Energy Crisis: 7 Tips to Avoid Physical Burnout
By Bob David
You pour so much time, energy, and heart into taking care of your clients. But who’s taking care of you? The first step in serving your clients is making sure you are a reliable, renewable source of energy.
The morning alarm clock goes off, and as you look at the time, you ask yourself, “How many hours sleep did I really get last night?” Your brain goes to work calculating while your body longs for a return to slumber. Suddenly you realize you have a 7:30 a.m. appointment with one of your most demanding clients at your office to review a subpar-performing managed account. (He happens to be a dentist, and you both decided this was the best time of the day to meet—before he started seeing patients and you started making client phone calls.)
After a quick shower, you scramble into your best “client appointment suit” while CNBC’s Squawk Box blares away. You glance at the television and see another clock counting down the time until the opening bell like a horse race at Belmont. A streaming banner declares that one of your largest client stock holdings is looking to gap down in price after just-released earnings came in below expectations. You jump in your car, wave goodbye to the family, and race to your neighborhood Starbucks to wolf down a pastry along with your first cup of coffee for the day.
So begins the daily routine of many advisors—often stressful, exhausting, and unhealthy. Are you taking the time every day to recharge your battery, properly manage and channel stress, eat healthy, and exercise? In the best-selling book The Power of Full Engagement, authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz make a compelling case that managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal.
I don’t want to go on a Jerry Maguire-type rant here, but many of the lifestyle habits we grew up with in our great industry have not always proved to be the healthiest for us long term. I mean, there are only so many doughnuts, thick juicy steaks, and cocktails a body can take, right? And like many ingrained aspects of our culture, they may taste good going down, but they have an insidious effect on our energy levels over time.
Here are seven ways to better manage your physical energy as an advisor:
1. Don’t just burn energy; build energy capacity
The Power of Full Engagement states that “because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with under-use, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.” With gas prices hovering at record levels, we hear that lack of refinery capacity, peaking oil supplies, and underinvestment in alternative energy sources are the source of our problems. Similarly, advisors pay a high price physically and mentally when they don’t take the time to maintain and build their own energy reserves. As with the care of any engine, you have to properly maintain all the parts so you have enough horsepower when you need it. If you are not getting an annual physical, please make the commitment now to set that appointment with your doctor. Remember, early detection is the key to making sure you never have to shut down your whole motor for repairs—and that’s when the capacity needle goes to zero.
2. Pay attention to the fuel that goes into your body
For the next 30 days, instead of soda, try drinking water at your desk throughout the day. Did you think that just because diet soda is calorie-free that it is guilt-free, too? Sorry. Here are some surprising facts about the health effects of soda—even diet soda—from the best-selling health guide You: Staying Young, by doctors Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz (of Oprah fame): Drinking diet soft drinks is associated with a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, or diabetes. A recent study of 50-year-old men and women in Framingham, Mass., found that having more than one soft drink daily, whether sugared or diet, increased the risk of metabolic syndrome by 44% over a four-year period. The risk was similar whether the drink was sugared or diet. One theory is that the high sweetness of drinks conditions people to crave sweet foods. Another is that ingredients in the drinks can lead to insulin resistance or inflammation. Here are some more ideas for improving your fuel:
- Be careful of that second cup of java. While caffeine has been shown to improve mental awareness and retention, too much can contribute to sleep problems. Limit your caffeine intake to modest portions not more than three times per day (morning, midday, and afternoon). Avoid caffeine after 6 p.m. to allow evening wind-down and prepare for sleep.
- Just say no to snack foods that spike your blood sugar. Avoid simple, processed sugars like candy. Try eating an apple or other natural snack with more complex carbohydrates instead. In times of stress we can be attracted to “comfort foods” whether it’s childhood’s meal of a cheeseburger, fries, and milkshake or your grandmother’s bread pudding. But just because Warren Buffett gets away with it doesn’t mean you can. (Wouldn’t it be great if drinking Coca-Colas and eating at Dairy Queen also increased your net worth?)
