Episode 23: Leveraging Our Energy
The truth is, our energy levels are rarely, if ever, constant. Our energy fluctuates throughout the day, week, months, and seasons; subject to circumstances both in and out of our control. The lyrics from Mary Chapin song come to mind . . . "Some days you're the windshield. Some days you're the bug." Life can leave us feeling energized or battered from day to day and sometimes even minute to minute. So how to we align our energy with our tasks and goals to maintain maximum productivity with less spinning of our wheels? And how do we begin to reclaim our energy from things that may be zapping us without us even realizing it?
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
The first time I ever did a personal Vision Board, just over 10 years ago, I was a participant in a facilitated process. Two friends and I decided to hire someone to help us walk through because we hadn’t actually ever created vision boards for ourselves.
One of the most fascinating parts of that process from my perspective was that the facilitator asked us to write a list of things that bugged us as part of our homework. The items on the list could be big things or small things. They could be related to anything: house repairs, relationships, uncompleted projects, work related or personal . . . it was essentially a complete brain dump of anything and everything that was taking up space in our head and spirit. Anything that was pulling or occupying our energy.
In my blog post titled Five Tips for Navigating Overwhelming Emotions, I share the story of how I recently found myself in psychological shock and how I navigated through the most intense part of that experience.
As this week progressed, I found my energy slowly returning from that psychological shock. When my energy returns slowly, I experience a very uncomfortable gap. The gap is the time it takes for me to progress from complete detachment, numbness and inability to focus or function and the amount of time it takes for both my mental acuity AND the physical capacity to do the work to return. My guess is that you may have experienced something similar when recovering from illness or injury. Often, our ability to THINK about the things we need or want to do returns before our capacity to actually DO the things comes back.
And so, last week, my mental ability to be painfully aware of the things that I wasn’t getting done and anxious about them, outpaced my ability to focus and to actually generate work product. On top of that, my fatigue level has remained high.
While I have become much more responsive and adaptive to my energy levels as they are (instead of how I imagine them to be or how I think they should be), toward the end of this last week I did find myself wondering WHEN I was going to feel better and WHY I was still struggling to “perform” so to speak.
Was it fatigue?
Was it illness (one of my sinuses started to scream at me)?
Was it my body, still trying to heal itself in my knee joint?
Was it depression?
Was it fear?
Was it just plain old procrastination????
In my last podcast episode, I talked about the difference between living in head space and heartspace. And today I can see something that I couldn’t see a few days ago. The questions that I just recited were living squarely in my headspace. I wasn’t asking my heart what was going on. I was asking my head. And my head, true to form, just churned on the questions, without any real answers.
I did choose to nap a couple of days ago even though I have been getting my standard 8-9 hours per night over the last several weeks. And when I woke up, my head felt as clear as it has felt in a week.
So the next morning after the nap, as I ascended the stairs, I found myself asking a question into my heartspace . . . did I have anything I wanted to say (part of my mental churn has been that I have a lot of content to create and I have been struggling to find the clarity, energy and focus to create it). I start to feel the panic of this churn the closer and closer I get to my creative deadlines . . . whether those deadlines have been imposed by me, imposed by the process, or by the client.
How relieved I was when my heartspace clearly said “YES” when I asked myself if I had anything to say?? I was So. Relieved.
So what can I take from this experience and share with you?
The first “ah ha” is related to planning and time management.
One of the things that has bubbled up for me in talking with friends and clients in the last week or so is the idea of a DAILY check-in. While I meditate daily, I have found that fits my schedule right before I go to bed. This kind of check in is a different kind.
I realize that I have been living in and managing my energy from responsive space for about 3 years and it has really worked out for me . . . Did things get done on “my timeline?” Duh. Of course not. But did the things that needed to get done get done? Have I followed the path I needed to follow? Am I seeing the fruit of learning to live my life in this way? ABSOLUTELY
And still, as I take on new projects, clients, and speaking engagements, I have been trying to sort out how I can apply a responsive yet proactive strategy when it comes to managing my energy and time.
I have mad respect for people who successfully use a weekly planning ritual. One of my friends, Samantha Lane has created a time management process and product called Origami Day, and I am a big believer in what she does.
I am even an expert time blocker. If you look at my calendar, you will see everything on there . . . everything from kid appointments, to meetings, to blocks of time allocated to projects, gym or workout time and even SLEEP.
