Life can get pretty chaotic. And oftentimes we find ourselves struggling to keep our heads above water in the sea of obligations and commitments. I have personally found myself drinking from the proverbial “fire hose” of life on many occasions. As of late, I’ve started to pay a lot more attention to the ways that I spend my energy throughout the day to avoid “redlining” my engine unnecessarily. In thinking critically about it, I felt it was important to distinguish between time management versus energy management; the former dealing with clock-based tips/tricks and the latter centering more around the allocation of energy as you choose your mindset and undertakings throughout the day. Both are certainly important drivers in the struggle to find physical and mental space. However, my contention is that the implementation of all the time management tricks in the world can still leave you feeling emotionally and physically drained at the end of the day. And as such, I believe that focus on energy allocation should precede, or at least factor into, your decisions about time management.
The absolute amount of your energy on any given day, unlike time, is constantly fluctuating based on a myriad of factors. As such, the amount of energy that you can allocate to the various undertakings in your life will also fluctuate. It would make sense then to try to maximize the pool of available energy for allocation and also to minimize activities that require the most energy for the least amount of returns. It feels like a math equation…but before you non-quants out there get scared and glaze over, let’s break it down a little.
Maximizing Your Pool of Energy
The old thermodynamics law of energy conservation need not apply here (i.e. that energy cannot be created or destroyed in an isolated system). We are not isolated systems. Our capacity for physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual energy are infinite under the right circumstances. But it takes conscious work to unlock such potential…we don’t come hard-wired to achieve such optimization out-of-the-box. Through continuous learning and experimentation we can each find the right recipe to optimize our daily pool of available energy. Some of the following have been helpful to me along this path:
- Eat healthy and get at least 6.5 hours of sleep/night (physical & emotional)
- Exercise and stretch routinely (physical)
- Read and study self-help books (intellectual & emotional)
- Meditate (physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual)
- Listen to inspirational podcasts or audio books (intellectual & emotional)
Obviously, the less that we expand our circle of consciousness by exploration of anti-energy-producing activities (usually the opposite of the things l’ve listed above), the smaller the pool of energy available to us. And life is challenging enough without starting out in a hole…so put the cigarettes and Twinkies down!
Minimize Activities with Low Energy Cost-to-Return Ratios
The activities, conversations, thoughts, hobbies, etc. that you choose to undertake during the day have an inherent energy cost. That is, they require the expenditure of your physical, emotional, intellectual, and/or spiritual energy by virtue of the fact that they exist in your life that day. Your job, then, is to choose a path throughout the day that allows you to expend your energy in the most beneficial way so as to maximize your happiness and fulfillment. And that path is different for every person. Arguing with a stranger on the subway about the merits of plastic surgery as a gateway to world peace would seem to have a high energy-to-return ratio whereas reading a book to your child would tend to have a low energy-to-return ratio (for most…far be it from me to judge!). Obsessing about Susan from Accounting who is definitely stealing your supply of paper clips and is most definitely out to destroy you? High energy-to-return ratio (just in case you needed another example to flesh it out…”high” is not good).
To complicate matters, all of the above elements are dynamic. What works well one day may not work the next. And humans are notorious for operating on auto-pilot once they find a routine that works…despite the fact that the routine may be useless, obsolete, and/or energy-sucking! In training for my first triathlon, I remember flailing around the pool for months before it donned on me that my technique was the reason that I couldn’t complete one lap without hyperventilating. I had just gotten in the habit of swimming every day so I continued reinforcing the same bad techniques without ever thinking that there might be a better way (I never claimed to be a genius).
My recommendation is that you make a habit out of undertaking those activities that stand to maximize your available energy reserves while continuously analyzing your daily energy expenditures for opportunities to optimize…the goal being to end each day feeling like you still have a little extra gas in the tank rather than having four flat tires and a blown head gasket. By looking very deliberately at my days in through this lens, I’ve cut out some pretty surprising activities that once served me well but no longer hold the same value…I was just on auto-pilot. I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m making progress and I generally feel more “optimized” than I did just months ago. Not every day…but on the whole.