If you’re like me, you often schedule your life as if you have an energy source that won’t ever quit. Considering that none of us are superhuman, this is a strategy that’s destined to catch up to us sooner or later. Yes, we may occasionally indulge in a quick respite, such as a pedicure or massage but, it’s likely not nearly enough to compensate for the daily abuse.
If this sounds all too familiar and you feel like taffy that’s been pulled and stretched thin, I’d like to suggest a radically different approach:
Instead of maxing ourselves out, let’s discuss Maximizing Ourselves.
By way of metaphor, let’s consider the example of a brand-new fancy sports car. The kind of car that costs a small fortune just for an oil change. (Stay with me, even if you aren’t a car person.)
You’d want to park this car in a garage and wash and wax it regularly to keep it looking brand new. You’d most likely take it in for regular maintenance and you certainly wouldn’t abuse it. You might not even drive it every day, saving it for the weekend. Basically, you’d want the car to remain in pristine condition as long as possible and would do almost anything within reason to ensure that.
What I’m suggesting is that we start treating ourselves as we would treat our most cherished possessions; maybe not exactly like a fancy sports car (as we likely need to be more active than just on the weekends) but with the utmost respect and the best care and maintenance that money can buy.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have an endless supply of money and time to devote to self-care so you’re going to have to learn to be strategic to maximize yourself.
What does it mean to Maximize Yourself?
- make as large or great as possible.
- make the best use of.
To maximize yourself means to make the best use of. By strategically using your energy (which is a limited resource), you can use it to the maximum effect.
Energy is your most precious commodity. Time is not the problem! We all have the same amount of time each day. You need to make better decisions with the energy you use during your time. You can consistently make better use of your time by prioritizing. This starts with knowing your priorities and being prepared to make good decisions to honor those priorities.
There are primarily three areas that, if mastered, will set you on the road to your best self:
Know yourself: This is most important. To know yourself is to know your priorities, strengths, gifts, saboteurs, and the best use of your energy so it can be strategically maximized. You have strengths, skills, and talents that you excel at, and you should focus your energy in those areas. Stop spreading yourself thin in areas that don’t accentuate your greatness and that don’t bring out the best in you. I’ll share more below on how to do this.
Honor yourself: Set boundaries. Say no when the energy required doesn’t honor your priorities. Adopt a CEO mindset and stop spinning your wheels for someone else’s benefit. This means saying no to the things that drag you down and that keep you in the land of “out of my control.”
Care for yourself: I’m sure that you are well aware of how to best care for yourself. You already know that you should be getting more sleep, eating better, drinking more water, regularly exercising, giving yourself space to reflect (mindfulness), and engaging in having meaningful social connection.
“To know and not to do is not yet to know” Buddhist proverb
You may understand what you need to do to care for yourself, but most likely you’re not doing it consistently enough. As the Buddhists proverb explains, you don’t know unless you are consistently doing it.
What will it take for you to finally know how to care for yourself?
What will it take for you to do it consistently?
Self-care allows you to make good decisions about your energy so you can stay on the path of Maximizing Yourself.
Ok, maybe these are simple concepts, but definitely easier said than done. Luckily, I also have a few tips to help you avoid self-sabotage on the way to Maximizing Yourself:
1. Learn Your Strengths to Maximize
If you aren’t sure of your strengths or how to articulate them to share with others, Gallup’s StrengthFinders assessment is a great place to start.
You can also reflect on these questions:
- What have you really enjoyed doing (past jobs, current job, in general life)?
- What do you hate doing and what drains you?
- What qualities do you admire in others?
- What comes most easily to you?
Ideally, you want to spend most of your time in your strength zone, where you love your work and doing well. Keep in mind that sometimes you have a talent that hasn’t been fully developed yet, but you know you love doing it. This is the opposite of something that you’ve gotten good at doing but hate.
It’s important to make sure that your strengths align with your current role at work. Take note of responsibilities that drain your energy, regardless of how good you are at them.