I am also a huge fan of Kate Northrup’s book, Do Less, and her planning resources and processes. The concept in Kate’s book helped me to close some gaps in my own understanding related to proactively managing and planning my time and energy.
But HERE is the rub for me right now. I don’t always know how much energy I am going to have for an entire week IN ADVANCE.
If I have a ton of energy when I am planning, I will fill every block aggressively. I am going to get ALL THE THINGS DONE.
If my energy is low when I am planning, I hesitate to put anything on there as a commitment, even if I am facing deadlines. Frankly, checking in with all I think I need to accomplish when my energy is low can just leave me feeling overwhelmed and like I want to withdraw into my own little cave and hide. I can find myself churning over everything on my list that I don’t have the energy or mental space to do. Which has a direct, negative impact on my remaining energy. The vision that I get in my own head about what this process is like when the rest of the water goes down the drain . . . it swirls around and the closer to the drain it becomes, the faster is goes and all of the sudden the energy is ALL GONE!!!
So, as I transition into a different phase of business management and planning, I am going to try a different approach to time management and planning. I will create a weekly list of work-related “to dos.” Or actually all “to dos”. But I will WAIT to put them on a specific day until I check in with my energy (and my heartspace) each morning. And I will continue to practice TRUSTING that the things that truly need to get done will get done, and the things that can wait, will wait, as life has proven to me over and over and over again over the last many years.
I realize how unnerving it can be to try a different way of managing your time and energy, particularly when you feel like your work circumstances dictate how you use them. Even as an entrepreneur, I completely understand what this feels like. But I continue to re-learn time and again, that when I am responsive to my energy, I am actually, much MORE PRODUCTIVE and a lot less “BUSY”--which is exactly where I need to be.
The second lesson or takeaway I want to share with you is about how much extenuating circumstances can zap your energy and to encourage you to take some very intentional action to address that list. Remember that list of things that “bugged me” that I wrote when I did first my vision board years ago? That list was a window into my mind and soul--the things that were taking up space and depleting me even as I sat there doing a completely unrelated project.
I got divorced just about 4 years ago, and for the first 3 years, I lived in an apartment in downtown Knoxville . . . an apartment I fully furnished for me and the kids. Just over a year ago, however, for a number of reasons, my ex and I decided that we would co-habitate in the house with the kids. And so, I moved back in, with all of the STUFF that I had purchased when we lived separately. Add to this three children and the seemingly endless onslaught of “stuff” that comes with three growing kids. And our neighbors--who recently sold another property and gifted us with some of their things--and we find ourselves surrounded by clutter and things. WE HAVE THREE PIZZA CUTTERS in our kitchen drawer right now. First world problems to be sure.
My physical space affects my energy, though you might not be able to guess it when you walk into the house because it is often SUCH A MESS. We currently live in that cycle that I think we can all relate to . . . where we clean the house and in a matter of days, the whole thing is trashed again.
So, for my upcoming birthday, I ORDERED A GIANT DUMPSTER TO BE DELIVERED TO THE HOUSE. Yes, I could make all sorts of statements about minimalism and stuff and the environment and all of the things. For many years I have intentionally lived with a focus on less stuff and more experiences, and yet, the stuff seems to accumulate anyway.
So when I wrote this episode, it was also HOUSE PURGE DAY AND I WAS SO EXCITED. Yes, I realize it probably also says something about my age that I was totally pumped about the open top dumpster being delivered to my driveway. But I also anticipate that having less STUFF and less MESS and CLUTTER . . . less of things WE DON’T NEED will open up our energy and space and breath for things that we do need . . . time, presence, energy and creativity.
So I encourage you to write down that list of things that “bugs” you. What are all the things . . . big and small and material and immaterial that are occupying your brain and your energy even when you aren’t doing anything about them--perhaps MORE so because you aren’t doing anything about them--and see how many you can cross off your list in the coming weeks or months. We cannot always control the things (or people or circumstances) that bug us. But at the same time, often there are a number of things that we can actually do something about. Focus on THOSE things, find resolution and take action, and I think you will find space and energy that you didn’t realize you had as you reclaim your head and heartspace.
For more information about the work that I do with individuals, groups and organizations go to boothandrews.com. You can also find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @theboothandrews.
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I look forward to being back with you next time!