- Experiment with what works for you. Many nutritionists recommend eating smaller portions four or five times a day rather than three large ones. And one trick that works to curb sugar cravings at night is to immediately brush your teeth after your evening meal. Just figure out what your top-performance diet is, and then stick with it.
3. Quantity and quality of sleep
Are you consistently getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night? Experts say that’s the number required for the body and mind to properly recover and remain healthy. Anxiety-provoking activity like late-night television viewing of Jack Bauer trying to save the world—or checking on stock prices over the internet just before bed—promotes busy-mindedness and makes it harder to slip into deep, restful sleep. Vow to stay off the computer after 8 p.m., and record exciting shows to watch earlier in the evening.
4. Dee-ee-ee-ee-p brea-ea-ea-ea-thing
There is a good reason to take a deep breath when you’re upset or stressed. According to You: Staying Young, deep nasal breathing isn’t just for yoga rooms and massage tables. It helps transport nitric oxide—a potent lung and blood vessel dilator that resides in your nasal passages—to your lungs. And since nitric oxide is most highly concentrated in the back of your nose, deep breathing is the best way to help your lungs and blood vessels open up better and function more efficiently. Deep breaths help your lungs go from 97% saturation of oxygen to 100%, and that little 3% can make a huge difference in how you feel.
5. Aerobic fitness and strength training
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi famously said that fatigue makes cowards of us all. When the markets are tanking and panicked clients are ringing your phone off the hook, you need the stamina not to fold under pressure. It all starts with exercise.
For those looking to develop a minimum level of aerobic fitness to build your lung capacity and endurance (as opposed to running a marathon), try starting out the day with a 30-minute brisk walk. You can build up gradually from there. Just 30 minutes of moderate walking three times a weeks will accumulate significant gains for you.
Studies also show that going beyond aerobic exercise with some kind of weight or resistance workout increases bone density and metabolism and improves stamina.
Aside from the fact that phones tend to get heavier for advisors when themarkets are down, added muscle mass helps you burn more calories. Think of your body as a furnace: the more muscle mass you have, the hotter the fire, and the more fuel gets burned. To protect against injury, eschew heavy weights in favor or more reps with lighter weights. Using some free weights in your exercise routine will promote balance as well as muscle tone. Make sure to alternate muscle groups and space your workouts to allow for proper muscle recovery—only lift every other day at most. Most experts recommend 30 minutes two to three times per week.
In their book and on their website, doctors Roizen and Oz recommend a 2000-year-old series of bodily movements that strengthen the immune system, reduce stress, and improve balance and posture. Here are just a couple of the exercises they include on their chapter on the chi-gong workout. They feel surprisingly great, and you can even do them the office if you don’t mind an occasional stare:
- Loosening the neck. With elbows and knees slightly bent, sink toward the ground. Keep chin parallel to ground. Inhale and turn your head to the right; exhale and bring head back to face forward. Repeat sequence on left side.
- Picking the fruit. Imagine a fruit tree in front of you. As you reach for the lowest fruit, exhale. Inhale as you bring it toward you. Gradually reach for higher and higher fruit. Really stretch for the top ones, but keep your knees bent and your rib cage raised.
7. Develop rituals that make the right things to do the easy things to do
The key to any exercise program is to make it as routine as possible. That means doing it in the same location at the same time every day so that it’s as natural as brushing your teeth or driving to work. You know you got it right when you actually forget you did it afterward. (Note: this does not apply to all areas of physical exertion or if you are eligible for Social Security and have a family history of dementia.)
Tomorrow morning when your alarm goes off, do yourself and your clients a favor: Pay attention to how you’re treating your body. Do you remember the famous quote by Winston Churchill regarding courage? He said that it was the most important of the virtues because “upon it all others depend.” The same can be said about managing your energy—pretty much everything else in your day—and your life, for that matter—is riding on it.