Person lying down with book on face. Is this how we imagine rest?

In the Northern Hemisphere, we’re welcoming the onset of spring. As new growth emerges and buds appear on trees, we’re reflecting on that dynamic energy of movement and growth which characterises this season.  

How can we create, maintain and restore that dynamic sense of flow and motivation – as individuals, and within our teams and organisations?

Often, productivity advice focuses on making the most of our time – for example, automating or outsourcing tasks in order to free up some extra hours in your day. But when we think about it, all of us know that one “extra hour” is not the same as another.

Compare the impact of an extra hour on the laptop at 10pm, desperately trying to wrap up a task you’ve been grappling with for hours, with an hour in the morning, when you’re refreshed and inspired after a great night’s sleep and a brisk walk.

Those hours spent sleeping, or connecting with nature, might actually have more of an impact on your organisation in the long term than one spent grinding out work that leaves you (or your colleagues) depleted, disillusioned and heading for burnout.

Resilience and productivity are increasingly priorities for leaders. One recent report found 77% of respondents would consider leaving a company that didn’t care about their wellbeing.

So where do we begin?

A great place to start is by observing your own flow of energy and action.

  • When are your peak hours in terms of energy?
  • Do you do your best work in the morning light of a quiet office before anyone else has arrived?
  • Do you find a burst of inspiration strikes you late at night?
  • Are you ready to tackle a big task mid-morning when you’ve hit your caffeine sweet spot, and triaged your emails?

The next question to ponder is how you currently spend those hours. One study showed that the average worker only has 3 hours of productive time each day. If that time is currently spent commuting, sitting through large meetings where you have little to contribute, or watching Netflix… it might be worth rethinking your schedule.

Finding your rhythm

Since the pandemic, hybrid working has become ubiquitous. In November 2021, a survey by McKinsey found that 75% of respondents preferred a hybrid working model. And surely one reason is that when we have more choice and flexibility about where we work, we’re also able to adapt better to our natural rhythms. Without having to fit into the structure of a day at the office – or incorporate commuting into our schedule – we gain far more control over when we structure our tasks.

Having a nap after lunch; starting work before breakfast; walking the dog between meetings – all of these possibilities open up when we’re able to blend in-person time with WFH.

And yet, for all its allure, hybrid working isn’t the magic bullet it might at first seem. What happens when one team member’s after lunch dog walk clashes with another’s burst of inspiration around a new project? How should we monitor employees’ output when they’re not physically present in the office (and does it matter?)

Just as with teams spread across timezones, we prefer to think of these dilemmas as providing opportunities to build cultures that focus on our impact. Asking how we know people are contributing; negotiating diverse needs within a team; reflecting on when communication can occur asynchronously – all of these are vital, alive questions to consider.

They don’t have easy answers. But finding them might be half the point.

How can you create energy?

As well as finding ways to best use our natural flow, we can also go one step further and ask: how do we create more energy? 

Beyond the time of day you work at, how much sleep you’ve had, or caffeine you’ve drunk – how else might you connect to that dynamic growth we’re seeing in the emerging shoots of spring?

Observe when you feel most alive, most creative, most energised. It might be after exercise; when you’ve been surrounded by a group of people you love; after immersing yourself in an art gallery or tasting exciting flavours.

Sometimes we find ideas flow when we’re doing something with our hands; dancing; or after a sensory extreme like a sauna or cold shower.

Often, a way to connect to what brings you energy is to think about what brings you joy.

And that in itself might hold the key to “making the most” of our time, both at work, and on this planet. Jenny Odell’s new book is called “Saving Time”.

““Maybe ‘the point’ isn’t to live more, in the literal sense of a longer or more productive life,” she writes, “but rather, to be more alive in any given moment”

Maybe the point of leadership isn’t to make an organisation more productive, but to transform what it produces – its impact.

Fresh thinking for spring

Rather than looking at time – fixed, finite, regular – thinking about what generates energy allows us to play, mould and adapt what we’re capable of. It encourages us to move from observation and awareness – conscious leadership – into action – courageous leadership.

Inspired by the proliferation of shoots and buds in the spring, let’s create systems where that courage to take action is welcomed and celebrated.

The kinds of cultures that generate energy.

Start by thinking about your own energy – when you feel inspired to move from awareness into action – and expand what you discover outward. What more might be possible if your work was oriented to producing dynamic energy; movement; flow?

 

 

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