Have you ever returned from travel, family time or group events feeling drained?
As an introvert, I sure have.
And this summer has been a doozy.
In the last three weeks, I’ve slept for 12+ hours the day after coming home from a conference. Rescheduled an entire workday’s worth of calls so that I wouldn’t have to speak aloud. Switched a weekend day for a weekday so that I could immediately take the day off without impacting team progress on important projects.
At first, I was puzzled. I love the work I’m doing, and my colleagues. My friends and family are incredible -- and I’m getting plenty of time to travel and spend quality time with them. So why is this happening?
After intense reflection, I have a hunch on why I’ve been feeling so drained lately, despite all this fun.
I stopped protecting the routines and habits that recharge me.
Does this resonate?
Perhaps you’re on a business trip, and you have to wake up earlier or later than you do at home. The process of waking up changes -- instead of your normal home routine of walking into your kitchen and making a healthy breakfast (or skipping), you might be in a hotel room making single-serve coffee, or taking your chances with a breakfast buffet so you aren’t hungry later.
Or you might be traveling with a group of friends who don’t share your food or dietary preferences. What, when and where you eat changes -- instead of deciding what you want to eat, you’re compromising with a group.
And, although it’s uncomfortable to admit, this even happens with adult children who are traveling with their parents and family. How you do everything changes -- you follow the patterns you’ve created in your adult life, while your parents follow the patterns they’ve created in theirs. Mini battles about decisionmaking power, unmet expectations and other implicit cues can introduce friction, if not chaos.
These changes are all tiny and seemingly inconsequential at first, but they add up.
And if you’re not paying attention while these changes are happening, you put yourself in a position for emotional overwhelm and exhaustion -- even if you enjoy everything you’re doing and everyone you’re doing it with.
Here’s a framework Mike and I are testing over the next couple months, as our “home” Destroy to Create project.
Proactive Routine Protection
Step 1: Brainstorm a master list of go-to activities that energize you. Here’s how Mike and I did this:
- Write down all the activities that a) you enjoy doing and b) also help you feel recharged. Exercise, sleep, cooking for loved ones, and even sex might fall into this category.
- Circle (or add) the activities you naturally do when you’re living your best life. What does your Best Self enjoy doing as part of a normal day?
Use your circled activities as a shortlist for the remaining steps, and repeat this step as often as necessary so that the options feel fresh.
2. Set a Goal: In the morning (or when you like to plan for the upcoming day), select three of your shortlisted activities to incorporate into the day.
If your activity shortlist feels unrealistic, revisit your list of activities and consider smaller ones that make you feel grateful. Your challenge is to incorporate these activities naturally into your day.
3. Report: That night or the next morning, reflect on your proactive recharging goals. Did you complete all three? If not, which did you miss?
Supercharging Your Goal-Setting
Remember, this activity isn’t necessarily about adding more to your plate -- it’s about proactively building energizing activities into your day.
Because all of these shortlisted activities are things you already enjoy and naturally do when you’re at your best, view them with anticipation and excitement. They are a reward for working hard, not extra punishment in an already challenging day.
As you do this, learn from my most common mistakes:
- Setting goals that are really tasks. Was my ultimate goal really to take an outdoor walk, or to add an extra exercise session to my evening? Paying attention to how I phrase goals has drastically improved my completion rate, as I give myself the flexibility to adjust the plan throughout the day.
Irrational optimism. If I’ve got a 7 a.m. conference call with a client in Europe or Dubai, when I’m being realistic with myself, it’s unreasonable to expect that I’ll wake up early enough to exercise before the call. So if I set “one extra workout” as a goal for that particular day, I’m already setting myself up for failure.
My hypothesis is that by including spontaneous recharging activities as part of my regular routine, I’ll build a new habit -- making regular small “deposits” into my emotional bank account -- so that in a week of heavy “withdrawals,” I will always have a positive balance.