Thriving on purpose: managing energy, not just time

As an Ennegram Type 1, I’m preternaturally interested in doing everything the best, most correct way. I love processes and systems, and am always searching for how to refine and improve how I do anything/everything. Because of this, I’m an encyclopedia for time-management strategies and tactics (and obviously SO MUCH FUN at parties), but no matter how many best-practices I adopt, I’ve come to believe that there is no replacement for energy management.

You can Pomodoro and GTD all day long (both are extremely helpful!), but if you’re not managing your energy well, you’re not really optimizing your performance (vocationally, relationally, physically—none of it). Below, I lay out the three basic layers of energy management, and at the bottom I’ve included a few guiding questions and exercise to help set you on a path to thriving in your full energy.

So what do I mean by “managing energy?”

First, I mean energy awareness. Each of us fluctuates throughout the day between degrees/stages of energy. Consider your own body and mind. Do you tend to feel a little sleepy or lethargic after lunch? Is there a point in the afternoon where you mind says “enough!” and you find cognitive work to be more of a struggle? Do you find it easy to read long passages of text first thing in the morning? These are all different stages of energy, and when we’re aware of our natural energy patterns (and how different lifestyle choices and circumstances affect those patterns), we can begin to manage our energy.

Second, I mean energy alignment. Consider the various “work” you do throughout the day. It’s likely you have some combination of the following:

  • light housework and errands (laundry, running to the post office, doing the grocery shopping, etc.)
  • basic communication (texts, phone calls, emails, etc.)
  • heavier communication (writing detailed reports or analysis, etc.)
  • relational communication (in-person engagement with loved ones, friends, co-workers)
  • simple and complex problem solving (planning meals for the week, all the way up to determining how to fill a gap in anticipated revenue)
  • creative ideation and execution (from handcrafts and art, to development of revenue generating products and services)

Consider the many draws on your energy, and your awareness of your own typical energy patterns; can you rearrange your tasks to more closely align with your energy patterns? For example, if you tend to be most creative in the 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM hours, and have a real energy slump around 7:00 PM, it would make sense to do your creative “heavy-lifting” from 10-12, and save simple communication and light housework for the evening hours. When we begin to view our energy as a finite resource, and understand that all of our tasks draw from that finite resource, we can begin to better manage our energy.

And third, I mean energy maintenance, and creation. Again, consider your own body and mind. What (non-chemical stimulant) gives you an energy boost? What feels like it drains the life out of you? Here’s a quick list of some of the most common energy-boosters, and energy-drainers:

Common Energy Boosters:

  • Exercise (which includes brisk walking!)
  • Consistently getting a full night’s sleep (7-9 hours for most people)
  • Consistently staying hydrated (approximately half your body-weight in ounces of water—not coffee, or energy drinks, or soda)
  • Healthful nutrition (eating only when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, sticking mostly to veggies, lean proteins and some fruit)
  • Meaningful connection with a friend or loved one; feeling seen and understood (even 10 short minutes is beneficial for your body and mind)
  • 20 minute “power naps”
  • Acts of service and encouragement
  • Reading/listening to edifying books, podcasts, articles, lectures, sermons, music etc.

Common Energy Drainers:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Shortchanging yourself on sleep (getting fewer than 7 hours, for most people)
  • Chemical stimulants (excess coffee, energy drinks, soda, juice, etc.)
  • Lack of hydration (water!)
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Innutritious eating habits (heavy in refined carbohydrates, fatty proteins, processed and added sugars; eating for “entertainment,” overeating, skipping meals)
  • Unhealthy connection with others (lack of meaningful in-person connection, fruitless arguing/debating on the internet, not feeling seen or understood)
  • Reading/listening to divisive/ugly/generally unhelpful books, podcasts, articles, lectures, music etc.

If we want to flourish in all of our facets (vocationally, relationally, physically, spiritually, etc.), then it’s not enough to be a good time manager, though that’s helpful. As a process-oriented person, it’s easy for me to forget the very human element of energy when I plan my days; I’m absolutely kidding myself if I think I’m going to get heavy cognitive work done after 7:00 PM! But when I remember to account for my energy, align my tasks to it, and live in a way that sustains and promotes energy growth, I can really flourish. And that’s what I hope for you, too.

Here are some beginning questions to ask yourself, and quick exercises to begin the habit of improved energy management:

  1. Energy Awareness. Considering both my body and mind, how does my energy tend to fluctuate throughout the day? When do I feel sleepy or lethargic? When does cognitive work become exponentially more difficult? When do I naturally “lose myself” in a creative project? Draw a little timeline on a slip of paper, starting from the time you wake up, to the time you should go to sleep, and mark your “low,” “medium” or “high” energy times.
  2. Energy Alignment. Considering the tasks of each day, and my awareness of my typical energy patterns, how can I rearrange my tasks to more closely align with my energy patterns? Make a list of your typical tasks, and mark them as “low,” “medium” or “high” energy, and then plot those tasks onto your timeline. Try following this improved workflow, making adjustments as needed.
  3. Energy maintenance, and creation. Make a two-column list: “things the boost my energy,” and “things that drain my energy.” Quickly jot down as many items as you can think of. Then, ask yourself “are my lifestyle choices supporting energy maintenance and creation, or are they draining my energy, and preventing me from flourishing?” Challenge: for the next 40 days, pick at least one item from the “boosting” column to add to your days, and one item from the “draining” column to drop from your days.

There’s so much more to this topic that I want to share, but before I do, I want to hear from any of you who try these three simple steps. What gives you energy? What drains your energy? Does anything about this process cause you concern, or fear? Please take a moment to let me know, either in the comments below, or email me privately at melissajenna (at) gmail (dot) com.

Peace (and improved energy) to you!
mj

%d bloggers like this: