When you’re responsible for a business, it’s relentless. It’s all encompassing. You can’t take your eye off anything: revenue, cash, clients, systems, staff, partners, strategy and lots more besides.
In lots of ways, pressure is good. For most people, it’s what sparks energy and motivation. It galvanises you. And you love the thrill of it.
However, research shows that there’s a point at which too much pressure leads to a rapid drop off in your performance and your health. Frustratingly, the research also shows that you don’t always realise the drop off until you’re in a hole that you don’t have the energy to climb out of.
“Time is finite, but your energy is boundless.”
As the leader of your consultancy, you set the whole climate for how people manage pressure and stress in your business. And as the leader, you have an opportunity to create a healthy environment for yourself and those around you.
Recognising this, we spoke to Chris Parry, one of our Growth Experts, about her personal experiences of dealing with pressure and stress and what advice she gives her clients to help them manage their energy.
According to Chris, there are three elements involved in every situation:
It – the tasks, the business, the strategy
We – our relationships, the dynamics in the team, our families, our friends
I – what’s going on inside us, including our motivation, our emotions and our energy.
“Whether you like it or not, these three elements are always in place,” says Chris. “Yet we tend to spend all our time in the It. What we need to focus more on is the I and the We.”
Chris has identified four important areas that enable her and her clients to manage pressure much more effectively, allowing them to achieve more and get more enjoyment from the experience too.
1. Manage your energy
“We talk a lot about managing our time, but managing our energy is just as important,” explains Chris. “Time is finite, but your energy is boundless.”
Chris sees productivity through the lens of whether something drains our energy or replenishes it. And she recognises that there are things we can do to adjust both.
“All the usual things like physical exercise, getting fresh air and sunlight and eating good food refill the tank,” says Chris. “But even more important is whether you spend enough of your time doing things you love doing. At the height of my business, it was so important for me to get outside to clear my head. I allocated time in my diary to it and that time was just as important as any other meeting.”
Chris sees it as an emotional energy bank account, and recommends identifying what you have put in and are taking out each week. “Get a sense of what you pay in and draw out and monitor and manage your energy so that you don’t go overdrawn.”
Questions to ask yourself include:
- What gives me my energy boost?
- What situations are causing me to leak energy?
- Is there a pattern to when I pay in or withdraw energy?
- Are there certain people or things at home or at work that affect my energy levels?
- In what ways can I replenish my energy this week?
- What am I going to do about the things that drain my energy?
Here’s a simple process Chris uses to manage her energy:
- Think of all the events, situations or people that gave you an energy boost (deposits) or energy drain (withdrawals) this week.
- Write down the deposits and as you do so, re-live the experience (this gives you an extra boost).
- Leave the withdrawals behind as you write them down.
- Look for patterns and insights and think of ways you can maximise the deposits and minimise the withdrawals, for example:
|Clearing the air with a colleague over a coffee||Getting to the end of the day and realising I’d only done 2000 steps!|
|Team meeting to think about opportunities for the future||Back to back zoom meetings|
|Long walk on a bright Autumn afternoon||Staying up past midnight going down a Twitter rabbit hole|
|Listening to live music with friends||Reading an email from an unhappy client on Friday evening|
|No tech after 9pm|
|Get out for a walk everyday|
|Schedule regular face to face time with colleagues and friends|
|Make sure I appear on other people’s deposits, not their withdrawals!|
2. Reduce the knowable unknowns
“For me, when I was growing my consultancy a big trigger of stress was problems flying in out of the blue that were too late to deal with, but that we could have avoided or dealt with more swiftly if we knew about them sooner,” she explains.
“We created an environment of openness and honesty using a system of traffic lights. Anyone in the business could post a traffic light about anything. Green were things to celebrate like a client win. Amber were things to watch out for, like a client feeling wobbly. Red were the big problems like losing a big contract. We encouraged everyone to not hide things so that they knew that nothing was just their problem. Any problem belonged to all of us. The system gave us early warning of things that needed attention.” Chris also writes down anything that is on her mind at the end of the day. “It’s a mental trick. It stops your brain alerting you to an issue all the time, so that you don’t expend energy worrying about it,” she says.
3. Developing perspective
Often we get caught up in the things that we can’t control – and waste energy on them. You can’t control the past, what other people are thinking or doing, or their opinion of you. You can control what you do, say, think or prioritise, how you manage your emotions and who you spend time with.
“In our business,” says Chris, “we were about to do a merger, but it collapsed at the last minute. I couldn’t control what the other side did, but I could control what I did next. I focused on my own thoughts and actions and ultimately fared much better than some of my colleagues who fixated on what they couldn’t control.”
Another technique that Chris uses to deal with anxiety around things you can control is to track forward 6 months or 6 years and ask yourself how important the current situation will be to you at that point. “If you are unlikely to remember this situation in the future then it doesn’t warrant you using too much precious energy on it,” she says.
4. Sleep is not optional
Finally, Chris passionately said, “Sleep is not a heroic thing to skip on. I wish I’d slept more when we ran our business.”
Concluding, Chris, who is an associate with Complete Coherence, realises that having strategic clarity (read our article for more information about looking after your strategy) means you can focus on the right things leaving you time to take care of the WE and I rather than just the IT.
“Often we only recognise when people are in the ‘it’,” she finishes, “rather than recognising when others are spending time trying to improve relationships, manage their emotions and so on. Making this shift will do us, and our business, a world of good.”
Article | Strategy and leadership
Ali El Moghraby
Head of Marketing
The Consultancy Growth Network