John Ainley: Energy

Do what gives you energy, not what depletes you

According to various measures, we spend anything up to 90,000 hours or more of our lifetimes at work, so it’s not unreasonable to think that we should at least have an ambition to enjoy what we do during that time.

I was talking to a client recently – a senior leader in her business – who is known as a very good organiser who gets things done. She had been given a major IT project to manage and did it very well. The trouble is, it depleted her energy; even though it’s something she’s good at, this type of project management is not something she enjoys.

Which raises an interesting dilemma for all of us: just because we’re good at a particular activity doesn’t mean we enjoy it or want to devote most of those 90,000 odd hours to pursuing similar work. The key is to shift the focus onto the work that gives us energy rather than spend too much of our working lives on work that does the opposite and drains or depletes our energy.But how do we go about recognising the difference?

If you’re in the flow…

Start by noticing how you feel when you’re carrying out a task. If you’re in the flow and time moves quickly then it’s reasonably safe to say you’re engaged in an activity that gives you energy.

At the end of each day, asking yourself how you felt about each task is a good way of quickly understanding what you enjoy and what you don’t. That way you can begin to shape your working day – and your career – towards those things that you find most rewarding and satisfying to do.

Of course, I’m not saying that we can only do those tasks that give us energy; there will always be trade-offs in the day-to-day of an executive’s career that mean we do some things that don’t tick the energy giving box. But don’t allow that trade-off to steal more time from you than necessary.

We all do our best and most fulfilling work when we draw energy from what we’re doing. Don’t leave it to the 90,000thhour to understand what that work is.