The Front Burner Effect: Finding Mental Resilience Through The Art of Scheduling
The precious commodity known as Mental Energy is responsible for keeping us optimally focused on our professional duties. But as you may have learned in my recent article Mastering Mental Resilience, this commodity is perpetually under threat unless we actively take some steps toward preserving it. The elimination of productivity-sucking distractions such as click bait and digital alerts, plus the maintenance of the other important forms of personal energy, are among a professional’s only line of defense in the quest for mental resilience.
As promised, I’m back to reveal a practical technique for avoiding the kinds of cyber and other pitfalls that keep us stagnant in our careers. It’s known as Scheduling, and it can be more revolutionary for your progress than it sounds.
Being smart about how you schedule your workdays is the ultimate promoter of mental resilience. The aim is to actively focus on carving out strategic time slots to address primarily the projects that will move you toward your career goals. You’ll be conserving your mental energy in the process because you’re following scheduled priorities, which, if combined with too many less important decisions, would only deplete your mental energy. Let’s jump in.
Weighing Your Tasks
Here’s a familiar refrain: There’s just not enough time in the week to get my work done. But the truth is that we DO have enough time when we’re focused on the most important of tasks. Author and time management expert Laura Vanderkam once demonstrated this at a DRIVEN live event, and it revolutionized the concept of scheduling in the minds of our lucky participants. It breaks down along this line: What we think of as “busy work” (like email) and the allure of crossing small, insignificant tasks off our to-do lists amount to nothing more than roadblocks to our high-impact work. Our only reward in these instances is dopamine, and while under its spell, we’re losing sight of our greater career goals.
To understand the difference between a trivial and a significant task, consider how closely in alignment each is with your goals, values, family and level of self-care. Address first what will ultimately advance your career, and watch as your free time starts to become more abundant. This is your first step toward scheduling smartly, kicking open the doors to a mentally resilient future.
Finding Your Rhythm
When your work requires deadlines, this naturally dictates how you will craft your schedule each week. With this in mind, consider an additional guideline for scheduling. It’s called your Circadian Rhythm. This is your brain’s 24-hour built-in clock, and is nature’s way of cycling your energy from episodes of high alertness to those of sluggishness (or for the nappers out there—sleepiness). Typically, professionals like you and me, who acquire our night’s sleep somewhere between 9pm and 7am, might also become sluggish for an hour or two after lunch. Our mission is to deliberately block out time on our calendar for deep, focused work during those times of the day when we’re most alert (and the least likely to be called on to “put out fires”). Get to know your own personal circadian rhythm by studying it for a week, and begin incorporating its impact into your priority scheduling. The positive mental effects are unbeatable!
Maximizing Train Time
For the many of us who travel to work on the metro train, the to-and-from can easily become exploited as opportunities for cramming in additional high-impact work. Be wise about how you use your train time if you want to preserve your mental resilience. Personally, I’ve become mentally exhausted after trying to perform certain types of deep-concentration work tasks on the train that are inappropriate for the space, rendering me less effective when it’s showtime at the office. Instead, I now like to edit written drafts and create programming while in commute, as these tasks don’t require the intense focus that reading and digesting information do. Resilience, preserved!
On The Rocks
Scheduling your priorities is an efficient way to maximize your mental energy. Take, for example, The Big Rocks, a charming story by Steven Covey, which cleverly illustrates the importance of this prioritization of your tasks. His metaphor boils down to stacking your schedule with the career-expanding tasks first, since pushing them to the back burner will assure they never see fulfillment. Another way to put it: “Don’t prioritize your schedule, but schedule your priorities”, meaning, embed into your calendar segments for serious, heavy-lifting brainwork which requires deep concentration. Assign specific times to these thought projects just as you would a meeting or a phone call with a client, with your #1 priority being a focus on goal-oriented work. Once you anchor these priorities into your schedule, those secondary tasks will magically fall into your schedule’s nooks and crannies, like dropping small pebbles into a jar full of larger rocks.
This approach worked especially well for a client of mine named Cathy C, who had been getting slammed by interruptions from her team all day long, and found that she was ultimately falling behind on her work and in her career. Once she started scheduling her high-powered tasks through an agreement with her staff, she was able to reclaim her lost time, and revive her mental resilience in the process. Read her case study HERE.
Looking forward, we’ll get cyber, as I offer my strategies on managing your email in a mentally energizing manner. Look for the article soon.