Time is arbitrary. We each have 24 hours in a day, and they are relentlessly marching by. We love to try to cram as much possible in every waking hour, yet we often run out of steam by mid-afternoon. Why is that?
You may remember this from science class: Energy is the ability to do work.
Merriam-Webster says energy is “the physical or mental strength that allows you to do things.”
In other words, if you do not have the energy, you do not do the things.
That’s why we’re all so busy, but often end our days with hours of binge-watching or scrolling social media. It’s because we’ve run out of energy.
I’ve talked to so many people who hate this dynamic. They wish they had energy for all of the creative, connective, worthwhile things they’d love to do. But the best of their energy is going to a job they hate. Or maybe it’s just going to the living of life. Their plates are piled full of responsibilities and they don’t see a way out.
Does this sound familiar?
The good news is that, while you can never create more time, it is possible to create more energy.
And you don’t need to wake up at 5AM to exercise or eat like an Olympian to do it.
Give yourself permission to manage to your energy, rather than your time.
Be honest: Do you try to fill every waking hour? Do you ever get frustrated with yourself when you can’t find the energy to keep going? I know I’ve been there.
Rather than picturing a calendar, picture your energy like water in a jar. All day long, you are pouring out. What happens when it runs out?
Think of the thing you would love most to have energy for.
Can you picture it? What kind of boundaries would you need to draw to preserve that energy? And, how can you make the most of the energy you do have?
For example, are you stuck in all-or-nothing thinking? What could you do in 20 minutes? Or how can you make it easier to get started? Are there things you can do when you’re feeling strong that will make it easier when your energy is waning?
Sometimes this gets tricky when it comes to the work we are paid for. There are certain things we need to do regardless of how they impact our energy. Even here, though, this framework of energy vs. time can help us navigate difficult situations.
Pay attention to the energy drains.
How much of your energy is being drained by ambivalence and second-guessing?
Before I left my job in finance, I spent more than a year in the ambivalent land of should-I-stay-or-should-I-go. And honestly, it was more exhausting than the job itself.
I remember giving myself a pep talk one day, telling myself I needed to just commit for the day. For 10 hours, I needed to set aside the long-term questions and just be there, and then as soon as I got home, I could let the questions back in.
I couldn’t believe how much it helped. Obviously it wasn’t a long-term solution to the big-picture problems, but I knew I wasn’t going to rage-quit, which meant technically I was committed for that day. Accepting that commitment freed up enough energy to make the day easier.
It also helped me preserve the energy I needed to think clearly about how we might be able to solve the big-picture problems.
And in the end, it also helped me make the difficult decision to leave, which required an incredible amount of internal resources.
Ambivalence is an enormous energy drain.
If you find yourself constantly evaluating and analyzing your situation, put some good boundaries around that evaluation. If you’re not able to make a change today, take the question off the table for the moment, and show up as your full, awesome self for whatever the day brings.
These aren’t the only common energy drains. The five sneaky time drains I wrote about a few weeks ago also drain energy, as do resentment, frustration, disappointment, grief, boredom…
Even guilt can drain your energy, and it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you have anything to feel guilty about. A felt feeling is a legitimate feeling, so if you’re feeling guilty for watching hours of Netflix, that guilt is further draining your energy.
So, where is your energy being drained?
Noticing and naming the energy drains gives you a chance to make changes. There are some, like grief, where the only way out is through. But would understanding how it drains your energy help you set aside time to heal?
For others, the insights gained will point you to problems that need to be solved. Rather than re-arranging your calendar, think about where you can stop some energy drains. Coaching can be a powerful method of working through these types of energy drains.
If the pace of your life is hurting you, that is a problem that deserves to be solved.
We all have limits, it’s part of being human. When we spread ourselves too thin, physically or emotionally, someone is going to get hurt. But so often, as long as we’re the only ones being hurt, we don’t see it as a problem. It is though!
Our bodies are created for rhythm. Work is good. Rest is good. We tend to believe this in theory, but struggle to put it into practice.
Another image I love for helping us picture our energy is that of a fire.
You can’t put 16 hours-worth of fuel on waning embers and expect a roaring bonfire. Similarly, you can’t take one day off and expect your energy levels to bounce back.
When you add more wood to a fire burning low, you don’t see much happen at first. It takes time for the new fuel to be incorporated. It also takes rhythm, patience, and persistence.
Are there ways you can nourish yourself physically that might benefit your energy?
I put this one last because so many of us get down on ourselves when we’re not eating well or exercising. That discouragement is counter-productive, and actually drains even more energy. There may be energy drains you need to address before you will have the energy to treat your body well.
At the same time, there’s no denying that what we eat (and how we move) has a significant impact on our energy. Avoid the trap of all-or-nothing. What is one way you can nourish yourself this week? It might be a favorite meal (even if it’s not a low-calorie one—remember, calories are energy!). It might be stretching first thing in the morning. It might be a heart-pounding workout that clears your mind. Choose one thing that will nourish your precious body this week.