How to Overcome Surge Capacity Depletion in 3 Easy Steps

Stacey Ashley Blog

How to Overcome Surge Capacity Depletion in 3 Easy Steps

It’s been an unprecedented year. We all know that. And we’re all feeling tired and exhausted and fatigued. So just about everybody I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks has said ‘I can’t wait for the holiday break.’ It seems everyone is thinking the break will sort them out and then they will feel better.

But is having a break enough to restore you so that you’re ready for 2021?

When you are faced with an emergency, a crisis, or something that you need to respond to – some kind of a pressure, high-performance situation- your body ramps up. It uses adrenaline and cortisol to help you perform at your peak, in response to the situation that you are facing.

The ability to ramp up and respond like this is called surge capacity.

Now in normal times, what happens is you face a situation that you need to respond to a crisis or emergency, something that is really important that you need to act on quickly. You ramp up your performance, you focus intently, you put your effort and our energy into it. Then it’s over.

And typically what happens is you get some downtime.  That is when your energy falls away, when perhaps you don’t concentrate as well. Instead you are restoring yourself and reenergising.

Then another situation arises, and you respond accordingly, with the adrenaline and cortisol pumping through your body, and then you have some downtime to recover and replenish. This cycle ensures you always have the capacity for a surge response to those situations when they arise.

Now, 2020 has been different because we’ve had a set of challenges and situations that have effectively been continuous. At the beginning of the year, you responded to the situation created by the COVID pandemic, which impacted aspects of work and life and home. Just about everything that is part of your day-to-day experience. So the adrenaline and the cortisol have been pumping. You have been responding. Leaders and people everywhere have stepped up amazingly throughout the year.

What has happened though, is that because you keep tapping into your surge capacity almost continuously, without the opportunity for downtime, chilling out, recovering, you are now facing this unique set of fatigue and tiredness. Many of the leaders I have spoken with recently have reflected that they have never experienced fatigue and exhaustion to the same degree as they are now.

This is known as surge capacity depletion.

What it means is that you have used your capacity to surge in response, yet you haven’t had time to recover. Over time, the surge capacity tank has been drained dry. It is depleted because of the long-term challenges that you have faced throughout this year.


You can’t pour from an empty cup.


As you head into the holiday break, I want to help you create the opportunity to proactively restore yourself because this is beyond just a normal feeling of being tired at the end of the year.

(And just a quick note for those who aren’t feeling tired yet. The thing about surge capacity depletion is that even if you’re still operating and you’re performing well, at the point that you begin to slow down, to rest and relax, what you may experience is a big crash because your body has discovered that it doesn’t have to keep going anymore. It just shuts off. This can show up as extreme tiredness, emotional response that are more heightened than normal. It could be burnout. You might even get ill. Don’t be surprised if this happens to you, it’s perfectly normal.)

I’ve got three key tips to help you to deal with surge capacity depletion and set you up to be able to thrive in 2021.



1. Plan for your return to work now.1. Plan for your return to work now.

  • Set up your calendar now ready for your return to work. Make sure that you have time set aside in your diary to catch up on what you missed while you were away.
  • Tidy up before you leave. Clean out your email. Clean up your workspace. Get your filing done. So you come back to a relatively clear working space.
  • Wherever possible, if there’s someone else who is going to be in the office or covering your work, then make sure that you delegate appropriately and share your authority with them. If you haven’t made plans to delegate, then make sure you do that before you officially go on leave. And that means that you’ll have less to come back to in terms of backlog, when you return to work.

2. The second thing is to give yourself permission to use the holiday break proactively as a recovery for your depleted tanks.2. The second thing is to give yourself permission to use the holiday break proactively as a recovery for your depleted tanks.

  • While it is a Christmas and holiday period for many people, and we have people to see and functions to attend and Christmas dinners to cook, make sure that you do actually specifically set time aside for yourself.
  • Do the things that you know will help you to recover and replenish your energy.
Here’s a link to a quick video I recorded about helping you to identify what those things are.
  • Be disciplined about supporting your own replenishment.
  • Let the people around you know how important this is….then encourage them to do the same for themselves.

3. Number three is to reconnect.3. Number three is to reconnect.

Reconnect with yourself, reconnect with your people. We get energy from those really important connections. And this year in particular, people are feeling a little bit more distanced from some of the people in their networks. The holiday break is an opportunity to identify who those important people are, to reach out and re-establish those connections.


The starting point in leading others is learning to lead yourself.

Robin Sharma


Plan your replenishment for 2021.

Finally what I want to talk about is that the holiday break alone may not be enough to restore the full extent of your surge capacity. Plan 2021 so that you have more regular opportunities to restore yourself, to replenish the tanks.

When and how often and for how long are you going to deliberately restore yourself? Because let’s be clear, we’re now in the marathon. 2020 was the sprint. 2021 is the beginning of the marathon of change. You need to lead a long term transformation in the coming years. And that means as a leader, you need to be in really good shape. So you need to make sure that your tank is full.

I hope these ideas are useful to you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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AND: Whenever you’re ready… here are 4 ways I can help you grow your coaching and leadership: