Why can we never get enough done in a day? It’s not because we’re inefficient or bad at what we do. In fact, it’s less about time management–and more about energy management. Let us explain.
You don’t need to force yourself to jam more in. The key is to respect and cultivate better energy so that you can optimize the hours you do have. According to performance experts Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr in their book The Power of Full Engagement, there are four kinds of energy: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. We rely on a mix of each energy source to get us through the day. The goal is to support and maintain a steady, healthy flow of energy–without forcing it beyond its limits.
Here are Schwartz and Loehr’s key principles for managing your energy more skillfully on and off the job:
1. Physical energy
Warning signs: You feel groggy, sleepy, heavy, or even weak.
How to boost it: The less you move and engage your body physically, the less energy you will have–no matter how much coffee you fill it with. While the last thing you probably feel like doing when you feel physically tired is get moving, it’s the one thing that will get you over this hurdle.
Experiment with exercising at different times of day: Some people can’t start their day without it, and others love to use it to shake off stress in the evening. Find your sweet spot, and aim to get up out of your chair at some point during the workday and take a brisk walk to keep energy moving.
2. Mental energy
Warning signs: You’re unable to think straight, focus, or problem solve. Sometimes, you’re lucky if you can say your own name.
How to boost it: Shift tasks. You can expect 90 minutes to about 2 hours of focus before your attention starts to split and snag on anything that pops up. If you’ve been doing some monotonous work for a few hours, turn your attention to some more complex problems that require creative solutions–say, a tricky customer service issue.
Or the opposite: If you’ve been dealing with very heady issues for hours, switch tasks and handle the mail, email, or some basic chore to break up your day.
Pay attention to your inner rhythm and you can time your projects and tasks to match your energy levels throughout the day. If you’re a morning person, tackle anything more intensive, complicated, or that requires writing in the morning–and leave emails and smaller tasks for the 3 PM slump. Or, if you’re a night owl, make mornings less challenging by prepping at night when you’re still alert and awake.
3. Emotional energy
Warning signs: Nervousness, anxiety, prone to distraction, reactive, short-tempered, even weepy. An upsetting call or difficult conversation can take a whopping toll on your ability to stay focused or solve problems.
How to boost it: Ignoring it won’t help, but you also can’t afford to be emotionally derailed all day while you cope with an issue. Instead, give yourself safe, sacred time to address the source of emotional stress.
This may mean different things to different people. While your friend may prefer to bang a couple miles out around the track, you may be better served by taking 15 minutes to yourself to breathe, listen to music, or call a good friend. Never underestimate the powerful, healing effects of sleep, either. Without enough, you’ll be more vulnerable to stress. During times of low emotional energy,you need more rest, not less.
4. Spiritual energy
Warning signs: Depressed, aloof, feeling detached, aimless, bored. You may start to feel like your efforts don’t matter or experience a loss of purpose.
How to boost it: Spiritual energy isn’t necessarily about religion. It’s about feeling like your life has meaning and purpose. So, take a step back and give yourself a chance to identify the source of this feeling. What’s happened recently to make you think this way? Are you feeling uninspired at work? In need of a new creative outlet? Disconnected from your community? Healing spiritual energy requires self-directed compassion and trust. Of course you (and your work) have purpose–losing sight of it doesn’t mean it’s gone or never existed.
First, take steps to rekindle connection with people around you. Think about how what you do–be it at work, at home, or out in your community–affects the people you see, and even the people you don’t see. As meQuilibrium’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Andrew Shatté says, feeling this connection to others is critical for attaining the highest level of happiness.
Then, look upward–choose a new source of inspiration and expose yourself to new ideas. Pick up a new book, sign up for an art class, volunteer at your local community garden or animal shelter. Doing the same thing over and over can’t lift you out of this rut; you need to allow yourself to be lifted by the words and wisdom of others.
And when you start seeing your life in this way, you’ll find that your well of energy hasn’t run dry; you merely had to tap it again.