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Manage your energy

Posted by Meg Bear on June 6, 2009


2236367463_62013e10fe_mI used to think that I was the only one that had large swings in energy, but lately I have come to realize that this is just one of those things that we don’t want to share, so we might think it’s unique to us.

The reality, for me, is that I have pretty wild swings in energy (and thus productivity). It’s incredibly frustrating to me to have days of low energy, since on those days everything is hard.

On low energy days, often I can’t even muster up the will to work on anything even moderately difficult. I begin to procrastinate, since everything is too hard to start. If I stack up too many low energy days, complex tasks take a very long time, and my quality and quantity of output suffers.

Conversely, on high energy days everything is easy. I get huge amounts of work done, I am proud of what I did (and often those accomplishments give me more energy so everything goes great).

Lately I’ve been observing myself more closely, attempting to find out both what things give me energy and if I can will myself to have more of it.

While I can’t say I’ve perfected this, at any level, I have started to make some progress in actively discovering what gives me energy. I’ve started to predict when I will have high energy. I’m attempting to adjust my work, to better align with my energy flow.

I have always done this to some extent, but I’ve decided it’s time to be purposeful about the management of my energy.

I have given myself permission to do things that might appear less critical to my work, if it gives me energy. I have adjusted the things I work on during my high energy times of the day and week. I have saved administrative (and mindless) tasks for my low energy times.

I am learning that building energy is something I need to perfect. My job is not going to get smaller, I need to get bigger. I do not intend to grow my capacity by putting in more time, I intend to grow my capacity by getting better. Better at channeling my energy, better and creating energy and more efficient on how I use my high-value time.

I have noticed a real difference already, and I’m liking the results. Turns out, having high energy feels good and makes me want to do more.

What are your tricks for building energy? Specific things that build energy for me include:

  • thinking and talking about “big” things. Problems, ideas, concepts and trends that do not have easy or simple solutions — things that require learning
  • sleep — without sleep I’m cranky and that hits my energy hard
  • challenges met — identifying and conquering challenges give me enormous energy — thinking about things I did well and how I can do better
  • processing time — without some processing time, I get too overloaded with all my thinking. I process best by not thinking directly on a topic: sleep, reading something completely unrelated and effortless, driving, yoga, meditation. Anything that gives my brain a break
  • reading blogs and getting new ideas

What works for you? Have you learned to create energy for yourself?

12 Responses to “Manage your energy”

  1. I would add connecting and talking with peers, colleagues, or friends that you know to be positive, energetic, and stimulating. Spending 20 minutes talking to one of the those people usually gives me a boost of energy, optimism, and enthusiasm. There are so many great folks to draw upon, it makes sense to use that resource.

    Great post Meg!

  2. A to-do list a mile long drains my energy and in addition to your list and Steve’s comment above – completing a task, no matter how small, to release even just a little bit of pressure helps get my momentum back. Another energy producer for me these days – exercise. Nice post. You most definitely are not alone!

  3. JV said

    With your long experience, you have analyzed and been able to present this phenomenon in a very precise manner. I think anyone involved in a lot of mental activity experiences this kind of swing in energy levels.
    There are those days when, as a programmer, i’m just in the ‘zone’ where any problem is trivial and then, there are days when i just can’t help procrastinating on even the most trivial tasks and then question my own abilities!

    Good sleep is definitely helpful (just another half hour can also do wonders). And yes, solving newer and more complex problems – just tell me it’s been done before and somehow, a switch seems to flip in my brain (huh, so what’s new – this is a solved problem)

    I think with experience, will power and practice, one can channelize these energy levels and your excellent post is a great start…

  4. Meg Bear said

    @Steve good one, talking with the *right* people is a huge boost for me too.
    @Lisa, I knew someone would say exercise, for me it’s actually a neutral to energy. If I don’t get exercise that is negative but frankly I still find it a chore. Of course, yoga is different for me, I’m guessing that’s the mental part.
    @JV – I think the idea of solving a new problem is all about finding our “zone”, feeling good about ourselves.

  5. Vivian Wong said

    Great post Meg!

    I tend to “create energy” for myself by identifying and doing purposeful work; I maintain my energy level by adopting an attitude that every experience has its silver lining (meditation helps); and like Steve and Lisa, I get my energy boost from interacting with smart and positive people (luckily for me, I have plenty of colleagues and friends who can boost my energy level anytime of the day!)

    Cheers!

  6. Ravi Banda said

    Great post Meg and I also go through a phase of energy ups and downs –

    There are few things that can quickly move me from a low to high energy – (this sounds like an electron jumping up the orbital levels)
    1) Troubleshoot issues
    2) Brainstorming ideas
    3) Sharing knowledge

    And actually once I get to this high energy state, I also squeeze in some not so interesting work and get past them.

  7. Louise Barnfield said

    Thanks for this, Meg!
    Oh boy, can I identify with all you’ve said – nice to know it’s not just me!🙂
    I’m with Ravi! Brainstorming and sharing knowledge with colleagues definitely gets me energized. The power of a well-functioning and synergistic team is a wonderful thing!🙂

  8. Meg,
    Great post. Sometimes I get energy by spending a couple hours knocking some “tedious tasks” off the to-do list. I agree with Lisa Rosendahl that those lists are counter-productive to energy. So, by getting rid of the list I feel like I’m ready to tackle something big.

    For me, getting outside in the sun also perks me up. Especially if a good friend/colleague is with me so we can laugh about something.

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