One year into the global COVID-19 pandemic, many remote teams are feeling like they’re constantly running on fumes. Beyond the stresses of the health and economic situations, days spent on endless, back-to-back virtual meetings, sharing your workspace with family… it is easy to feel drained. For years, a top productivity concern was time management -- now it has shifted to energy management. Here are some of the best techniques we’ve learned for energy management to support wellness and resilience and avoid burn-out in remote work.
Managing Cognitive Load
The many apps involved in remote work can quickly overwhelm you with endless notifications that increase your cognitive load and in turn decrease focus and productivity (not to mention potential distractions from family, social media, or your cat / desk-mate).
One well-established technique to manage cognitive load is chunking out specific work within defined time windows, known as “time-boxing,” and blocking specific times on your calendar to protect those time-boxes, which ensures that you aren’t depleting your brain’s capacity for productive work.
Better still, categorizing your calendar time boxes based on the type of thinking that is required (we recommend using the Whole Brain® color-coding scheme in your calendar app) can help you align different types of thinking to the best times to do that type of work.
How do you know which activities to do when? Your HBDI® profile results on the Herrmann platform will tell you which types of thinking you prefer most and least, both on a typical day as well as when you’re under pressure. It also reports on the times when you have more or less energy, so that you can take that into account when planning your day.
For example, if you have the most energy in the mornings, you should do the work that requires the thinking you least prefer when you start your day. This is because the thinking you actually prefer will be relatively easier to do when you have less energy, and could even re-energize you. If you leave the work you least prefer to when you have least energy, chances are you won’t end up doing it (or will do it poorly).
Creating “Flow State” Routines
Creating routines around specific types of thinking also helps you manage your energy to make your day more productive, as well as helping to eliminate decision fatigue and procrastination.
For example, if you always design in the morning and do meetings in the afternoon, there are 2 fewer decisions to make when you start your work day. Wake up, get coffee, and start designing. Eat lunch, come back to your work space, and open up Zoom. For those who were used to going into an office every day, these routines helped demarcate your day and get you into the headspace required for productivity. With our lives now a cacophonous mash-up of work and home life, you need to be more intentional about creating the space for flow.
These methods are backed by growing research on the benefits of routines for flow states. The research of Ronald T. Kellogg, a cognitive scientist, has shed some light on the routines of writing and creative flow. His work shows evidence that “environments, schedules, and rituals restructure the writing process and amplify performance... The principles of memory retrieval suggest that certain practices should amplify performance. These practices encourage a state of flow rather than one of anxiety or boredom.... The room, time of day, or ritual selected for working may enable or even induce intense concentration or a favorable motivational or emotional state.”
At Herrmann, we also require meetingless Mondays or meetingless mornings to protect for time-boxed “deep work” that requires uninterrupted focus. Each team member selects a 4-hour block, scheduled into each Monday, that is universally accepted as “protected time” that no one can book over.
Using the Herrmann platform for team energy management
The Herrmann platform can help you and your teams with energy management by providing an easy way of looking up insights about what creates and drains the team’s energy. Don’t know what the Herrmann platform is? Click here to find out more.
How? Start by looking up each one of your team members’ personal profile on the Herrmann platform (if you don’t know how to do this, one of our team members can help!). Their personally-annotated profiles on the Herrmann platform serve as a “how to work with me” guide to help leaders and teams collaboratively manage their energy. This ReadMe approach imparts valuable insights on the types of thinking that drive and drain each individual’s energy at work, helping to drive more resilience. For example, you’ll be able to see whether someone is one of the 44% of people who have more energy earlier in the day, or the 15% of people who are night owls.
Next, build an energy management spectrum capturing where each team member falls on the Energy Level chart (from the HBDI® Digital Profile) and their area of least preferred thinking. That way, you can reference which times work best for them when they need to do work that requires more of their energy. When planning team work, you can use these granular insights across the team to take into account how to harness thinking strengths for flow AND manage energy consumed by “stretch thinking” tasks.
To help with this process, our practitioners also often use the Herrmann platform in combination with an activity called “Mapping the Task” to align tasks with different thinking preferences to help optimize the team’s collective energy. By mapping each activity in a project, a team can clearly identify the thinking required at a particular stage. For example, more conceptual thinking might be required at the beginning of a project, while more structured thinking might be required towards the end. The HBDI® Team Profile can help you better plan and pre-empt the challenges or successes a team may experience at all stages of a project.
Importantly, the Herrmann platform also provides visibility into how your team’s thinking shifts under pressure, and the implications — positive and negative — for a team, resulting in more intentionality and resilience in managing and responding to changes in energy level. When planning team meetings, look up your team’s energy levels when trying to determine timings, especially important in periods of stress. Try to align meeting times to different team member’s thinking preferences and best times to do that type of work.
Although it may feel daunting, taking more intentionality in your energy management can pay huge dividends in keeping you feeling more engaged, motivated and productive. Let us know your feedback and any other techniques you’ve used successfully!