Are You Protecting Your Energy?

1. Before

  • Do the bare minimum. Get a good night of sleep the night before your session. Make sure you eat a nourishing breakfast to fuel your brain the morning of your engagement. Have plenty of water and coffee/tea on hand before and during the meeting. This seems banal, but how many times have you been in a hurry and skipped breakfast to save time? Or didn’t make it a point to fill your water bottle before jumping into a back-to-back day? These “little” things matter because they fulfill our basic human needs, making us less likely to enter fight-or-flight mode, get hangry, or crash in the midst of a critical workshop.
  • Evaluate your energy. Sometimes I need a little extra grounding heading into a busy day, so I’ll make sure to schedule a moment of calm. That might look like taking a 10 minute walk around the block, or through the woods. Maybe it looks like reading a few pages of your favorite book, or finding a family member for a hug. It’s important to check in with how you’re feeling ahead of a big session so you can create space for whatever will bring you nourishment and get your energy up.
  • Clear your calendar. This was a major learning for me. I quickly realized that going from a six-hour session into a series of meetings was really hard on my brain and my energy, and left me feeling totally flattened by the end of the night. Avoid this by blocking time on your calendar before and after sessions even if they don’t run all day. That will leave you the space needed beforehand to do the basics (per bullet #1), and afterward to decompress. There are always exceptions to the rule, so if you’d like to block some time with a window for checking email or doing administrative tasks, that’s okay. But it’s better to preemptively take space and not need it than the reverse because we know that leading is high-intensity work and requires energy to do well. You wouldn’t run a marathon and then schedule a session at the gym right after, right? So, do yourself a favor and create the space you need to recover properly.

2. During

  • Structure is your friend. Do your best to structure your agenda with methods that will help you manage different personalities and get ahead of runaway trains. A few of my favorite tools include structured voting, where everyone votes anonymously. It keeps the process highly democratic and is easy to do with Mural. Another great method is “note and vote,” where everyone writes down their own answers to a prompt and then I call on each person to share their thoughts (à la elementary school). Doing this allows me to preemptively work around scenarios in which someone might hijack a conversation, overpower the room, or sway the opinions of others based on title (e.g., CEO vs others). Finally, don’t be afraid to use a timer. When I ask for open-ended feedback or input, I’ll give everyone three minutes and run the timer. When the timer is up, we move on, no ifs, ands, or buts, whether you’re the CEO or the newest person on the team. When you establish the norms and enforce them, your participants will understand that they’re all playing by the same rules (and breaking them will only reflect poorly on the individual).
  • Use a visualization tool. Bear with me here, because I know visualization techniques aren’t for everyone, but this has been a game-changer for me. Over the course of my career I’ve had to work really hard to learn how to maintain boundaries and not be too open (to the point where I’m taking on someone else’s “stuff”). I found myself in need of exercises that could help me keep my energy separate from others’, and vice versa. At this point you’re either nodding along in agreement or aren’t sure what I’m talking about, so here’s an example: Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was really upset about a snag in their day to the point that you also felt angry and upset once the dialogue concluded? What about after having a conversation with someone who may be struggling, sad, or in tears? It’s absolutely normal to feel empathy for that person, but if you leave the conversation feeling as sad, hopeless and teary-eyed as your friend, you may be taking on the emotional baggage of others without even knowing it. When I’m leading or in professional situations, I like to protect myself from this kind of energetic hijacking by visualizing a container. Imagine holding an open vessel, like a container or vase. This is the space you’re holding and creating for other. It’s open, safe and completely in your care. No matter what kinds of emotions, opinions, beliefs, or politics arise, they are free to live within the space of the container which is — and here’s the important part — completely separate from you. You’re still connected to the container. You’re still invested in it. And you’re definitely not going to drop it. But the energy swirling inside it is not yours. To me, that’s a huge relief and it allows me to do my job better.

3. After

  • Do something that’s high intensity. I know, it sounds counter-intuitive, but there’s some real science behind it. Author Jenny Evans delves into it in her book The Resiliency rEvolution, and the idea is that a short burst of physical activity helps balance your brain and calm production of stress-producing hormones like cortisol, replacing them with calming hormones like serotonin. Have you ever felt tired and wired? It’s common after an intensive engagement to feel fatigued yet unable to rest because your brain won’t stop after hours of going, going, going. According to Evans, doing something high-intensity helps your brain close the circuit. For example, I sometimes schedule cycling sessions a few nights of the week while I’m leading a five-day Sprint to help expend any frenetic energy still percolating after being “on” for a prolonged period of time. The activity can be unique to you, like running, walking the dog, swimming, you name it. Just commit to doing it for at least 10 minutes to help you prepare to move on.
  • Then give yourself some space. I mentioned this earlier, but absolutely make sure your calendar is clear so that you don’t have additional meetings to attend after a big workshop. I also keep my social calendar free on Design Sprint weeks. I know after a big day of facilitating I’m not going to have the energy to be social and show up in a way that I feel good about. I make sure that if I have anything planned in the evening, it’s downtime with my family, a yoga session, or time working in the garden. These are the right types of activities to help me recharge and refresh. If you’re an extreme extrovert, maybe you can keep going, just find a way that feels authentic to you. The point is, you’ll want to manage your energy levels by taking a holistic view of the whole week (not just a single day) so that you have a sustainable energy source to draw upon.




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Jackie Colburn

Jackie Colburn

Weekly resources for facilitators and leaders. Learn tips and methods to run better workshops, accelerate teams and uncover new ideas.

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