Feeling Out of Energy? Let's Get You Back on Track
One of the greatest stressors in project management seems to be never having enough resources. To deal with it, the model SCREAM might come to your mind. However, what comes to your mind when thinking about the scarce resource that is time and not having enough energy to get through it all might be the screaming into a void.
Feeling tired and lacking energy on most days is one of the early signs of burnout. According to a gallup, 23% of full-time employees say they feel burned out at work very often, and additionally, 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. While getting the one element won’t solve burnout, I think it’s a place to start.
I have had my fair share of trial and error cycles with trying to fit everything I need to get done to my calendar and actually have enough energy to go through it all. I have tried to share my energy fairly and try to do a little bit of work every day of the week – including the weekends – and failed. I have tried to fit in working out 4 times a week on the busiest times – because it gives you energy! – and failed. I have tried to get used to and maintain a 5-6 hour sleeping schedule just to get some extra hours to my day and... Failed.
Fortunately, I have also had some revelations along the way. So, if you are feeling you could use some guidance from someone that has tried it all to figure out how to make the most out of your energy and not waste it, here are the 3 things I have learned.
1. Don’t use better time management methods to drain yourself more efficiently
All this talk about productivity tools, hacks, and methods might get you to a place, where you are so much better than before at making the most of yourself. A good thing, right? Well, yes and no.
What I have learned is that if you book your calendar very tightly with very efficient methods and neglect the fact that you are actually being more efficient, it's easy to get to a place where you are trying to go through the tasks of a week within a day.
People who have the tendency to say yes to many commitments might see improved efficiency just as a way to burn through their energy sources more efficiently. If you are niftily bocking your day from 8 am to 10 pm – guess what – you are still hurting yourself. Even though you are not wasting your time on social media, your email, or wondering what the next thing to do might be, you are still in over your head in the long run.
Use the methods that make you more efficient to set priorities and exclude the noise but don’t use the time you are gaining for more work – take time off instead. Go for a walk. Get a coffee with the friend you have always said you would get together with. Do something for yourself.
2. Try to find renewable energy sources
Unfortunately, the most boring energy sources that they tell you about really are the best. A nice walk around the block when you are feeling strained. A night out with friends. Sleeping regularly and sufficiently. Working on a passion project. Spending time with your family. Taking time to do things that you enjoy. Working out. Eating good fresh food.
It’s terrible. I know.
Not all sources of energy are created equal and will serve you as well as the borings ones. And not all energy sources will last a long time. Going on a walk does not give you an equal burst of energy to your sixth cup of coffee of the day. That’s why when feeling tired the latter seems more appealing. However, the thing is, that while taking a walk takes a little energy, it then gives you both better memory and attention in the long run. When with excessive amounts of coffee, you are more likely to get anxiety.
Please do note that I’m not here to bash coffee. Coffee counts as a renewable energy source if you are not exceeding the limit of five cups per day. According to a study, coffee can increase alertness and well-being, help concentration, improve mood and limit depression. Lifelong coffee/caffeine consumption has been associated with the prevention of cognitive decline, and reduced risk of developing stroke, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. All great stuff. If you feel like coffee is disturbing your sleep patterns, get off it. If it makes you anxious after a cup, get off it.
Another place where moderation is the key is working out. With fitness models taking over social media, it can be easy to feel like you need to do more. However, remember that exercise can become an addiction, and not a good one. Learn from my mistake of tiring myself out which resulted in back injury and not being able to move. All because I just felt like going to the gym is the best idea when I had no energy left in me. Listen to your body, and when it says you need to take a break, take a break.
Moderation is the key to making any healthy energy source renewable. But you already probably knew that. You are just going to have to figure out what moderate means for you – that way those energy sources really are renewable.
3. Think before adopting the latest productivity hacks
Right now, you should definitely ask yourself what is this lady talking about and does this really apply to me. And you should have an equal amount of doubt when considering every other hack or recommendation you read about. The thing is, what works for me, doesn’t have to work for you. What didn’t work for me, might work out just fine for you.
You should also consider the person that is giving you recommendations. For example, the ongoing mindfulness and meditation trend. While there’s nothing wrong with it in principle, there is something iffy about it when the suggestion to get on the mindfulness train comes from the human resources department.
As William Little said in his article in The Guardian: ‘But practicing mindfulness to deal with work-related stress is not turning us into rebels, it’s making all docile. Is it our equivalent of soma, the drug that kept everyone happy in Huxley’s Brave New World? We’re more likely to rebel if we don’t dull the pain, right?’
What he meant there is that while mindfulness is great in essence if nothing is done to actually improve the work-culture that is making us stressed, it becomes something that makes us normalize the problems and just accept them as they are.
Others have found that mindfulness or meditation shouldn’t have anything to do with the workplace. The two just don’t go together. Simply put, mindfulness is about accepting things as they are and being in the moment and companies want their employees to strive for better results to make the company more successful in the future – it just doesn’t make any sense.
The bottom line is if you really feel the need meditate your way through your day and if the human resources department is organizing mindfulness seminars, it might just be that your job is not a very good fit for you and the company has an organizational culture that causes you to be stressed.
Instead of using the scarce resource that is your energy into making peace with it, put your energy to finding your way out of it.