Two years ago I sat in a conference and was told to “Think about the last time you felt extremely happy. What were you doing in that moment?”
I’m so glad the question wasn’t “What do you like to do?” or “What makes you happy?” because I think my answers to either of those questions would have been different than what I thought of. I had conditioned myself to think that all of the things I was currently doing were the things that I liked, when actually only some of them were things that made me feel extremely happy. This question spurred the beginning of what became a monumental paradigm shift in my life, where I truly began thinking about what I loved and wanted, rather than what I thought I should love and want. More recently, these ideas have become even more clear to me when talked about in the context of energy (more background discussed here in this post).
Each of us has a personal energy profile built up of a natural baseline energy level that we are born with and that may change with the times and seasons of the year and our lives. On top of that baseline, we gain energy from doing the things we love, and those that contribute positive energy into our lives. The things we do and think about require energy, some as actual physical effort, some as emotional or creative output. Also, we can waste energy on things we don’t love, or that breed negativity into our lives.
I’m not an expert, and am only sharing thoughts and observations I’ve had about energy management within my own life. But I’d like to help walk you though the process I’ve used to establish my own personal energy profile. This helps me determine my daily and weekly schedule, as well as keeps my life focused on my central goals and using my energy on the things that matter the most to me.
When you have a free day, would you rather hit your to-do list, or use it to relax?
If you want to use free time to accomplish more, you might be naturally a higher-energy personality. If your inclination is to relax during free time, you may naturally have a lower energy profile. Neither is better or worse, they just are. It is more important to recognize your own, unique, personal energy levels than to be concerned with how you should or could be. Trying to walk another’s path will only drain your energy, not build it up, so focus on YOU not anyone else. It doesn’t matter at all whether you are higher or lower energy, you will be able to work with what you have and recognize some tips that will help you manage whatever energy you might have more effectively.
I have always been a high-energy personality. Naturally I am drawn to task-accomplishment, responsibility balancing, and overachieving. Recognizing this has been key to seeing some of the pitfalls that I face by wanting to do more all the time, like burnout. I have to be consistent with my schedule (when my inclination is to be more spontaneous) and firm with my priorities (when I naturally want to squeak one more tiny thing in here and there, and everywhere!)
If you are naturally lower energy, you might find some of your pitfalls to be not having motivation to get things done, or feeling overwhelmed by what others around you are accomplishing. You might need to set a goal to take on one new project per month, to keep you moving forward.
When during the day do you feel the most productive? Are you a morning or a night person? Do you feel ready to take on the world before lunch, or do you thrive after hours when your household is asleep?
These things may change during different seasons of your life. For example, for most of my young life I was firmly a morning person. My friends joked about how I would call them at 8am on a Saturday ready to go hang out. During college and my first few years of marriage I was still thriving in the wee hours. I studied for all major exams starting at 5am, and felt like I learned best then. My first nursing job was a 7am-3pm, and I taught an early Sunday School class before going to work!
When I started having kids my mornings went from my most efficient work hours to groggy, sleepy, try-to-recover-from-the-evening-and-get-ready-for-the-day hours. I found myself starting to thrive on the tasks accomplished after bedtime, and though I might not have become a total night owl, that was when I accomplished the most. For years I sewed and blogged from after bedtime into the early morning, and got only a few hours of sleep before beginning the next day.
Everything changed again when I was pregnant with Plum. I was so sick and exhausted I basically didn’t have any energy at all, ever. Even for the whole year after she was born, I needed my mornings to slowly pull myself and the kids together, and as soon as the sun set I needed to go to bed. Luckily, I had listened to my intuition when it told me I had to eliminate unnecessary responsibility from my life during these last couple years, because I simply could not have done any more than I did. I was treading water with just enough energy to keep my head from going under, even with the bare minimum on my plate.
