Think about the last time you were in “the zone.” Accomplishment feels good. Productivity is motivating. Creativity is rewarding. The rush of endorphins and dopamine when we can finally exclaim, “I did it!” is exhilarating. We get a nice rush of serotonin when we’re recognized for our contributions. When we’re in the zone, purpose and passions are the bright lights that guide us, and all those “feel good” neurotransmitters are fountains of inspiration and motivation.
Conversely, we all know what it feels like to slip out of “the zone” and into “the grind.” Work becomes WORK, and the harder you work, the harder it is to get work done. It happens sometimes. You pedal as fast as you can to keep up, and as the to-do list grows, your energy level plummets. The focus gets fuzzy and the bright lights of purpose and passion begin to dim.
We’re conditioned to believe that working harder and longer is synonymous with greater productivity and a stronger work ethic. Our current value exchange is time for money. But the more time we put in the less energy we have. Given that the very definition of energy is the capacity to do work, this is twisted logic. If we truly want to achieve and sustain peak performance, we have to consider a new value exchange. This means tuning into yourself and prioritizing your needs. Shift your refueling process to the “to-do” list rather than shuffling it to the “if-I-have-time” list. There is NEVER enough time.
Identify what you need to do to refuel – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually – and make it as important as every other meeting or task in your day. Schedule time to step away even if it’s only a few minutes. Make time for a walk. Go for a run. Breathe. Refocus. Meditate. Do what ever it takes for you to refuel both your body and your mind.
When we’re out of gas, it’s so easy to get caught in the trap of just going through the motions. But, when we approach our work with clarity, focus, and energy, both the aspirations and returns can be deeply personal and incredibly meaningful.
“Love the life you live; live the life you love.” -Bob Marley
When we plug in to ourselves and nurture the body, mind, and spirit with intentionality– prioritize time for self-care, maintenance, and renewal — we create the conditions for greater self-fulfillment and happiness. When that happens, we actually increase our capacity to contribute to organizational goals.
Leaders who understand this mindset recognize that there are currencies beyond salary and the corner office. They don’t take capacity for granted and they don’t mistake time for value. They create the conditions necessary for people to work in their performance zone and encourage them to shift to the renewal zone when they need to. These are the leaders that empower people to find personal satisfaction in their work and a higher purpose in their lives.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” -Steve Jobs
So, the million dollar question is this: Is the life you’re living worth the price you’re paying for it?
If not, perhaps it’s time to take inventory of what truly matters to you. Take a step back and evaluate what you do each day, how it makes you feel, and how it contributes to your higher purpose. The only way to do great work is to love what you do.
You are not defined by your work. You have friends and interests and hobbies and talents – all of which contribute to the collective experiences that shape who you are and how you view your work, your life, and your place in the world. Make the time to live and it will inspire your work. Start today!
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Dr. Melissa Hughes is the founder and principal of The Andrick Group. Our mission is to engage, inspire, and educate people who are looking for ways to more effectively teach and learn. We deliver tailored, dynamic workshops to help organizations improve their work by learning about learning and thinking about thinking.