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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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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on June 1, 2021

    7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy (And Need to Change That)

    7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy (And Need to Change That)

    “Busy” used to be a fair description of the typical schedule. More and more, though, “busy” simply doesn’t cut it.

    “Busy” has been replaced with “too busy”, “far too busy”, or “absolutely buried.” It’s true that being productive often means being busy…but it’s only true up to a point.

    As you likely know from personal experience, you can become so busy that you reach a tipping point…a point where your life tips over and falls apart because you can no longer withstand the weight of your commitments.

    Once you’ve reached that point, it becomes fairly obvious that you’ve over-committed yourself.

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    The trick, though, is to recognize the signs of “too busy” before you reach that tipping point. A little self-assessment and some proactive schedule-thinning can prevent you from having that meltdown.

    To help you in that self-assessment, here are 7 signs that you’re way too busy:

    1. You Can’t Remember the Last Time You Took a Day Off

    Occasional periods of rest are not unproductive, they are essential to productivity. Extended periods of non-stop activity result in fatigue, and fatigue results in lower-quality output. As Sydney J. Harris once said,

    “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

    2. Those Closest to You Have Stopped Asking for Your Time

    Why? They simply know that you have no time to give them. Your loved ones will be persistent for a long time, but once you reach the point where they’ve stopped asking, you’ve reached a dangerous level of busy.

    3. Activities like Eating Are Always Done in Tandem with Other Tasks

    If you constantly find yourself using meal times, car rides, etc. as times to catch up on emails, phone calls, or calendar readjustments, it’s time to lighten the load.

    It’s one thing to use your time efficiently. It’s a whole different ballgame, though, when you have so little time that you can’t even focus on feeding yourself.

    4. You’re Consistently More Tired When You Get up in the Morning Than You Are When You Go to Bed

    One of the surest signs of an overloaded schedule is morning fatigue. This is a good indication that you’ve not rested well during the night, which is a good sign that you’ve got way too much on your mind.

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    If you’ve got so much to do that you can’t even shut your mind down when you’re laying in bed, you’re too busy.

    5. The Most Exercise You Get Is Sprinting from One Commitment to the Next

    It’s proven that exercise promotes healthy lives. If you don’t care about that, that’s one thing. If you’d like to exercise, though, but you just don’t have time for it, you’re too busy.

    If the closest thing you get to exercise is running from your office to your car because you’re late for your ninth appointment of the day, it’s time to slow down.

    Try these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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    6. You Dread Getting up in the Morning

    If your days are so crammed full that you literally dread even starting them, you’re too busy. A new day should hold at least a small level of refreshment and excitement. Scale back until you find that place again.

    7. “Survival Mode” Is Your Only Mode

    If you can’t remember what it feels like to be ahead of schedule, or at least “caught up”, you’re too busy.

    So, How To Get out of Busyness?

    Take a look at this video:

    And these articles to help you get unstuck:

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    Featured photo credit: Khara Woods via unsplash.com

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