Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time

Today, I sat down to write a completely different post about a far more flippant subject. I sat, and I stared, and I couldn’t do it. 

Lately, the world has felt a bit dark. I say this while acknowledging that I, of all people, have been extremely fortunate during this time. Those I love are healthy, my job is stable, and while I have worked hard to stay present and educated about the movements shaking our nation, others carry far more of that burden.

Nevertheless, managing constant uncertainty–economic, personal, medical, societal, and otherwise–sometimes seems to tint everything with a sort of gravitas. And I know I’m not alone; most of us are living some individual variation of this cycle of emotions. It makes it difficult to be our best selves.

So, in the absence of any precedent to lean on, I return to great advice I once received: 

“Manage energy rather than time.” 

You have probably heard the saying “progress is not linear.” It’s about time we acknowledged that energy is not either. Some mornings we wake up ready to take on the world, and some days going through the motions is the best we can do. The consequences of not giving ourselves the grace to have a low-energy day (or two or three) are more lasting than having one slightly less productive day. 

We call it burnout. 

Permission to pause is the best gift we can grant ourselves, and also the hardest. (I am talking to myself as much as I am talking to whoever may be reading this.) Sometimes setting ourselves up for success means allowing ourselves low energy periods so that we can dig in and work hard when it counts. Just like a big project or physical training, sometimes rest helps to return stronger and more focused than ever. 

We call it progress.

This is not to say that managing energy means forgoing discipline or throwing in the towel because we “don’t feel like it.” On the contrary, it is an invitation to ride the peaks and troughs of our own motivation in the most effective way possible. For example, in one study by Harvard Business Review, employees at Wachovia Bank increased revenues by up to 20% year over year versus a control group, simply by introducing rituals designed to better manage their energy.

Unsure how to manage your energy? Try focusing on the four pillars:

1// Body: The Vessel

Nothing works if your body doesn’t. The good news is that most of us can make all the adjustments we need holistically by sleeping more, eating better, drinking more water, and moving more. (I know, you’ve heard it all before, but bear with me.) This is by no means suggesting that you overhaul your routine to become a health junky. It means recognizing when you need to sleep until noon on a weekend to reboot from a tough week. It means drinking a Gatorade when you get back from a night out. It means putting something green on your plate at each meal. It means going for a walk to wake up in the morning instead of having a second cup of coffee. Small changes = big results. 

2// Mind: The Tools

If your body is the vessel, consider the mind your tools. They are inherent, the key is to use them appropriately. Put simply, you wouldn’t use a wrench to put a nail in the wall, yet that is the equivalent of how most of us structure our time. What most people don’t realize is that just like our body goes through sleep cycles (circadian rhythms), it goes through similar cycles (ultradian sprints) during our waking hours. 

Toward the end of each cycle, the body begins to crave a period of recovery. The signals include physical restlessness, yawning, hunger, and difficulty concentrating, but many of us ignore them and keep working. The consequence is that our energy reservoir—our remaining capacity—burns down as the day wears on.

What does this mean? It means that optimizing when we choose to do certain tasks, and when we choose to take breaks, is of the utmost importance. Two quick changes anyone can make:

  1. Take breaks every hour. Get up, walk around, have some water, get some sun, and get back to work.
  2. Take advantage of your peak period. Research shows that each of us has about 3 hours a day when we are at our best. Not sure if you are an early bird or a night owl? Take this quiz to find out!

3// Spirit: The Purpose

Motivation is impossible without meaning. Often, a crisis of energy is really a crisis of purpose. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to assign purpose to something that has none. What we can do, though, is to do our best to align our internal experience with our external. There are many techniques out there to assess how well we’re doing with this ranging from writing your own obituary to creating a priority quadrant. Trust me, it’s worth it.

4// Emotions: The Quality

Cultivating energy is not the only challenge. As we all know, there is good energy, and there is destructive energy; the difference is how we harness it. Emotional intelligence has been proven to help us lead more effectively, connect more deeply, and above all to be mentally healthy. Without emotional balance, it is impossible to maintain the energy we need to be happy and successful. Looking for ways to develop better emotional intelligence? This Forbes article has a number of easily actionable and effective tips.

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