Mr. Vas Narasimhan CEO of Novartis, about Managing My Energy, Not My Time.

Since starting as CEO of Novartis, I’ve visited about 35 countries and interacted with tens of thousands of associates across cultures and continents. The pace is relentless, and it is as demanding as it is exciting. Hands down, everywhere I go, the number one question I’m asked is: How do you maintain your impact and energy?

The truth is it’s extremely difficult, and I’ve found that rather than just managing my time and my calendar, I need to maximize my impact by consciously managing my energy. Similar to athletes, I have to prepare myself physically and mentally so I can perform at my best. It’s the only way I’ll have the energy I need as CEO and for the most important titles I hold: dad and husband.

If I had to sum up the secret to doing this successfully in one word, I’d say it all comes down to discipline. I have been working at this for many years, and I’ve come up with a series of habits to help ensure I have more energy for Novartis and for my family. I’ve shared those habits below, but of course everyone needs to find what works for them.

I do not always get this right. I fail often. Sometimes I hit snooze and skip exercising in the morning. Long-haul jet lag takes a heavy physical toll on me, even though my routine aims to minimize the effect. I miss too many of my kids’ events, though I go whenever I can. I have learned to be kind to myself and am always working to improve. All I can do is go to bed determined to do better when I wake up. Sometimes that is what it’s all about—changing one thing, making a better next decision, and making tomorrow a little bit better than today.



Mindset

Having a positive, purposeful, present mindset is one of the keys of leadership and happiness. Maintaining a clear and present mind takes work, especially if I want to be focused, open-minded, and fully present during packed days with back-to-back meetings.

  • I meditate most days using an app, and I try to reflect on my personal vision: “Improve myself, inspire a healthier world.”
  • I monitor my self-talk for going “below the line.” It can mean the difference between living in a world of fight or flight versus a world of possibilities.
  • I always try to remind myself of these three things that make people (including me) unhappy: worrying about things we cannot control, creating drama out of the little things (and most things in life are little), and not being fully present.
  • I try to read things unrelated to Novartis, like books on history, science, and leadership and periodicals like National Geographic, The Economist, and Harvard Business Review.
  • I read the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita at least once a year to ground myself.

Movement

For centuries we have known that movement and exercise improves health, mood, mental acuity, and probably longevity.

  • I exercise intensely six days a week for 45-60 minutes, usually early in the morning, using a virtual training app. There are many fitness approaches, and I find the key is to do whatever you do consistently.
  • I take the stairs or walkways wherever I can, avoiding escalators and people-movers.
  • I try to find reasons to walk to other buildings on the Novartis campus.

Nutrition

What we eat impacts our mood, our mental capabilities, our emotions, and our wakefulness. I ask myself—why am I eating? Is it for performance, for enjoyment, or because of anxiety?

  • I am a lifelong vegetarian—it is how I was raised—and I plan meals around my schedule, ensuring I eat to maximize performance during work days. I try to be very mindful about what I eat during business meals, and I have nuts and dark chocolate as snacks (probably too much on some days).
  •  We tend to live in a dehydrated state, so I drink a glass of water before bed and first thing when I wake up. During the day I try to drink water at least every few hours. (I also don’t add sugar to any drinks and do not drink any carbonated beverages.)
  • During the week I fast 15-16 hours a day, usually from dinner until lunch, taking only coffee, water, and a protein supplement. I’ve done a lot of personal research on the benefits of fasting, and I do find it works for me.
  • With all of that said, on the weekends I relax my routine and often eat for pleasure with my family. I have a few things I cannot resist indulging in: dark chocolate, pour-over coffee, good red wine, and small-batch gin.

Recovery

Recovery is perhaps the most important element for a healthy, high-energy life—and the one that I often neglect the most.

  • I try to sleep 7 hours every night, and I take 20 minute power naps when traveling and when jet lagged. Consistently, studies show that sleeping has powerful positive impact on health and on our mental state.
  • I do my best to take my weekends off and to not send emails from Friday at 10:00 p.m. until Monday morning unless absolutely critical. I’m aware that any one email I send can lead to 100-500 subsequent emails in the organization.
  • I take all of my vacation days (my wife and I love exploring the world with our sons), and I try to fully disconnect during vacation. I check my email only once in the morning and once before bed.

While these habits won’t be right for everyone, I encourage you to think about how you can maximize your impact and manage your energy vs. your time. I believe it’s a fundamental shift for any leader, whether you are managing an entire organization, a small team, a family, or even just yourself.

Source: This story was originally posted on LinkedIn by Mr. Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis. He is passionate about reimagining medicine, cultural transformation and the journey of leadership. Working with a dedicated team to build a leading medicines company globally, powered by advanced therapy platforms and data science.