Are you one of those people who strive to give 100% every day – to everything? Where has that gotten you? More often than you’d like, you’re probably exhausted, somewhat cranky, and likely feeling unappreciated. And if self-care isn’t on your to-do list, it isn’t happening. When we stretch ourselves beyond our limits, we slip into a negative mindset while draining our abilities to keep going. We look at all we are doing, all that still needs to be done, and find ourselves coming up lacking.
What if, instead, we worked to get the maximum return for the time allotted? Not necessarily, giving 100% all the time, but making smart, specific choices about what we do and when we do it – and how much it truly needs from us.
It starts by determining the level of importance of any task. Does it promote or advance your Mission and Vision? When you think about it being completed, what will be achieved as a result? Once you’ve gotten clear on these decisions and distinctions, do it as excellently as possible within the parameters you gave it.
Kristin Hendrix explains the concept of less is more in How an Athlete Mindset Helps Me Optimize My Work Performance. Thinking of our job in the context of an athlete makes the idea more understandable. No athlete trains or plays their sport at maximum level all the time. Basketball players don’t play the same way in the middle of the game as they do in the final minutes.
Hendrix makes 5 key points:
Top performance doesn’t come from constant 100% effort – What would a basketball player have left in the final minutes if they were playing full-out throughout the game? Hendrix notes this is true for our mental strength as much as for physical strength. As she observes, responding to the expectation that we will give our best all the time leads to “mental exhaustion, stagnation, and burnout.”
Plan for the surge – It’s easy for athletes to know when to draw on the reserves they have been saving. They have a time clock or other way to know the end is looming. We have deadlines. That’s when we need to be able to give our maximum effort. It is almost certain that every project will have problems as the finish draws near. That’s when we need to have enough in reserve to go into overdrive to that we can see things through to a strong completion.
Case study: Mindful surges to avoid overwhelm – As librarians you have an inordinate number of jobs and tasks to accomplish. AASL’s National School Library Standards lists your 5 roles: Leader, Instructional Partner, Information Specialist, Teacher, and Program Administrator (pp14-15). On a daily/weekly basis you have things to do for each. Note where the deadlines loom for each and plan for those “surges” by cutting back on your other tasks as needed. Do you have several important tasks that have overlapping needs? Write them down, get clear on what’s needed, and what the deadlines are. Planning, will keep your energy levels where they need to be.
Building up our strength and stamina – As you take on new roles or increasingly more significant roles as a leader, whether in your building/district or on a state/national level there is much to learn. It can be hard initially to get a grip on what you need to do and in what order. The answer Hendrix recommends is scaffolding. Determine what you need to know and what you don’t know yet. Look for the people and sources that can help you learn it. Depending on the situation, social media groups, Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) or mentors can give you the support and information you need. With each step, you’ll know more and be stronger for the next time – and you’ll need less energy because you can better prepare.
Want to outperform? Underperform first – Hendrix alludes to the story of the turtle and the hare, modifying it by recommending we be the turtle at the start and the hare as the finish line approaches. Compare your mood and mindset when you are taking short breaks as compared with when you do everything all day full-out. When do you accomplish the most? What about your mood? Learn what works, what helps, and how you can improve the next time.
Don’t let the work of being a leader bog you down. Learn to give less in order to give more. By managing your time, energy, and priorities, you will be better able to embrace your work and the enjoyment that leadership brings.