Our energy levels naturally change over time. During the course of the day, I’m sure we’ve all experienced the post-lunch dip. And over a week we may find ourselves on a go slow after a bad night’s sleep or a couple of long days to meet a deadline. When our energy is low we’re more likely to get distracted, take longer over tasks and find the quality of what we’re doing diminish. So if these kinds of fluctuations in energy are inevitable, what can we do to start working with our energy, not against it?
Observe changes in your energy
The first thing is to observe what’s going on. Here’s a chart of how my energy typically fluctuates during the day.
You can see that I start off well and gradually dip throughout the morning, reaching my lowest point around midday. Then it’s mostly uphill from there, with the exception of another little dip mid-afternoon.
Do you know what your chart looks like? Take a few moments now to map how your energy changed during the day today. What do you notice? Was today a typical day? What factors have affected the changes in your energy?
It can be a helpful build up this chart over a week, adding energy lines for each day. This can help us observe any patterns or differences between the days. For example, I know that typically Tuesdays are when I have the most energy and Friday afternoons, I have zero — as a result of that my attention wanes and my hopes of getting anything useful done go out the window.
With this information to hand, the next step is to think about how we can structure our days or weeks differently to work with our energy.
Adapt your schedule
The author Daniel Pink divides his work into three distinct modes that reflect the amount of energy he has available. They are peak, trough and recovery.
Peak mode is when we’re at our highest energy levels. This is when focused work comes most easily. For me, that’s the morning and this is when I do most of my creative work; writing, designing coaching programmes etc.
Trough mode is when we’re at our lowest ebb. This is the time to tackle routine tasks. I use this time to check in with social media, do admin etc. I typically factor in one of my recharging activities to this period too. I might listen to a podcast or go for a walk.
Recovery mode is when we’re starting to refocus and we become open to ideas and exploration. I use this time to do research, make plans and have conversations.
Returning to my energy chart, I can see how these three modes map to my changing energy throughout the day.
How does it look for you? What might you want to do differently to align your tasks to your energy?
Recharge your battery
Of course, it’s not always possible to change things to fit with our energy so we need to consider what we can do both in the moment and over the longer term to conserve and replenish our energy stores. For example if you’ve got a meeting scheduled for when your energy is at its lowest, what can you do to prepare for this? And what can you do afterwards to recharge?
A great exercise to get you thinking about this is Jon McNestrie’s Self Care Battery Meter. He uses the analogy of a phone and its battery saver mode to identify things we can do to conserve energy when we can’t get to a plug socket to fully recharge. My saver mode includes:
- unplugging from technology
- engaging in some productive procrastination, eg washing up, prepping a meal or doing the laundry
- getting some air and along with it some exercise to get the blood pumping
The beauty of these activities is that they can take as little as 5-10 minutes. They allow me to pause and reset then continue with my day. They help me to keep going until it is possible to take a longer break to rest and replenish.
To finish up, let’s do a quick recap. The natural fluctuation in our energy levels over time can have a significant impact on our ability to focus and get work done. Simply powering on through might not be the best approach. The alternative is to learn to work with our energy, and as I see it there are three stages to this:
- Observe — take some time to notice when your energy changes, what is going on and what impact does it have on what you’re doing?
- Adapt — review what types of task require you to have high energy and what you can get done when energy is low, start to schedule these types of task to fit with how your energy changes throughout the day or week.
- Recharge — find activities that you can do to conserve energy in the moment and fully recharge when possible.