3 Destructive Work Habits That Can Drain the Energy Right Out of You

by Henrik Edberg


Image by DaedaLusT (license).

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
Benjamin Franklin

The most important thing for me to manage during my work day and work week is not my time but my energy.

Why?

  • Self-kindness. When I tried to use my time in the most effective way it worked for a short while. But then my energy simply ran out and I felt stress and it didn’t matter too much if I had freed up some extra time because I didn’t have the energy to use that time in a good way anyway.
  • I get more of the most important things done in a better way. When I manage my energy in a smart way I get more of the absolutely most important things done and my work is of higher quality. Because I am able to think more slowly and clearly, stress becomes less of a factor and because I have more energy to spare to put into the task at hand.

Today I’d like to share three mistakes I have made – and think are quite common – that have certainly sucked a lot of extra and unnecessary energy out of me in the past. And what to do about them.

1. No smart balance between fully resting and fully working.

This was certainly one of the biggest mistakes I made with my energy. And if I get a bit overenthusiastic I still make it from time to time.

The mistake is basically that I worked for maybe 2 or 3 hours without any breaks.

It works pretty well. For a while. Until the afternoon comes and you have no energy left. Or until the middle of the week arrives and you feel drained and uninspired and you get little of importance done at all.

You may feel stressed or enthusiastic and want to get things done as quickly as possible. But keeping such a pace simply doesn’t work.

What I have found works a lot better to keep my energy and mental sharpness up for the whole day and week is to work in a single-tasking manner for 45 minutes. Then I take a break for 15 minutes.

During my break I step away from the computer. I may take a short walk outside. Or maybe do the dishes. Or watch half an episode of Community or the Office. I do something totally different than my work and I focus on that thing in single-tasking way too because that helps me to recharge myself even better.

Then I work for another 45 minutes. After that I take a longer break for maybe half an hour or if it is time for lunch then I eat that.

If you have trouble sticking with those time limits then use a stop watch or a kitchen timer.

2. No firm limits for your work and for how you think about it.

This can be huge energy drain that can cause terrible amounts of stress.

When you set no firm limits for your work hours, when you bring your work home, work late a lot or are always available via your cell phone for instance then your work life and home life blurs together.

There are no clear borders between them. And so you may be worrying about something at work while trying to go to sleep at night. You may be thinking of something you have to get done tomorrow while your family or a friend tries to have some quality time with you.

Your thoughts may go round and round in your head and your stress levels rise.

Setting clear boundaries is the key to overcome this issue. These two boundaries help me a lot:

  • No work in the evenings. Since I am fortunate enough to have two computers I use the one I am writing on right now for work. It is powered down by 7 o clock or earlier. And then it stays shut off until the next morning. This way I draw a boundary that helps me to stick to my work schedule for about 95% of the time.
  • No work on weekends. I try to stay away from the usual impressions and routines during the weekend. I usually take at least one media- and internet free day. I rarely check my emails on Saturdays or Sundays. Instead I spend time with my girlfriend, friends, family, a good book or movie or I do some other fun activity.

Adapt these two limits to your situation. And if you can then come up with more boundaries that will help you in the long run.

3. Not getting to done.

Procrastinating on getting started with something important is of course an obvious way to add stress and drain a low of energy out of yourself.

But another way of leaking energy that may not always be as obvious is to not get to done. To get started with things but not finishing them. Or to let some unresolved issue at work linger at the back of your mind and cause low level stress.

Not finishing or getting some closure can be something you forget about most of the time but in low-key way it can have a big impact over a longer period of time.

So if you feel that there may be something you want to finish or reach the end of then make a deal with yourself. Make a deal with yourself right now to just work for 1 minute on finishing that task. That is all.

If you feel like continuing after that minute then just keep going (this is what happens about 90% of the time when I use this tip).

Make the restart of that last lap towards the finish as easy as you can on yourself. Because if you do that then you are lot more likely to actually take the hardest and first step and get all the way to done instead of continuing the procrastination.




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{ 20 comments }

Kernel's Corner November 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm

This is so timely. I haven’t any decent sleep in the past two weeks. This results to being tired and having no drive to do the task at hand. I haven’t been into this situation before, until I transferred from one office to another. I am always busy, and doesn’t have the time to take any break time, and my lunch would be a little more than an hour (or two) late. The line “middle of the week arrives and you feel drained and uninspired and you get little of importance done at all” just makes it real.

And then no decent sleep would come since I’ll be thinking if you have done great during the day, that I will sometimes doubt. I don’t bring work at home, but the nagging feeling that you could have done something worsens it. This repeats the cycle on the next day and now I have almost a week of sleep debt to pay…

Thanks for reminding me that we are only human.

Henrik Edberg November 2, 2012 at 11:52 am

Glad that the article came as good reminder for you. And thank you for sharing. I really hope that you can break the cycle and get a better balance between work and rest.

Clay November 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm

The idea of turning down the computer from the evening to the next morning is great, no temptation to keep doing work! Thank you for sharing!

Henrik Edberg November 2, 2012 at 11:52 am

You’re very welcome, I’m glad you found that tip helpful!

