Have you ever been driving somewhere and your car seemed to automatically head to work? You notice it when you pass a certain milestone: you stop at a certain stoplight and realize that you aren't actually headed to work but are going to Target. Your drive to work is automatic. You do it every day, so it's efficient. You know times of the day to avoid or alternate routes around schools for pick-up and drop-off times. You don't have to think too much about your drive to work.
But sometimes, efficiency can cause us to get stuck in automatic habits: take the drive to Target example. Once we want to go to Target, we need to bring a little more awareness to that trip. Our days can be like this, too. Automatic behaviors serve us well until they don't.
In the post managing your energy vs. managing your time, I discussed how people work best when they pay attention to these four areas of their lives: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The goal is to first bring awareness to what gives you energy and what drains your energy. Once you have awareness, then you can be mindful about what you are doing, you can choose what to focus on and when to focus on it, and you can replenish your energy when it is lagging.
I audited my energy to figure out when I focus best and when I should work on something that is a little more routine. I know that I usually have a little to a lot of dip in my energy after lunch. I have played around with what I eat and when I eat. This helps to some extent. But there was still a dip. I try to walk away at lunch - either literally walk or take a 10-minute catnap or some other form of physical restoration. As far as work, this is a good time for me to do things that take less mental energy (checking emails, updating documentation, following up with people). Once 2:00 hits, my physical and mental energy seem to be in sync more. That's when I work on projects and new ideas that need my fresh brain. I also think 2:00 works for me because I like to get things off my desk, so to speak for the next day. Sometimes meetings work for me because I find that connecting with people helps fuel my emotional energy!
Other than knowing that I usually have a post-lunch dip, I realized that I needed to figure out how my energy was shifting throughout the day: the time of day when energy dips and when my energy is high, what I am doing and what projects that I am working on, emotional energy and mental energy that come with various projects, how difficult certain projects are.
Graph your energy
Ask yourself how is your energy at various points throughout your day and make a little graph. I have done this several ways. The first is to make an informal graph and just track how it is through various points of the day. Ask yourself "do I feel more energetic now than I did before"? If you do, trend the graph upwards. If you don't, trend the graph downwards. This is all relative and for your eyes only. This is an example of my energy graph from 2 different Mondays.
For the second Monday, there were 2 things that I noticed that helped keep my energy more consistent throughout the day. The first is that I was working on a project that was the perfect balance of challenging, important, and interesting. The second is that I changed my eating schedule a little bit - I waited to eat breakfast.
Scorecard your energy
The second method is a variation on James Clear's Habits Scorecard. He bases his scorecard on the practice of the Japanese train system where they call out each thing that they are doing in an effort to bring awareness to each part of their processes. By doing so, they have been able to significantly reduce errors and are one of the safest modes of travel. In your daily life, you look at the various habits throughout your day and decide if they give you energy (+), take away your energy (-), or are just neutral (0). With this method, I wrote down a few things I noticed, particularly if my energy in a certain realm was (-).
woke up early (4 AM) after sleeping well (o)
meetings from 10 - 1 (+) [I should note that I am probably one of the few people who seems to enjoy meetings; they help energize me] (+)
lunchtime (ate lunch, drank water, took a 10-minute catnap, 5-minute walk outside) (+)
end of workday dip (-)
rode bike 25 minutes (+)
saw my dad (+)
went to Target (+)
ate dinner and cleaned up (o)
The point of these two exercises is to just bring awareness to your energy levels throughout the day.
Replenish Your Energy
As you bring awareness to your energy levels throughout your day, you can start to see patterns. If you don't sleep well, you might notice that your poor sleep translates into an inability to stay present with what you are working on. If you are worried about something, your mental energy might dip and keep you from focusing on the project you are working on. If you get frustrated or angry with a co-worker, your emotional energy might lag.
Ask yourself these two questions:
What activities drain my energy?
What activities replenish my energy?
The goal is to minimize what drains you and maximize what replenishes you.
Bringing awareness to your energy can be like your trip to Target: you intentionally and purposefully go where you want and need to go (and do what you want and need to do).