The best metaphors come out of coaching conversations. This is something I experience a LOT and it never ceases to amaze me.
So a couple of days ago, I was coaching someone on personal capacity issues, otherwise known as “how many to-dos are too many to-dos for one work day for me right now the way I am currently feeling?” I phrase it this way because the nebulous WORK LIFE BALANCE (said in a loud, echoey voice to add drama and proper reverence) changes every single day. You could get sick. Daylight Savings Time kicks in. Stuff happens. That’s why is shouldn’t be called balance at all. But that’s another subject to keep diving into another day.
The point I’m getting at today is how do you know how much is too much and how much is just enough, especially if you are transitioning into something new, experiencing a health issue, or just plain saying yes too many times? If personal capacity shifts sometimes just because it’s bound to shift?
My client was describing how she just bought a new car and her gauge tells her how many miles she should expect to be able to drive before she runs out of gas. She suddenly cries, “I wish there was a gauge for my personal energy that would measure how many clients I can serve before I’m just worn out and unable to give anything else.”
Wouldn’t that make life so much easier? A way of measuring how many more tasks or clients or reports we can complete before we are energetically and physically spent? It would make planning our day, our month and our YEAR so much easier! We wouldn’t overschedule or take on more volunteer activities than we can handle. We would only say yes to what we absolutely know we can accomplish. We would delegate the rest or just easily say, “No. I’ll be on empty if I take that on. You’ll have to find someone else. Or wait till I am able to fill up again. I’ll get back to you next week.”
My personal awareness around this issue is that I actually TURN OFF the feature that tells me how many miles I have till empty in favor of the feature that tells me how many miles per gallon I am achieving. I ignore capacity in favor of a performance measurement. I’m that girl that thinks an A- just isn’t good enough. The word productivity comes up in my daily self talk. A LOT.
But wait – it gets better. In my car, I have this gas gauge constantly in view that shows me in bars how much gas I currently have. I can’t turn this one off. So 10 bars is full and 1 bar is almost empty, right? So I get in the car a lot, only to discover I have like 2 bars. My brain registers that I have 2 bars till empty and I make a mental note, “You must get gas soon.” But inevitably, I am driving along at some point hours or days later and I hear the familiar BEEP and I see the final bar is glowing orange. This means, “GET GAS NOW!!!” It’s almost gone! All of it! The anxious search begins for gas and I tell myself I won’t be able to get the most reasonable price now because I don’t have the option of shopping around. I’ve got to gas up now. Even though I took the time earlier to register that I was almost on empty, I pushed myself because I thought I had more time. I thought I’d get gas when it was the right place and the right price. I put off taking care of the inevitable.
So not only do we face these capacity issues in life and in work all the time, we often ignore the signs and signals that we are running toward empty. We think we can do more, should do more, MUST do more. “I’ve pushed this before and survived. I’ll just carry on.”
We know that things like meditating for a few moments or taking a walk in the middle of the day would help our brains become more functional or help us think more creatively. But we end up working through lunch because there’s a deadline or we have to develop this one new thing before the day is through. Or maybe someone calls and says, “Hey can you take on this _______?” And we say, “Sure!” Not really stopping to consider how many bars we have till the orange light pops on and the anxiety begins. We run out of capacity because we push ourselves to the limit, more often than not.
So here’s a thought – what if you agreed to get gas as soon as you’re on 2 bars? Every time, no matter what? What if 2 bars was your personal orange, beeping light?
Or what if you just stopped to consider how you feel when you are metaphorically starting to run on empty? What are the signs for you?
For me, it looks like:
Feeling of Overwhelm
Self talk phrases “Why do I always do this to myself? “Why do I always wait till the last minute? Why didn’t I say No!?!
Constant feeling of forgetfulness
Ache in the back of neck and shoulder area
Inability to focus or attend to things I normally do to relax
There are probably others, but you get the picture, right? Sound all too familiar?
Filling up before you get to empty starts with recognizing what running on empty looks like. Deciding how many ______ = capacity starts with recognizing or remembering what too many looks like. Your internal gauge is giving you a clear visual or emotional measurement – you just need to put it into view. Honor it.
It’s simple. Fill yourself up before the orange, beeping light comes on.