Melinda Neely November 1, 2012 at 11:12 pm

I totally support your theory #2 above of setting limits. Without time off in the evenings or on weekends (all depending on a person’s work schedule), the mind never really takes a break to relax. With the mind constantly engaged, the energy gets sapped right out out of you!

Though I have been good at creating these boundaries over the years, I am perplexed by how to handle social media. Facebook and Twitter require attention at night and on weekends, so I never really feel like I’m getting a break.

What recommendations do you have here?

Henrik Edberg November 2, 2012 at 11:57 am

Thank you for sharing your experience. As for your question, here is how I handle Twitter and Facebook at the moment:

I check them at the very end of my work day, after I have gotten the most important things done. I set a time limit for about 15 minutes for my social media accounts so I am not very active there but participate a bit.

I might miss out on some stuff by not checking them over the weekend but my experience is that I gain more by having this break because it makes me more motivated, inspired and well-rested when Monday comes around.

Lindsey November 1, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Great ideas. I especially like your idea of working for 45 minutes at a time. I think you’re right on. We think better and work better and more efficiently if we give ourselves mental breaks. I just need to remember to “allow” myself to do that. This is a good reminder that it is okay to take breaks, and probably even better for me and my work if I do so.

Henrik Edberg November 2, 2012 at 11:58 am

Thank you! I hope the 45 minutes idea will be as helpful for you as it has been for me!

David Nikolic November 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Great Post! Thanks alot for sharing this post with us! I hope you can break the balance between work and rest.

Jo Casey November 2, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Great post-energy is so key to our ability to be productive and happy. I also think that knowing yourself is important in this equation too. For example, if I know that dealing with figures & finance isn’t my natural inclination, I also need to recognise that it’s therefore going to take more energy to do those types of activities. I can then manage my
Energy more effectively my having some extra energy boosters on my to do list for that day, or by breaking the energy drainers into small chunks and spread them out throughout the week.

Good Guy Robert November 2, 2012 at 3:54 pm

These points are of great value! It’s important to work with your psychology and be strategic about your timing depending on when you’re at your most productive during the day.
I find it’s also an important point to not make your goals for the day/session overly lofty. You’ll feel much better about the work you’ve done if you surpass the goal you set. It also is easier to get started when you don’t feel like you may have bitten off more than you’d like to chew!

Kimi November 4, 2012 at 7:05 am

Thank you so much for this article! It came at the right time. I’m already starting to feel burnt out – and this is only my first job! The stress and pressure is getting to me that at times I am tempted to quit my job. Your tips are truly helpful. Especially the part that you have to learn how to set the boundary between work and personal life (I have a tendency to work at home, too). I’m definitely going to try applying these.

Lisa November 5, 2012 at 1:39 am

Thanks for the suggestions. Time management is so important. It helps us lead happier more productive lives.

Elaine Enlightening November 5, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Hey, Henrick,

Thank you for the reminder to not go over 45 at a time. I have struggled to maintain this pattern, even though I believe it is important. Nice article about maintaing energy. I have some great Qi Gong exercises to do on my 15 minute breaks to let go of negative energy, too, plus many other things like dishes, etc.

Andrea Nordstrom November 6, 2012 at 7:28 am

Hey Henrik,

GREAT post and much needed! I very much struggle with #2 – with the the way that I think about work. Still in the early days of starting my business while also working a paid “job”, I find my mind seldom shuts off from work, always thinking about something that needs to be done. I have to take work home with me (i.e. grow my business in my own time) but I don’t need to think about it all the time, even when I’m not working. That’s the part that’s draining – the thinking about it all the time. Like Lindsey I really like your 45 minute rule and will certainly try it out! Thanks for sharing!

nin November 7, 2012 at 8:43 pm

thnk u for this articles..i am a n article lover.i spend my time everyday reading some articles that help me to improve and keep growing my self…

Mark Teekman November 7, 2012 at 10:33 pm

I really like the idea of the 45/15 minute rule. For a couple of weeks now I have been using the pomodoro technique which requires you to work in shifts of 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. After every 4th ‘promodoro’ you take a longer break and so on. I use a little timer app on my computer to keep me reminded. It’s really great, especially people who sit behind their computer all day benefit from giving their eyes some rest during those breaks. Great tips!

Jeff F November 18, 2012 at 4:42 am

Great article! I love the ida of the 45/15 rule. Great way to stay alert and on your A Game.

Katie November 23, 2012 at 3:36 am

Hi Henrik:
I really enjoyed reading this post. I recently quit my job in order to give myself a few months of space to follow my passions and hopefully have a better awareness of what I want to do with my life and how to put a plan into place. I decided however to not let my time be totally unstructured because I wanted to be sure that I make the most of this unique opportunity that I currently have.
One of the ground rules I set for myself is to treat a weekend like a weekend and a workday like a workday. Thus, I really like your advice in point number two of your post. Although we are coming at it from different angels (though I used to be a workaholic before leaving my job), I think structure can always help us get the most out of our time.
Structure doesn’t have to mean rigidity. Rather, structure can be a nice container that we fill with our passions and use to stay mindful and motivated.
All the best,
Katie

bulbul kushwah December 17, 2012 at 5:56 pm

awesome, this is quite readable.

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