Updated: Nov 3
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If you participated in a triathlon, would you plan on cleaning your house from top to bottom later that same night? No. That would be ridiculous. You'd know that you'd be too tired afterwards. On some level, you'd understand that you would have burned through all your energy reserves and would need to allow time to rest and recharge before undertaking any other physical activity.
(Hey, don’t blame me! You’re the one who decided to do the triathlon.)
This logic of limited energy applies to our brain, too, yet we rarely make the same allowances for rest and recovery for that all-important organ. We often act like any failure in “doing it all” – solving all the problems, getting through the full “to do” list at work, learning new things, helping friends through their issues, etc. – is merely a result of a lack of commitment or laziness. We berate ourselves and this leads to further mental drain.
The brain’s daily energy reserves are finite. This is not debatable. It’s fact. We have a daily budget of mental energy, just like how we have a daily budget of physical energy. Once we burn through that budget, we experience mental fatigue. This leads to a decline in cognitive function and alertness.
Our brain can only do so much in a day.
I needed to remind myself of this this week, which is why this is the topic of today’s blog post. We all need a reminder on how to manage our time and energy from time to time.
On some days, we are working with a smaller energy budget, due to poor sleep, ailments, heavy emotions, etc. When our energy reserves are low to begin with, that naturally means we can do less. For instance, we may experience a deterioration in creativity, motivation, productivity, or decision-making, in these cases.
It’s helpful to plan for these situations in advance, where possible.
Manage your time and energy by using the “points” method.
Imagine that, when you are at full energy, you have 20 points. When you wake in the morning, take a moment to assess how much energy you have. Are you 20/20? 15/20? 7/20?
Say you wake after a poor night’s sleep and estimate you are at a 12/20. Yeesh. You have a big meeting in the afternoon where you have to present and you’re nervous about it. Double yeesh. That meeting will take up several points. Say you expect it to take up 5 points. If you start at 12 and you already know that that meeting will take up another 5, you’re down to 7 for the rest of the day. Triple yeesh. So, you need to plan the remainder of your day accordingly. Consider the activities that drain you versus those that give you more energy. For some, hitting the gym may deplete them but, for others, it may invigorate them. The same could be said for tidying your house, talking to a friend, or doing certain tasks at work.
I love presenting to teams of people. However, I also know that, afterwards, I’m pretty drained. So, I’ve learned to schedule an activity that allows me to recover and rebuild my energy immediately following presentations, like enjoying a coffee or sitting outside for 30 minutes.
Manage your time and energy by taking breaks.
We require breaks in our day. Without breaks, we will burn through our energy budget more quickly. This will seem counterintuitive because, on days when we have lower mental energy, it generally takes us longer to get things done, which means it takes longer to get through our to do list, which means we are less inclined to want to take a break. But that’s when we need the break the most. Breaks don’t all have to be 30- to 60-minute undertakings. Stepping away from our desk for even 5 minutes and truly focusing on something else can be enough to recharge our energy a bit.
It’s important to remind yourself regularly that the brain has limited energy stores. Do what you can to manage your energy budget, be it mindfully scheduling tasks with heavy cognitive requirements or building in breaks to help rebuild your resources. Above all else, have compassion towards yourself on those days when you feel like you’re burning through those resources more quickly or have less energy to begin with.
Thank you for reading!
LORA Concepts Inc.
workplace engagement & well-being
p.s. The information, insight, and advice I share through my work is meant to exist alongside whatever else you may be doing to bolster your mental health, manage stress, or improve your well-being. Nothing I share is meant to replace directives or treatment plans provided by your doctor, therapist, or other healthcare professional.