“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”
Sydney J. Harris
“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”
The most important thing for me to manage during my workday and workweek is not my time but my energy.
- 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 stressed 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.
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. Stop working in an unbalanced way.
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 to do instead:
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 the Simpsons. 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.
- And after that I take a longer break for maybe half an hour or if it is time for lunch then I eat that.
I highly recommend using a kitchen timer or a stopwatch app on your smart phone to stick to the time limits you want to try during your day.
2. Stop getting lost in the grey zone.
Not setting firm limits for your work and for how you think about it 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 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. You get lost in the grey zone.
What to do instead:
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 friends and 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 – for example for how much you will be available on your cell phone – that will help you both with getting the most important things done and your mental health in the long run.
3. Stop letting unfinished work drag you down.
Procrastinating on getting started with something important is of course an obvious way to add stress and drain a lot 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 (and have a big negative impact over a longer period of time).
What to do instead:
If you feel that there may be something you want to finish or reach the end of then make a very small deal with yourself. Make a deal with yourself right now to just work for 2 minutes on finishing that task. That is all.
If you feel like continuing after those 2 minutes 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. That is the smart thing to do.
Because if you do that then you are lot more likely to actually take that first step and get all the way to done instead of continuing the procrastination.