Now I joke that I am not a morning or a night person, but a 9-5 sort of gal. I’m only partly joking. I recognize that my body is most responsive during daylight hours. Maybe when my kids have grown my mornings will again become more useful. But for now I use them to work out, run simple errands, and play with the kids. Ironically, after bedtime used to be my real work time, and I now don’t function well at all doing anything detail oriented or creative then. So I reserve my lower energy, more mindless tasks like laundry folding, reading, finishing dishes, or watching tv for evenings.
Think about what your body tells you about your energy levels throughout the day and write that down. Maybe simply shifting around the time of day in which you schedule some of your responsibilities will make a big difference in how you feel.
If you could choose a few hours of the day in which you have the most energy, which would you choose?
Those hours are what I call your “golden energy hours”, when you will be most productive with whatever it is you’re doing. Between 11am-2pm seem to be my golden energy hours (coincidentally those are also nap time hours when I have free hands three days each week). I deliberately schedule my most important or high-energy tasks like creative time, housework, or professional work during these hours. Things that I want to pay close attention to.
PROTECT YOUR GOLDEN ENERGY HOURS! Once you recognize when they are for you, make sure that you use them for the most important and high-energy tasks you have. This doesn’t mean you have to be crossing off to-do list items then. In fact, twice per week I use my golden energy hours as creative recharge hours to build up my energy reserves and gain inspiration for the rest of the week.
Think about the last time you were extremely happy. What were you doing in that moment? Think about a few other times in your life you have felt that same joy. What were you doing then?
The things you truly love are natural energy builders for you. Even if they require a lot of physical or creative energy (like mountain climbing, or composing music) when you are in those moments you are recharging rather than draining your internal battery. Be cautious that when you consider this question you don’t allow thoughts of what people you admire seem to like, or what you want to love, but don’t. When you spend energy on things you think you should love, you will not be renewing your reserve, just draining it. The things that make your soul sing will build you up, and bring you joy. You don’t even have to be good at them! The act of doing them makes you happy.
When I asked myself this question two years ago, a few of the things that were on my list were: teaching, picnicking outside, uninterrupted time designing and sewing, playing outside with my kids, dancing, and cooking a new recipe. Some of those things were semi-regular occurrences, some almost never happened.
When I compared this list to my weekly schedule, I saw huge discrepancies in what I wanted to be doing, and what I was doing. Not in my routine household and familial tasks and responsibilities, but in the commitments I was making to myself and others regarding my extra time and energy. That meant I needed to make some changes. I began to adjust my life to bring the two lists–what I wanted to do, and what I was doing–into better alignment.
It was scary, and still is every time I say no to an opportunity that seems like a good fit, but isn’t. Or when I spend energy on something that seemingly benefits no one but myself, but does. But I feel so much more capable of being happy in all of my roles when I am continuously rebuilding my energy by doing more of what I love.
What are some things that you do regularly that make you feel immediately overwhelmed, tired, or unhappy?
It’s just as important to recognize what things in your life are energy drains as to know which are energy builders. Consistently doing things that you don’t like to do will wear you out and make you unhappy.
For example, I really don’t like to shop except for in very specific situations (when I am looking for something in particular and I have the money to buy it, or if I am actively looking for inspiration. Or buying groceries. I actually love grocery shopping.) I’m not window-shopper or browser, but used to spend plenty of energy regularly hitting the stores because that’s what I thought people did! Eliminating shopping from my schedule has reduced the energy that I spend unnecessarily looking for something that I might need (but probably don’t.)
I am in no way saying that shopping bad or good. For some of you, shopping maybe a huge source of happiness and should be something you regularly do to recharge! That’s why our personal energy profiles are and must be personal.
If you’re still reading, thank you for spending some of your energy with me today. (It’s been a long one!!) Take a look back over the questions you have answered and reflect on them for a time. Maybe you recognize immediately some small changes you can begin to make to better manage your energy. Maybe you need a few days or weeks to feel out what your truths are. And maybe none of this makes sense to you in your life at all. That’s all okay. My hope is that through sharing these ideas, that some of you may feel a renewed sense of peace and control in your life as you begin to pay attention to that internal battery and keep yourself functioning in a higher, happier state.