

More than a few coaching clients approach me when the needle is buried below “Empty.” There’s no gas left in the tank or charge in the batteries and refueling or recharging stations in sight.

They need help. Perhaps you need help.

There’s no easy fix. There are approaches that reduce the strain and drain on your capacity and allow you to recharge. Pursue them, or you risk a meltdown.

12 Ideas to Turn Off the Energy Sinks in your Work Life:

  1. Audit yourself to find the time and energy killers. Try creating a personal journal and log everything you do for an entire week. (Yes, this will take a little time.) Analyze how you spent your time. Ask and answer: “What activities kept me from focusing on the what-matters?” Eliminate those items.
  2. Reclaim your calendar. Quit letting people schedule you into their meetings. Decline to attend every meeting that has nothing to do with a customer or something that will help a customer. (Customers are found inside and outside of organizations.)
  3. Only do this if you are confident in your power: Completely ignore your calendar. I worked with an executive who was relentless in prioritizing and focusing on the issues that mattered. She arrived every day and pursued those priorities with ferocity. There was some flex in her daily activities, but not a lot. She is now CEO.
  4. Rediscover the art and science of focusing on one thing at a time. I struggle with this just like everyone else. I am merciless in creating time-blocks for uninterrupted, device-free concentration on a priority. I would achieve almost nothing without this approach. Fight for the time to focus.
  5. Use the world’s most powerful word several times per day: “No.” It’s liberating.
  6. Become a goal-achieving machine. Chunk out the little things and declare victory as you achieve them. From making your bed/bunk to that morning exercise routine to the 15-minutes of time to prioritize before your day starts, every single activity represents an opportunity to achieve a goal. The small victories transform your mood and confidence for pursuing the larger victories at work.
  7. Move. Move more. Move constantly.
  8. Quit skipping the workouts because you don’t have time. Reframe the need to workout as a critical enabler of a good attitude. And every workout is filled small goals to achieve. Celebrate each one and the entirety of the workout as achievements.
  9. Create 15-minutes to think deeply every day. Or, use these 15-minutes to think about nothing. Get up earlier if you have to. Disappear from the line of site in the workplace if necessary. Hide if you must.
  10. Let go. Too many of us struggle to trust our team members. If you cannot trust your team members to do what they say or what you ask, you’ve got the wrong team members.
  11. Reassess. Review operating protocols and approaches to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of those activities. I regularly work with management teams to streamline and strengthen their operations reviews. Just the act of rethinking the agenda and approach for these meetings uncovers time savings and opportunities for improvement.
  12. Schedule downtime. Vacations are essential. It’s not a vacation if you are tethered to a device.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

In my experience, it is important to distinguish between the overload we feel from the tasks in front of us and the capacity we have for navigating the issues that matter. Parse your work and focus on eliminating or reconfiguring the tasks that drain your capacity. Just the effort of working through this process will renew your energy store. Then use this precious capacity on work that matters.

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