As much as you may wish otherwise, your time and energy in any given day are finite. Your productivity will depend on whether or not you can spend that time and energy wisely.
Getting adequate sleep, staying hydrated, eating healthy, exercising, etc are all important for acquiring energy, but that’s only half of the equation. It’s equally important to prioritize what and how you spend these resources, so you’re not depleting yourself on relatively unimportant tasks before you get the chance to tackle the big stuff. Being conscious of where and how you’re expending yourself is important for more than just efficiencies sake, it’s important for your happiness.
Here are a few helpful steps you can take to streamline how you’re spending your energy day-to-day.
1. Observe your energy levels
Before we can change any habits, we first have to observe what we’re doing. For one week, keep a daily log of what you accomplish and how long each task takes. Check in with yourself regularly and answer these two questions about every task: 1) how are you spending your energy visibly (physically) and 2) how are you spending it invisibly (mentally)? At the end of the week, categorize your work (paperwork, fitness, childcare, etc) and see how much time you’re spending on each.
Most people who create a physical log of there work are surprised to find out they’re spending a lot more time on unnecessary tasks than they thought. Becoming more aware of the work you’re doing will help you be more present and more quickly identify energy-wasting habits in the moment.
2. Decide what’s most important
Next, make a list of the things that are most important to you; the things that bring joy and meaning to your life. What do you do in your life that makes you feel most impactful, most proud of yourself, most accomplished?
After observing yourself for a week at this point, ask yourself: Are you dedicating enough time to this list? This list contains the part of your life where you should be spending the bulk of your energy. If your energy is going somewhere else, we now know exactly where it’s time to make cuts to your responsibilities.
3. Make a plan to increase productive activities and get rid of wasteful ones
First, get rid of the wasteful activities, and be ruthless: Spending too much time on administrative paperwork? It’s time to automate, hire help, or invest in some new technology. Too much time on grocery shopping? You can order groceries online now, and most apps will allow you to re-order with the press of a button if your shopping list doesn’t change much. Maybe you are spending too much time at the office in general and you feel like you’re missing out on important family moments. It may be time to start looking around for another job, even if that means also making a new family budget, so you can be around more.
Next, make time for important ones: Haven’t been to the gym in 3 months? Commit to an afternoon workout 2-3 times a week. Have a great idea you’ve been meaning to share with your boss? Set aside an hour next week to pull together a presentation for them. Neglecting that book you started writing a year ago? Plan 2 nights a week where you write for 2 hours, undisturbed.
Once you have an action plan, it’s time to implement. At first, it’s a good idea to hyper structure your day until you get used to the new balance you’re creating in your life. It’s too easy to fall back into bad habits and waste an afternoon on something you shouldn’t. Schedule out your entire day. Set alarms to remind you when you have to stop one task and start another. It may sound extreme, but when people specify their time for certain tasks, those tasks have a much better chance of getting done.
After a week or two of integrating your new plans into your life, check back in with yourself. Are you slipping up in certain areas? Is there a larger roadblock getting in the way that you need to deal with? Track your progress. And remember: changing habits is hard!
It’s okay if it takes awhile for you to get into a new rhythm. Once you hit your stride, your new habits will come easy.
It’s time to stop imagining a world where you spend your time differently, and start getting proactive about it. If spending time with friends and family brings you joy: plan a date, a gathering, or an outing. If dedicating your time to a good cause fulfills you, then set aside one evening each week to volunteer.
At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong way to spend your energy. There is only ways that make you happier and ways that don’t. Every person is different, so it’s really up to you to decide where you allow your energy to go.