You frequently hear people talk about how many “hours” went into something, but very rarely the energy. Energy is a much harder resource to measure but it’s just as, if not more, important. It’s easy to get caught in the “busyness trap’” where long hours are worn as a badge of honor. But there’s next to no point in clocking hours if you don’t have the energy levels to use them successfully.
This is where energy management comes in. Where time management helps you schedule your commitments, energy management makes sure that you do those things to the best of your ability and ensures that your key essence doesn’t get pushed out of the picture.
As Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr say in The Power of Full Engagement: “The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality available to us is not.” A lot of people will avoid energy management techniques like meditation, going on walks, or taking breaks because they think they don’t have time for it, but investing in energy management can help you optimize your time and use it more productively, not to mention feel happier, calmer, and keep burnout at bay.
Here are five steps for improving your energy management:
Focus on All Four Dimensions of Energy
Human beings are complex, and so is the process of sustaining and renewing our energy levels. Loehr and Schwartz draw attention to four key areas of energy management: physical, mental, spiritual, and intellectual. They argue that “we must skillfully manage each of these interconnected dimensions of energy. Subtract any one from the equation and our capacity to fully ignite our talent and skill is diminished.” Unlike machines, it’s not a simple matter of a new battery or plugging in a charger, but a process of working through each dimension and taking a holistic approach.
Make a List of Your Energy Givers and Takers
With the four dimensions of energy in mind, make a list of your own personal “energy givers” and “energy takers.”
Energy givers are the things that give you that boost and buzz and excitement to fully engage in life. This will differ based on your personality, lifestyle, and interests. For example, if you’re more extroverted seeing friends and staying connected will be high up on the list, if you’re introverted than time alone will be more important, and if, like me, you’re somewhere in between, having clear boundaries in place can be the best way forward. Here’s an example of what your list might look like:
- Time with friends
- Whole foods
- Clear boundaries
- Good sleep pattern
Once you have your list, use the things on it to ensure your energy is always kept “topped up.”
Energy drainers are the things that leave you feeling deflated or overwhelmed. It’s this list that makes tasks drag out, stress to build up, and motivation to plummet. For example:
- Bad sleep patterns
- Sloppy boundaries
- Lack of physical movement
- Poor stress management
This is the baggage that’s slowing you down. Keeping an awareness of when “energy drainers” start creeping in means you can be proactive in shifting them.
Think Consistency and Sustainability
Pace it don’t race it. Put your trust in consistency and think about what’s sustainable and achievable in the long run. Grace Beverly, a twenty-three-year-old CEO who started two fitness and sustainability business during her university degree, advocates thinking long-term even when there are imminent deadlines. She notes that there is no point in using up all your energy one day if it means you have none left for the next.
Aim to finish your day at a consistent time to ensure that you have the same amount of energy for the next. Consistency, taking small steps in the right direction each day, will take you further than a rush followed by a burnout.
Rest, Refuel, and Resume
Rest. Is. Productive. And there’s a lot of research to prove it.
Let’s break it down:
Story 1: You’re tired, stressed, and anxious, so you drag out a task for double the time it would usually take and produce something worse than your usual quality. You finish it feeling more stressed and tired and anxious — and have even less energy the next day.
Story 2: You’re tired, stressed, and anxious, so you spend some of that time resting. Then you produce the amount of work you usually would and to your standard. You don’t feel as burnt out, and you have energy left to get back to it tomorrow.
The second option seems a lot more logical.
When your energy levels are low but you’re tempted to just push through, ask yourself, “Am I going to produce anything of quality right now?” If there is doubt, it might be time to surrender and work up your energy from there.
Revisit your “energy givers” list and dedicate some time to build yourself up to peak productivity. If forcing a rest upon yourself is going to lead to guilt, then try the “doing” kind of resting such as cleaning, exercising, or prepping dinner.
Work Out Your Optimum Work Hours
Work with your energetic ebbs and flows by monitoring your working habits; note the times that you get the most done. Tuning into your body clock means you can make the most of the times you have optimum energy, and schedule more passive tasks for the times your energy is low.
Try to avoid comparing yourself to other people; it’s all about looking inwards rather than outwards!
The Main Take-Aways:
- Work with your energy, not against it
- Busyness doesn’t equal productivity
- It’s not how many hours you work, it’s what you get done in those hours that counts
For productivity, happiness, and keeping your cool, it’s all about energy management. Ease back on “scheduling” things and start keeping your energy in check instead.