Sure, we’ve all done jobs that we didn’t really like. I’ve worked in retail folding more jeans than I care to remember, and I’ve also done data entry. Both jobs were a poor fit for me (I get restless doing the same thing repeatedly and I’m not as good a typist as I’d like to think), but I also knew that they were short-term and served a purpose. I was working on putting myself through college, and sometimes the bills just need to be paid. But I always had a long-term game plan.
Build awareness, not just of your strengths, but also of what you are doing and the “why” behind it.
2. Make a Plan
A long game plan is good… AND it’s very important to also create a short-term plan. If you feel like you’re maxing out right now, now is the best time to take action to address that.
You can start with a 5-minute plan that you create at the end of each day. Focus on what’s most important to get done the next day and in what order.
For example, a friend of mine likes to say that she “eats the frog” first thing in the morning. In other words, her preference is to get the hardest thing done first so she can begin the day with a sense of accomplishment. She then feels more productive accomplishing her easier tasks over the remainder of the day instead of dreading the “frog” as the day goes on.
Your 5-minute plan for tomorrow should only have as many items as you can realistically hope to accomplish. That means that you should allow some buffer for the unexpected to pop up.
Don’t make a long list of to-do items (you can have a separate list for that). Identify the most important and achievable tasks and prioritize them. This short daily plan allows you to focus on what’s important and build momentum as you successfully check those tasks off.
3. Create Boundaries
You may feel stuck and not believe that you have a choice in your work.
I’m positive that there are some boundaries that you can implement right now, regardless of how small, to help you use your energy in the best and most efficient way.
What boundaries do you need to create? Where are you giving your power and energy away?
When you create boundaries, if they are to be effective, you must also communicate them and stick with them. You must be consistent if you want others to respect the boundaries that you’ve set.
Even if you’ve been explicit, people will continue to test your boundaries. You should have a plan for how you’ll respond. It’s ok to make an exception once in a while, but it should be an exception and not the rule. It also needs to be from a place of choice, not because you got sideswiped or caught off guard (although those situations are good learning experiences).
It’s your responsibility to train others to honor your boundaries. Be consistent – if you are not consistent, then you can’t expect others to be.
4. Build in time to reflect
If you just thought “I don’t have the time to follow all of this wonderful advice,” then this is a strong signal that you are not very effective right now and it’s actually the PERFECT time to make a change.
If there was a sudden emergency, you’d find time to address it, wouldn’t you? The things that you think are super important quickly fall by the wayside. Now consider the management of your energy as a matter of life and death. There’s no time better than the present to start using your energy to maximize yourself.
Once you’ve given yourself the time to reflect, here are the most basic questions that you should be asking yourself:
What’s not working?
Give your mind permission to wander and create space for creative solutions.
Some people do this in the shower (although that might be a waste of water if you’re reflecting often). You might also try going for a walk without music or technology. This can be even better in a natural setting. Nature offers amazing benefits, which I wrote about in Nature: The place to go for calm and confidence
5. Stay Out of the Ego Trap
Do you prefer to do things yourself because you believe that it’s faster or easier or will take less time than it would take to delegate? If yes, it’s possible that you’re stuck in an ego trap.
While it may feel good to accomplish something that’s easy or that you’re good it, if it’s something that can also be accomplished by someone else, then you should consider using that energy elsewhere.
In a similar vein, if people come to you with questions or problems that they should be able to solve themselves, don’t let them steal your energy! Train them (and yourself) with the coaching approach.
The coaching approach is about asking questions and getting curious before you dare offer your own ideas and suggestions. This trains people to start doing this for themselves (and possibly not even come to you). This also allows for the possibility for more ideas and better solutions than what you may have come up with by just telling them.
To learn more about the coaching approach I recommend The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay-Stainer.
Are you feeling overwhelmed and not sure how to dig yourself out? Do you need a partner to help you see your blind spots? Do you struggle with setting boundaries and keeping them? Do you want help in getting better at maximizing yourself? If so, I’m here for you. Connect with me to schedule a complimentary Strategy Session.