Learn to regulate your energy: EAs of CFOs enjoy breakfast together

“Today we want to talk about energy – how you create it and how you work with it – not just for you, but for the people around you,” said Graham Fehrsen, MD of CFO South Africa. Graham was speaking at a sumptuous breakfast for executive assistants (EAs) of CFOs, held recently at the Saxon Hotel in Sandton. “You spend time picking up the pieces for the people who may be going through challenging times at work and are extremely busy, and help them through their days, not only through your work but through your attitude, because you are also there for them personally.”

CFO South Africa brought in Inge Walters, the founder of Eve Learning, a company which specialises in women's leadership development, to present at the breakfast. Inge's intention was to provide some perspective on how PA s and EAs - who are often beholden to the demands of their employers - can maintain a balance between professional focus and taking care of themselves in the workplace.

"It's wonderful to be with a group of women this morning to talk about what's happening in our inner lives," Inge said. "We do so much at work, focusing on getting our jobs done, but we don't really talk about what's happening in our inner lives. So that's my invitation to you today - to go a little deeper."

Inge said that in today's fast-paced working environment, a work-life balance is never going to happen. People are expected to be available all the time on their cell phones and laptops, and things are showing no signs of slowing down.

"Work-life balance as a term isn't very helpful to us because it's used in a punitive way, to beat ourselves up because we don't have it," said Inge. "We also run the risk of categorising work and life as two separate things with life as the good guy and work as the bad guy. But really, you can't separate the two - especially as they are becoming less and less distinct from one another."

Instead, she said, women should focus themselves on sustaining their energy. "You need to understand what gives you energy and what depletes your energy, and by categorising this rather than your time, you will be able to match your energy to the work you need to do."

She encouraged the women in the room to draw a chart of their own energy levels throughout the day, noting what depletes them and what energises them in the peaks and troughs. These factors could be work related, or home-life related, including answering emails, helping kids with homework or having coffee with a friend. The women then found partners and explained their graphs to one another, to gain insights about their dips and peaks.

Various PAs and EAs then shared their insights. One said that she struggled to get her energy levels up after she had driven to work in the morning. Another said that she was fine with the morning traffic but that the afternoon traffic depleted her and left her without energy for her family. Another said that her energy invariably dipped in the afternoon.

"The beauty of this exercise is that you diagnose what happens for yourself," said Inge. "You can't design your own ideal day because you are dependent on someone else's diary and demands but there is probably a bit of room for play. And remember that what works well for one person might not work well for another - it depends on your own energy levels and context."

Inge gave the example that most people have a peak of energy in the morning, which they use for responding to emails - a job that doesn't require a lot of energy - so, if possible, people who are on that cycle should rearrange their days so that they are not wasting their peaks.

Inge went on to say that there are four types of energy: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. While it may not be possible to do exercises to sustain all of these throughout the day, Inge gave some pointers for at-desk exercises that women can use to give themselves a little lift.

Inge's suggestions included:

  • Eyeroll exercises - closing your eyes and rolling them behind your lid to give them a break from screen time.
  • Smiling - just smiling at more people more often makes a difference.
  • Square breathing - in for five beats, hold for five beats, out for five beats, hold for five beats and repeat.
  • Gratitude - writing in a gratitude journal about three things that you are grateful for every day.
  • Making a connection - send an email or a WhatsApp, or make a call at the end of a long day to someone you care about.

The women attending the event were certainly energised by Inge's words, and went on to have a delicious breakfast before heading back to the office to put their energy management strategies into action.