Part of creating a life that you love is choosing how you spend your time and your energy. Most of us have a finite amount of mental energy each day. And just as we waste time on nonessential things, we waste energy too. But unlike time, where you can clearly measure how much you are using in a given day, tracking your energy levels is a bit trickier. You may not even be aware that an activity or person is draining your energy and making you feel tired, stressed, anxious or overwhelmed.
Where Attention Goes, Energy Flows
We can waste energy without even knowing it. For example, everyone knows that it is important to take breaks throughout the workday in order to recharge and refocus, but if your work break is spent scrolling through Facebook or online news your mind doesn’t register it as a break. Your brain doesn’t differentiate between an article about Trump’s latest Twitter war or an upcoming budget report. It doesn’t register that you are taking a break from work and now is the time for it to rest for a few minutes.
What Do You think About?
What you think about can also drain energy reserves. Do you dwell on past mistakes or worry about the future? Do focus on negative situations in your life or the world around you?
Everyone knows that eating a lot of junk food will make you feel tired and drained. It really isn’t any different with your brain. If you feed your brain a diet of negative thoughts, it’s going to tire more easily and leave you feeling even more stressed and exhausted.
Do you spend a lot of energy on negative things like office gossip, worry, or stress? If your energy is drained by negative thoughts and emotions, by the end of the workday you’ll feel exhausted and unmotivated. Que the Chinese take out and Netflix.
Designing Your Life
You may not be aware of what or who is draining your energy. In their book Designing Your Life, Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dale Evans created a tool to help students track which daily activities give them more energy and which make them feel depleted. Students were asked to track the activities they did each hour and how they felt during those activities. Jotting down how you feel throughout the day, along with what you are doing offers insight into what is working and what isn’t.
I did this exercise for a week and was quickly able to identify negative habits that I hadn’t been aware of that were leaving me feeling drained and unmotivated, including surfing the news while I ate lunch at my desk and binge watching Netflix after dinner until I was ready to go to bed. I also noticed that interacting with certain people left me feeling exhausted.
Recognize What Drains Your Energy
Once I recognized my personal energy drainers, I made a plan to change these habits and my environment. I began scheduling lunch dates with my work friends, so I wouldn’t eat alone at my desk. Or if I wasn’t feeling chatty (because I am a wicked introvert), I would eat outside or in the conference room, away from my computer. After work when I was tempted to just lay on the couch watching OITNB, I made a short list of easy chores I had to do first, like starting a load of laundry, emptying the dishwasher, or taking a short 10 minute walk to clear my head.
The result was a lot more energy in the evenings to spend with my family as well practicing some self care routines. I also limited the time I spent with toxic people by not engaging in more conversation than is necessary or polite.
Just as tracking your time is a day planner helps you be more productive and focused, tracking how you spend your energy lets you identify tasks, people, activities that drain you and leave you feeling tired and depleted.
Download your free energy tracking worksheet
Do this daily exercise for one week and see if you can identify patterns of low energy and high energy activities. The goal is to identify what makes you feel more energetic and figure how to do more of those things every day!
As you use the energy tracking tool, consider the following questions:
What’s working my life right now?
What do I want to change?
What are my obstacles to making these changes?
Who can help me?
What could I start doing different today?
Tracking your energy provides you with an opportunity to make a different choice next time. Instead of checking Facebook, leave your phone at your desk and take a walk. Instead of indulging in the latest office mama-drama watercooler talk, do a five minute stretch break.
Small tweaks to your daily routines can help you conserve energy and feel better throughout the day, rather than exhausted and worn out when you leave work.
Tracking your energy also helps you stagger energy draining activities that are non=negotiable parts of work or life (staff meetings, long commutes, pick-your-poison, etc…) with activities that give you a boost. For example, if you have an important staff meeting that you know will leave you feeling low on energy, plan something to look forward to following the meeting, such as lunch with your work BFF. Don’t try jumping into the next thing on your to do list when your energy reserves are empty.
Pick one or two energy draining activity that you want to change and begin thinking about how you can improve or eliminate it. Then connect with me at our Barefoot Creatives Facebook group and share your biggest AHA moments and how you plan to create a life you love.
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