After having introduced the concept of Energy Management in my last article, I would now like to talk about some practical applications. Just a quick recap: The term “Energy Management” refers to the idea that in order to be more productive, you need to make the best use of your mental and physical energy. This tops out all other productivity efforts, like finding your “purpose” or organizing your to-dos. Energy Manangement always has to come first.
Applying energy management to your life involves two steps:
- Maximizing your available energy
- Making use of your available energy in the smartest possible way
For this article, I am going to focus on the first step, how to maximize your available energy during the day. Basically, you want to make sure you have as much fuel in the tank as possible. Having this fuel will make a huge difference for your personal productivity as most people tend to operate with half a tank on a regular basis—so regularly, in fact, that they don’t even recognize it anymore and just assume that they are running on their base energy level.
The following list will set out my personal action plan for “getting your tank filled.” By no means is this an extensive list! If you can integrate my action plan into your life, great! If not, take my suggestions as a starting point to explore what works for you.
Optimize your sleep:
If I could choose just one thing to tackle from this list, it would be sleep. If you wake up feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck, you just can’t expect yourself to be productive.
Things to do:
- Turn off all electronic devices (TV, computer, cell phone, etc.) at least 2 hours before you go to bed. Blue light exposure before bed time will mess with your circadian rhythm, big time.
- Dim the lights to create a mellow, relaxing atmosphere. Even better, use candles.
- Read a book, preferably fiction. Avoid self-help books and the like, as they tend to get you all motivated and excited – not good when you are trying to fall asleep.
- Go to bed as early as possible, ideally shortly after sunset.
- Go to bed around the same time every day.
- Sleep at least 9 to 10 hours. Yes, you read that right. If you exercise a lot, sleep even longer. Contrary to popular belief, 6 to 8 hours are simply not enough to completely recharge your batteries. And cutting down on sleep is not a virtue of the hard-working, high performer. It’s simply dumb. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
- If at all possible, wake up without an alarm.
Reduce distractions & stress:
- Turn off the internet during the day as much as possible.
- Turn off the phone during the day as much as possible.
- If you are forced to spend much time in a noisy environment, wear ear protectors or noise-cancelling headphones.
- Stop multi-tasking, i.e. doing two or more things at once. Take simplification to the extreme. Doing so is vital. If you take a call on your cell, stop walking. If you are cooking, don’t be watching TV at the same time. And so on. Multi-tasking is one of the most unproductive behaviors. Numerous studies have shown this fact. It contributes to addled minds that can’t focus on anything.
- Stop switching back and forth between tasks. Complete one task first, and then complete the next.
Get rid of energy vampires:
Some people’s sole purpose of existence seems to be to rid other people of their energy reserves: the person who always wants to tell you about his or her relationship problems, the clinical narcissist who constantly sends you pictures of him or herself, the person who always wants to get drunk together. As soon as you start recognizing such patterns in people, get rid of them. Don’t be nice about it. Don’t let them down softly. Just cut them out. Don’t reply to anything they send you, and block them on your phone and computer. If you are in the same place with them by some unfortunate accident, move away as soon as they start talking to you. Be a complete jerk; otherwise, they just won’t get the message.
Eat for energy & health:
Implementing this piece of advice is a tough one, as eating healthfully is such an energy-consuming habit to establish in the first place. For the majority of people in the Western world, food addictions to sugar, empty carbs and starches, and bad fats have become so commonplace that they are not even considered addictions. But that is exactly what they are: food addictions, and yes, they are comparable to drug addictions. I certainly used to be a food addict, and I am still recovering from those behaviors. But you just can’t afford to turn a blind eye to it. Bad eating habits will have severe consequences, both in the short term (feeling constantly lazy and tired) and in the long term (all kinds of diseases—among them heart failure and numerous cancers).
So what to eat? I would recommend a paleo diet or something very, very similar to it, consisting mostly of fresh vegetables and high quality meat and fish and some eggs, fruits, and nuts. Again, this diet may seem a radical course of action to most people. But it’s hard to be productive in the long run if you are consistently destroying your body by eating a carb-filled and processed-food-centered diet. An anti-energy diet will catch up with you.
- Make walking an everyday activity. Walking is one of our essential modes of existence, even more important than working out. Evolutionarily, we were meant to walk. Spending most of your time sitting down has disastrous effects on your health, so get as much walking in as you can.
- Spend a lot of time in nature (ideally walking around).
- Do a resistance workout 2 or 3 times a week, like lifting weights, a body weight routine, or something similar. Jogging or stepping onto a cardio machine do not constitute a workout!
The Big One (optional)
All of the aforementioned are excellent methods to have the maximum amount of energy available during the day. But, and that’s a big but, most of these things represent completely new habits to most people, and they also take a lot of energy to implement before they yield results! And now we are actually getting to the core of the problem: Many people’s current lifestyles don’t allow for any new habits because their energy reservoir is already completely used up. Such people have a serious problem. They are essentially trapped. Somebody or some system in place is making sure they can’t move by completely occupying them, by taking up all their energy. If this is you, what should you do?
Obviously, that’s an article in itself, but the quick answer is: If you are nailed down like this and especially if you feel nailed down like this, some very serious changes are probably in order. This could mean quitting your job or only working part-time. It could mean getting out of a major relationship in your life. It could mean finally going against the expectations others have for you and instead trying to find your own way, one that truly fits you.
For many people, such changes might be the most important things to do on this list—before even thinking about implementing any other energy enhancing habits. But such changes might also be the most liberating thing you ever do, so really think it through. Don’t compromise too easily just because you are scared or because you encounter too many obstacles. As you see, applied Energy Management can become pretty serious business.