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This article was originally published by Harvard Business Review

By Dr. Amantha Imber

April 4, 2022

Twenty-twenty was quite the year for us all, but for Adore Beauty co-founder Kate Morris, work was particularly stressful. Not only was she managing one of the largest online retail businesses in Australia through a pandemic, but she was also preparing to list her company on the Australian Stock Exchange.

“I remember looking at the schedule our bankers had created,” Morris told me. “I said to them, ‘There must be a mistake because you have me on back-to-back Zoom calls for 12 hours every day for weeks.’ They just nodded and said it was a standard roadshow.”

Morris knew then that the key to making it through this period with her mental health intact would be managing her energy — her time was already spoken for.

Her business coach advised her to return to her purpose. What did she really want to achieve with this IPO? The answer was clear: She wanted it to be the largest ever IPO in Australia led by a female founder and a female CEO. For Morris, it was about making history.

Morris’ coach encouraged her to write this down in a place where she could see it loud and clear. “I put it on a sticky note on the bottom of my computer monitor since I was going to be staring at it for 12 hours a day. The sticky note said: Making history.”

Even when she was delivering the exact same presentation for the nth time on a given day, seeing those words reminded Morris why she was doing it. “It helped me make every presentation fresh — like I was giving it for the first time.”

This is just one of the many energy management tips I’ve learned while interviewing people for my podcast: If you feel like you’re flailing, connect in with your purpose. This might be your overall career purpose (why you have chosen the profession that you are in) or a micro purpose (what is motivating you to do a great job on a project or task). But don’t stop there. Write down your purpose and keep it on your desk to act as a constant visual reminder of why you do what you do, especially when things are exhausting or stressful.

That note may give you boost you need to get through the day.

If you want a few more tips, here are more tokens of advice that I’ve learned from my guests to help you spring back up when your energy is low.

Create a “wall of encouragement.”

Despite having competed in several marathons and ironman competitions over the course of her life, Fulbright scholar, writer, and CEO Holly Ransom spends a lot of time sitting at her desk. For someone used to running many miles each week, the stagnation is agonizing. To help manage her restless energy over the course of the pandemic, during which she spent over 250 days in lockdown in Melbourne, Ransom created a wall of encouragement.

In her home office, Ransom lined the windowsill with cards that the most important people in her life have sent her over the years. “They have messages of support. There are probably a couple of times a week when I inadvertently read one or two, but sometimes I’ll do it intentionally.”

For Ransom, the cards remind her of why she does what she does every day. They re-energize her when she’s feeling drained and help her overcome something we all deal with: negativity bias — our propensity to place more emphasis on negative information than positive. Humans are basically suckers for punishment, and when we experience setbacks or receive negative feedback at work, it has a big impact on our energy levels.

In your own workspace, think about how you can create a wall of encouragement. It might be physical, like Ransom’s, or it might be digital, like a folder on your desktop that contains encouraging emails, awards, positive feedback, or even memes that make you laugh. Social scientists have found that inducing a positive mood has many benefits, including improved well-being and general happiness.

Remove recurring irritants.

In his bestselling book Upstream, Dan Heath wrote about a regular annoyance that used to happen in his life. Heath spends a lot of time writing in cafes and a part of this ritual involves fishing his power cord out of his bag, plugging it into the wall, and then, when he returns to his office, digging the power cord out again, plugging it into the wall again, and so on.

“I’ve got a hundred cords around my desk. So, it’s always just a little bit of a nuisance. But it just seemed like one of those things — that’s the way it had to be,” he said.

In the process of writing Upstream, Heath began thinking about how to better solve problems by targeting their root cause. It suddenly occurred to him that he could save himself time and frustrated energy just by buying a second power cord to live in his laptop bag and keeping the original cord at his office.

The solution was so simple. Why did it take writing a book on problem solving to figure it out?

Heath told me it’s because of a force called tunnelling, coined by Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan. When we have limited cognitive resources (or brain power) due to life stresses, we adopt tunnel vision and miss opportunities to identify and solve problems. Particularly when we are dealing with one or two big issues (like a global pandemic), our brain power diminishes and we have less mental capacity to deal with other things.

In the context of the power cord problem, we can look at it like this: When we are facing several big problems in our lives, we ironically don’t have the capacity to solve the little one. As a result, we tend to engage in short-term, reactive thinking.

To escape the trap of tunnelling, give yourself some slack, in the form of time or resources. For example, is there a simple process that you find yourself executing regularly (budgeting, paying bills) that could be automated using software? Are there standard emails that you find yourself writing again and again that you could create a template for?

All of these small tasks eat away at your energy. Finding and eliminating these recurring irritants will help free up the time and resources you need to deal with the bigger things in your life.