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

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Trading Fashion for Wisdom: A Small Prayer Answered in A Big Way

Image from thecherryblossomgirl.com

A few weeks ago I made the decision to suspend my reading of my favorite fashion and style blogs. I never had much time for them anyway, five minutes here, ten minutes there, but after spending some time thinking about a thing some bloggers do called “What I Wore Wednesday,” (WIWW) I was inspired to make a change in my internet consumption. While WIWW is cute and fun and born out of the best intentions, to me, I can’t shake the way it seems to epitomize the me-centric culture of the Internet. (Maybe I’ll write more about that another day.) So I’m clear: I love the bloggers that participate in WIWW. I still read them on the daily. But WIWW just rubs me the wrong way, is all. (Bunkering-down in preparation for backlash.)

Before I go any further, you need to know that as much as quitting reading fashion blogs might not seem like a big deal, it’s actually somewhat of a sacrifice for me. I love the art of fashion (especially “high fashion”), and how subtle choices in personal style have the distinct power to communicate one’s personality and values. But my innocent penchant for blogs of the sartorial type was stirring a dissatisfaction in my heart. (I find “want” to be the root of most of any unhappiness I feel, so I’m very sensitive to snuffing out “want” when it rears its buttery cashmere or italian-leather head.) Thus, my decision to abstain from the world of fashion and street-style.

By quitting indulging my desire for fashion and style content, it was my intent to make room for something greater, but I didn’t really know what that greater thing was.

So I prayed. (Seems to me that that’s almost always the beginning of a life-changing story, no?)

I committed the time I gained by not reading fashion blogs to God, and told him that I trusted him to fill that void with something Him-focused. Something great. Something WOW. And guess what? He did!

A few days went by wherein I simply had a little more time in my day to use however I saw fit. Mostly I did housework. Sometimes I read scripture. But really, I wasn’t feeling God pointing me towards anything in my new-found “free-time.” And I really wanted to sit down and read thecherryblossomgirl.com. But instead, I kept praying, telling God that I’m happy to wait as long as he wants me to in order to discover more of His heart.

familylife.com family life today

Logo courtesy of familylife.com

One day, in the moments after I finished my morning housework and before Ellie woke up from her nap, I sat down at my computer, but instead of going to thecherryblossomgirl, I went to familylife.com (home of my favorite radio program, FamilyLife Today), and WOW! I’ve been listening to FamilyLife Today for over a year now, but I had no idea of the wealth of information available on their website. I struck gold in their “audio” section. Literally hundreds of hours of podcasts from years past on topics ranging from parenting, to feminism to guarding your safety on the Internet, all for free! I downloaded everything. We’re talking gigabytes of audio podcasts, and each of them is so good.

Through the archive at familylife.com, I’ve “met” Susan Hunt (who I wish would adopt me as her honorary granddaughter), Carolyn McCulley (author of Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World, and an absolute treasure), Dr. Tim Kimmell (author of Grace-Based Parenting), Dannah Gresh (author of What Are You Waiting For?: The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex) Nancy Leigh DeMoss…I could go on and on.

The wisdom shared in each episode is nearly overwhelming, and has provided so much food for thought and conversation with my husband. What an incredible answer to prayer! I’ve grown so much just in the past three weeks– it’s more than I could have ever thought to ask God for, and has spurned a whole new passion for my calling as a wife, mother, home-maker and woman. What a blessing! I love the way God knows my heart, and knows exactly what I need and just doesn’t hold back. I feel like a kid who asks for a serving of ice cream for desert, but instead her parents fill a kiddie-pool with it and say “go nuts, kid!” I never could have imagined God would respond this way.

One last thing. Get this: I look forward to washing dishes, steaming our floors and folding our laundry, not only because it blesses my family, but because during those times I get to listen to the wisdom and insight of so many leaders on FamilyLife Today, growing me up as a daughter in Christ. Anything that can get me excited to steam the floor has got to be a good thing! And I can share the fact that I downloaded, literally, gigabytes of their past episodes without shame because I made a donation in support of their ministry. If you happen to get into their podcasts and love them as much as I do, won’t you also consider contributing? I’d love for them to stay on the air for forever. 🙂

I’ll tell you what: trading Dior and Alexander Wang for dishsoap and some podcasts was totally and completely worth it! And I cannot wait to see what God has in store next.

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