Our world expects leaders to stay engaged and on top of things, and that means usually staying plugged in. I don’t just mean monitoring our inboxes on the phone or tablet after hours, or squeezing in a few extra minutes of work during scheduled down time. We also feel an obligation to stay on top of the news, trends in our industry, or what’s going on with our partners and clients. We mull over challenges in the shower and take phone calls while we pick up our kids from school – and all of this has accelerated as the lines between home and work were sometimes literally erased this past year.

Whether we’re managers or not, we’re also all putting in time holding a space for our colleagues and coworkers who are riding the same rollercoaster. It’s harder to connect — we can’t just pop into each other’s offices anymore.

A million things demand our energy, and some of them are subtle. I won’t belabor recent news, you lived it too — but in recent days I was reminded of this piece in The Guardian from two years ago, about how social media apps are designed like casinos. They’re a whirl of dings and cascading posts that draw us into “‘lucidic loops’ or repeated cycles of uncertainty, anticipation and feedback — and the rewards are just enough to keep you going.”

Sure, there are some days where every ding on a device is important. But there are just as many where those dings are just pictures of somebody’s dinner, the umpteenth iteration of the day’s biggest meme. Or maybe the ding is important, but just not right now. It’s something that we need to do or think about at some point down the road.

It’s no wonder that after the year of the pivot, many of us just feel exhausted – our pivoters are all but broken from the grinding wear-and-tear.

If there’s anything I would hope we carry into the future from the unique and challenging year we just went through, it’s the notion that we have to protect our energy and consciously commit to focusing on the things that matter. Otherwise, we risk spreading ourselves too thin to do the big things well. We’ could pivot ourselves into dust.

There’s a universe of research behind task switching – cycling rapidly between the things that need our attention. It’s the reason we can feel “on fire” working on drafting a report but then, after a few phone calls, when it’s time to answer emails or dive into a spreadsheet, we feel sluggish and drained. As the day goes on, it becomes more and more difficult to turn to the next thing. Task switching costs 40% of our productivity, the single largest bleed in bandwidth.

It’s also literally exhausting. Our brains use glucose as fuel, and the mere act of strategic thinking depletes our bodies. It’s the reason chess players can burn 6,000 calories on a tournament day, and heightened levels of anxiety correlate to weight loss. I imagine we all have our own stories of how we’ve experienced some aspect of both.

After 2020, many of us are hoping to get back to normal, or at least hoping to establish the new normal. However, I think normalization is an act of hindsight. Change is constant and will not end. Sure, we all hope we don’t experience another global pandemic and its associated demands again, but there will be something else over this horizon that shakes the bedrock of our baseline normality.

We cannot escape the fact that change is constant, but we can build a practice of focus to protect our precious energy in the year ahead and use it where it matters.

Instead of trying to Marie Kondo our homes while we write a book and kick carbs, let’s choose one goal a week or a month to chase after. Let’s batch our tasks and try to do one thing for a sustained period of time. Let’s delete unnecessary social media apps from our phones — otherwise we are carrying around a psychological hand grenade at all times that can blow up at a moment’s notice. Let’s delegate, say “not right now” a little more often and give ourselves room to breathe. Guard our time. Energize ourselves with likeminded people. Meditate.

Those who know me know this is as much a challenge to me as it is anyone else. This year, I encourage us all to protect our energy – and use it wisely.  People are counting on us, and protecting our energy means we can give them our best.

May you be blessed and successful this year,

Michael Tipton
President, BCBSLA Foundation


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