Imagine waking up tomorrow with significantly more positive, focused energy. How might that impact your day for the better? As a startup leader, how valuable would it be to bring that positive, passionate energy to the team? How might this impact your relationships and the quality of work you can collaboratively deliver?
Most of us agree, this would be a pretty positive outcome. So what are the factors that will help you get there?
There will be a different recipe for each and every one of you, but sleep, exercise, movement, being outside, quality family time, socialising (and many many more) could be on this list.
The problem is there are no more hours in the day, and when we try and do more (especially as a founder) it’s these self-fuelling habits that take the hit. That’s because our usual mindset is on managing time and when the time equation gets weighed up (should I do X for the business or Y for me) we always lose. As many of us know – that accumulates, and we eventually get ill – be it burning out or catching the latest bug – and then productivity really takes a hit. This perpetual problem will not shift until we shift mindset to managing energy instead. Managing energy is how we get to sustainable performance.
The art of sustainable performance
Sustainable performance comes from proactively managing our energy from sprint to recovery and back again – just like an athlete. We implicitly know we can’t sprint or lift weights all the time when it comes to physical performance, and this gives our mental and cognitive performance the same grace.
Rooted in the work by performance psychologists Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, they define energy as being measured across two dimensions – physical and emotional.
- Physical energy is measured in terms of quantity (low to high)
- Emotional energy is measured on quality (negative to positive)
This gives us four quadrants that help us explore the dynamics and management of energy:
To perform we need positive, high energy. Think of when you’re in the flow, or in a flow-state, where you feel focused, and delivery almost feels effortless. This is where we want to be to do our best work.
The more negative the energy, the less effective it is. It has a fraught feel to it, we feel stretched and the longer it goes on the less effective we become (hello procrastination, my old friend). We implicitly know it is unsustainable in this zone and attempting to stay here leads to low, negative energy – the Burnout Zone – where we struggle to function, let alone perform.
Stress isn’t actually the enemy – periods of stress are where we are stretched and learn. Much like muscles under load, small tears are made to grow back stronger. But coming back stronger only happens if we step into low, positive energy – the Recovery Zone – to complement periods in the Stress or Performance Zones. Performance then, can only happen with the Recovery Zone, and our job is to manage our movement between Performance and Recovery. This is the mindset shift from time management to energy management. It’s about appreciating that our energy is something we can control (unlike time) and it holds the key to our performance.
Redefining REcovery as PREcovery
The very word REcovery suggest that it comes after – and through the lens of the energy matrix it does (Perform, then Recover) but this immediately gets us in the mindset of taking a holiday after a big event, or rewarding big action. Yet through the lens of founderhood, I’d argue we need a rebrand to PREcovery:
- Small regular habits that fuel you during the everyday routine to keep you at your best
- That are proactively planned and scheduled, so they can be defended versus the business day-to-day
- Thus, protecting you from having to REcover.
So, going back to my original question: What activities will help you reset – mentally, physically, and emotionally – so that you can return to the Performance Zone effectively the next time you return to work?
As part of this exploration, it’s worth asking what (and who) gives you energy, as well as who and what steals it. These are part of our 7-question founder-offsite model which is a helpful framework for kickstarting your PREcovery plan.
Setting the habit up for success
Whether your unique PREcovery recipe is a combination of sleep, exercise, being outside, quality family time or anything else, the critical step is to set up a routine. Given the fervent nature of most founder days, this likely includes blocking out specific time in your calendar that can’t be overwritten – and explaining this to your team (which in turn, is great modelling of positive performance and wellbeing habits).
Practically, I find anchoring is very helpful here: Tying your new habit to one already ingrained, significantly increases the likelihood that the new habit will stick. This has been evident in the effective roll-out of our Daily Wins habit that so many of you employ, as well as many new lunchtime routines of founders in the family – whether it’s lunchtime walks, downtime or tech-free eating.
I’m no idealist: Of course, as a founder there are going to be days when your calendar block has to shift a bit – in fact I review mine at the start of the week to coordinate with the other expectations of the week. But the aim of the scheduling is that they’re there defending the time and reminding you of the importance of self-management. Some days they do get overwritten too, but as someone far clever than me said, 70% is good enough in startup world.
Micro-breaks fuel your brain
When the conflicts feel acute, remind yourself of the why: That feeling of being your best self for the team, your family, and being your most effective when you are working.
The neuroscience is here to help too. Our brains do all their best work during downtime – i.e. when not thinking. Rather than idle time, as it was once thought, downtime is in fact essential to mental processing – it is an opportunity for the brain to reflect, make sense of experiences and to process unresolved tensions and problems. This is why we have new ideas in the shower, and solve problems when we walk to make a cuppa. This processing time is essential to both problem-solving and to achieving our highest levels of performance. And it’s magically working away in the background. So long as you build in your daily micro-breaks.
And when those guilt-gremlin thoughts really come out to get you, you can tackle them with our recovery-guilt guide here too.
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