There’s one item in my office that is essential to my success. In fact, it’s the most critical. Without it, I’d probably only be able to accomplish half of what I do in a normal day.

It’s not my phone, wifi router, printer, or laptop. It’s not even a coffee maker (I can’t handle caffeine!).

It’s my napping couch.

When I moved out of my home office into a leased space in downtown Tacoma, the napping couch was the first piece of furniture I purchased.

As I shared in the previous post in this series, what defines an introvert isn’t our social skills. It’s about where we gain and drain energy. We gain energy through quiet and low stimulation environments, and drain energy during social interaction and high stimulation environments. It doesn’t mean we can’t be social or don’t enjoy people; we simply have to charge up for those situations alone, rather than in a crowd.

I spend most of my days interacting with clients, as well as engaging with others through podcasting, email, public speaking, and social media. And in between appointments, if I don’t have to take the dog downstairs for a visit to the grass, I will read, catch up on some planning or website updates, or nap. For me to be energy efficient – to show up as fully as possible for the people I work with – I need to decompress and shut down on a regular basis.

It’s similar to when your computer starts acting confused, sluggish, and downright resistant to performing as it should. Usually, restarting it does the trick. It clears the cobwebs. And that’s what introverts have to do on a regular basis if they want to be their best and highest selves.

Here are some ways to press “restart” and increase your energy efficiency so that you can work and play at your fullest potential:

Understand that you’ll do your best work if you have a healthy combination of solo visioning/planning and public interaction. Make – and honor – appointments with yourself, where it’s agreed that there are no interruptions. If it’s helpful to your colleagues, make your solo time consistent so they know what to expect and can plan ahead.

Train the people around to respect your boundaries between personal and professional time: don’t respond to emails or voice messages during non-business hours, take your vacation days, and put your phone on “do not disturb” for an hour or two each day. This might have a side effect of creating a culture that gives your colleagues permission to do the same.

Being outwardly expressive takes energy, so we can tend to appear stoic or unapproachable as a way to preserve our energy. The solution is simple: make a commitment to smile more. Look people in the eye and greet them by name when you pass them in the hall. Be aware that your internal excitement might not always be evident when you talk to others, so dropping your shoulders, relaxing your face, smiling and making eye contact can go a long way towards communicating your feelings without feeling fake (which saps energy).

Recognize that even if you’re only interacting virtually, it’s still draining. We can be fooled into thinking that a day spent alone spent in front of a screen is not the same energetically as being around people. But in reality, you’re not truly alone. Email, social media, news sites, and other virtual environments are all immersing you in constant conversation and engagement. Time spent online is necessary and even fun, but don’t equate it with restorative downtime.

“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.” (Unknown) Focus on your strengths, rather than on where you feel you fall short. Give yourself credit for who you are, rather than trying to waste energy trying to be who other people think you “should” be. We naturally have energy when we play to our strengths, even when we’re applying them to challenging situations. Surround yourself with people who have complementary strengths. This type of advice is common sense wisdom at this point, but we sometimes forget its truth when we think we have achieve superhero leadership status.

Take advantage of introversion as a hot topic and use it as a catalyst for conversation about how you work and communicate. Then outline the changes you’re planning to make (for instance, creating a quiet zone in a portion of the office, or building “do not disturb” times into your day). Be prepared for feedback or even pushback, and decide where you’re going to stand firm and where you’re open to negotiation. The goal is to create a more respectful, efficient, and effective work environment, where everyone feels like their individual strengths and needs are considered.

Honor your comfort zone. You know that expression, “Go big or go back to bed”? It’s motivating to some. To me, it’s shaming. We’re constantly told that if we’re not operating outside of our comfort zone, then we’re stagnant and probably failing (and we might as well give up). But the energy efficient introvert know it’s not an either/or. We can go big AND go back to bed! Going big – stretching or even stepping out of our comfort zone – is made possible by giving ourselves the space to take baby steps. To rest and recharge. To balance our discomfort with comfort without being shamed into believing there’s no place for the familiar, the friendly confines of our comfort zone. And yes, by giving ourselves permission to go back to bed until we’re ready to go big again.

Our energy is our most precious personal asset. Without it, we can’t learn, grow, or serve. The oft-repeated comparison to flight safety instructions to “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others” is repeated for good reason: it’s true! This is more than about “self-care.” It’s about empowering yourself by making choices that give you ample energy to share your gifts with those around you. No one else is going to be mindful or protective of your energy consumption. It’s your job and yours alone, and in many ways, it’s job number one.

Writing this post has been fun, and it’s also sapped my energy. So, if you’ll excuse me, it’s power nap time!

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About the Author

As a coach and mediator, Beth L. Buelow, PCC, guides people through conflict and into cooperation. She is the author of “The Introvert Entrepreneur” (Penguin Random House, 2015) and host of the “How Can I Say This…” Podcast. You can also join her on LinkedIn.
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