Most of us plow through life operating at a fraction of our capacity. We manage to make it through each day, but create far less well-being than what’s possible. Based on research we conducted for the documentary Fully Charged, a mere 20 percent of people spent a lot of time doing meaningful work in a given day. Only 16 percent had extremely positive interactions. Perhaps most disturbing, out of 10,000 people surveyed, just 11 percent said they had a great deal of energy.
Charge yourself first
Simply getting through a day is not good for you, your work or the people you care about most. Even if you orient your entire mission in life around serving others—as great parents, teachers, nurses and leaders often do—it is impossible to be your best if you fail to charge yourself first.In recent years, I have spent a great deal of time with nurses, physicians and leaders in health care. Within this general field, one of the groups I admire most is hospice and home care nurses. I deeply admire their desire to serve others. On a daily basis, hospice nurses put the needs of terminally ill patients and their families first. As a result, the last thing they think about is their own health and energy. Yet when I ask hospice nurses what it takes to be their very best at helping people during this time of need, they acknowledge that they could be of far more service if they invested time in their own health and energy.
At risk of burnout
A study of more than 30,000 nurses across Europe found that those who work long shifts (more than 12 hours) are 30 percent more likely to rate the quality of care on their wards as poor, compared with nurses working eight-hour shifts. They were also 41 percent more likely to report failing or poor standards of safety on their wards. In many cases, working longer hours is a disservice to those you intend to serve.
I have seen this phenomenon play out in homes and businesses around the world. At work, there is often an implicit pressure to be the first into the office, to work the longest days and to claim you need very little sleep. Yet the last thing businesses need is star performers in the workplace burning out because they have a routine that is unsustainable.
Take care of yourself to take care of others
The research my team conducted on this topic found that people who have very high energy levels in a given day are more than three times as likely to be completely engaged in their work that same day. If you want to make a difference—not just today, but for many years to come—you need to put your health and energy ahead of all else.
If you are wiped out from working around the clock, subsisting on food from a vending machine and not making time for daily exercise, then there is no way you’ll be effective at helping your friends, family, colleagues, patients or customers. The good news is that making choices to improve your energy does not require a complex grand plan. It all starts with the next small choice you make.
Tom Rath is a researcher, filmmaker and author of six international best-sellers, including StrengthsFinder 2.0, Eat Move Sleep, and Are You Fully Charged? His most recent work includes the feature-length documentary Fully Charged, a film featuring many of the world’s top social scientists.