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Managing the Ebb and Flow of Energy

Managing the Ebb and Flow of Energy

    Humans aren’t machines; we don’t have a constant source of power from which we draw to perform complicated functions all the time, without breaks. Rather, our power supplies—or our energy levels—dip and rise with each hour of the day, and they even wax and wane on a much larger level, and we find ourselves in periods of great motivation and energy or periods where we just want to do what we need to do to survive and no more.

    And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, when we refuse to listen to our cycles of high and low energy, we make things worse, not better. If energy is low and we’re pushing ourselves, then energy will only get lower, faster. When we pay attention to these cycles and allow time for both recovery and hard work, the low energy periods end faster and our high energy periods are really high energy, and not just half or a quarter of what it should be.

    Those times when we’re running on empty and need to slow down aren’t totally unproductive, though. They’re good for the fermentation and incubation of ideas, the processing and analysis of big decisions and other various background functions that don’t take much energy, but do take time for the mind to really resolve the missing pieces.

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    It is important to manage the ebb and flow of energy and motivation, both on a daily basis and a long-term basis. When you manage these cycles rather than ignore them, you are far more productive, but more importantly, you’re happier too.

    1. Get to know your tides of energy

    Like our energy levels, the tides of the ocean have a consistent ebb and flow. Fishermen know the tides like the back of their hand and that means they always know when to go fishing and catch the most fish.

    There are many factors that contribute to our energy levels. On an average day, a person may know he’ll feel energized all morning, until after lunchtime, when he has low energy that suits busywork such as answering emails. Then, at 3PM, he may hit empty and need to take a nap, depending on whether he had beer or water with lunch.

    On the other hand, another person may have a totally different pattern. She might not wake up until the morning’s almost over, bum around the house until two in the afternoon and then work straight through until midnight. Evidently, she’s a freelancer.

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    The point is, we can learn how our energy levels will change on a typical day. Pay attention and be mindful of the ebb and flow, and once you know when you’re most productive and most tired on a typical day, you can make a good guess as to how an atypical day might affect you.

    2. Plan your tasks around these patterns

    Corporate culture dictates that the first thing one does in the morning is check email. This is fantastic if you’re least energetic during that time, but destroys your effectiveness if you’re most energetic before lunch.

    But now that you know when you have the most energy and motivation, it can be pretty hard to justify such a squandering of that time. Step two, and perhaps the most important step, is to plan your daily tasks to suit the way you work best.

    Don’t rely on hard and fast rules, though. Just because you feel a certain way almost every day doesn’t mean you will every day. If you feel as though you won’t kick into high gear until afternoon on a given day, shift your task list around to suit.

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    The easiest way to plan around your energy patterns starts when you’re writing up your task list, not when you’re actually scheduling the items. Mark out each item with a high, medium or low energy requirement; if it’s processing email, it might be low, or perhaps it is time to reply to a few that require some research of facts—that’s probably medium. And if you need to write a long article or tackle a marketing campaign, mark those tasks as high.

    Now, you’ve already blocked your day out in sections of high, medium and low energy. Load up iCal, or open your daily planner, or whatever it is you prefer to use, and it’s a fairly simple manner to dump each item into the appropriate section of the day.

    Don’t forget that lists work best with some form of prioritization; if you’ve prioritized items in your task list before transferring them to your schedule, you know which order to put items of the same energy requirement in.

    3. Optimize your energy levels

    The first two steps help you make the most of your existing energy patterns, and making the most of what is already might be fine for you. Personally, I think that once we understand something and make it work as it is, there’s no place to go but up. This is the part where you start to optimize your levels of energy.

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    This involves a good, hard look at the way you live—diet, sleep, exercise, working habits, ergonomic factors (is your workspace arranged poorly, draining your energy faster as you struggle to sit upright?), and emotional factors (does bringing up the bills with your spouse always drain your energy before work even begins?).

    I recommend experimenting with each area of your life that impacts on your day-to-day energy levels one at a time, in isolation. If you make three changes at once you can’t be sure which ones are working, or if one of those things is cancelling out the benefits of another.

    When you find things that have a definite positive effect on your daily energy level, turn it into a habit, perhaps through the use of a 30-day trial which’ll give you enough time to decide whether it’s worth the effort before declaring that change as permanent.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

    16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

    The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

    How about a unique spin on things?

    These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

    1. Empty your mind.

    It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

    Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

    Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

    Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

    How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

    2. Keep certain days clear.

    Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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    This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

    3. Prioritize your work.

    Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

    Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

    Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

    How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    4. Chop up your time.

    Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

    5. Have a thinking position.

    Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

    What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

    6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

    To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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    Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

    7. Don’t try to do too much.

    OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

    8. Have a daily action plan.

    Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

    Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

    9. Do your most dreaded project first.

    Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

    10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

    The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

    11. Have a place devoted to work.

    If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

    But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

    Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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    Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

    12. Find your golden hour.

    You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

    Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

    Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

    Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

    13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

    It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

    By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

    Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

    14. Never stop.

    Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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    Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

    There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

    15. Be in tune with your body.

    Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

    16. Try different methods.

    Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

    It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

    Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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