If someone asked me where they could find the Boulevard of Broken Dreams I’d point them just past the intersection of Not Enough Time and Not Enough Energy.
In my life, energy management has often taken a back seat to time management. I find it much easier to manage my Gmail calendar than the invisible and confounding ebbs and flows of my life force.
That definitely doesn’t mean that I’m any good at managing my time. I’m all too familiar with the traps around accurately estimating and effectively managing my time. But time, at least, is fairly predictable. Assuming I don’t give up the ghost tomorrow I’m pretty confident I’ll have another 24 hours to work with tomorrow. And so will you. In this way time is equally finite for all of us. Our actual life times will vary, but as long as we’re here we can both count on having the same exact 24 hours to work with tomorrow. No more, no less.
That’s all I’m going to write about time management because I suck at it and trying to incorporate even this much about it into this post (which I felt was necessary) has already blown half a day.
There’s something about energy that makes it very different in nature than time.
Like time, energy is also finite. However one of the amazing things about humans is that we have the power to transform energy from one form to another. Unlike time, we can influence how much energy we have at our disposal. This is easy enough to see in our external world of fossil fuels, nuclear energy and solar power. But it also applies to our internal, personal sources of energy. We aren’t all allotted the same amount of energy every day and what we do influences how much energy we have.
Being aware of and managing my energy is tougher than just counting calories though. It’s actually really hard. My energy is constantly waxing and waning based on a myriad of different and incredibly complex factors, many of which I’m not even aware of. Unlike my Gmail calendar I can’t see next week’s total available energy or divide, measure and divvy it up with complete (even if only theoretical) mathematical precision —energy is something I feel from moment to moment. And if you are anything like me, how you’ll feel tomorrow is nowhere near as easy to predict as how many hours you’ll have tomorrow. Coffee or no coffee.
Being Relentlessly Resourceful
Working as a general manager in an early-stage start up was a constant reminder of the importance of managing my energy. We rarely had many resources to work with. This meant that most of the time our largest resource was our own energy. In order to please the start up gods, energy management was a required daily ritual for us.
Early on my boss taped a reminder above my desk that read “be relentlessly resourceful”. Years later I’d pin the same reminder over my employee’s desk. It was that important.
Despite the constant reminders it took me a long time to incorporate the lessons I was learning in business into my personal life and in early 2014 I was still part of the energy poor. It was only after three consecutive and major life events during a two month span did I truly begin to wake up:
- I discovered I had Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an energy-sapping autoimmune disease which inhibits my thyroid’s ability to regulate my body’s hormones and metabolism. Major symptoms were heavy fatigue and depression.
- I joined a friend to work on a new, early stage start up with even even less external resources than the one I had been managing.
- I had a major spiritual shift during a 3 week trip in Peru and realized I needed to reassess where my energy was going.
Becoming A Gardener
Over the next year and a half, out of absolute necessity, I began to make major changes in my lifestyle to restore the flow of my energy. The results were astonishing. I felt like a different person at the end of it. Where had this person been? I couldn’t believe what I had begun to accept as normal over the past few years. It made me cry.
I hope that something I learned may help you to reclaim more of your energy and become a better you. That’s my hope.
In his Origin of Species, Charles Darwin discusses how farmers develop varieties of gooseberries.
“I have seen great surprise expressed in horticultural works at the wonderful skill of gardeners in having produced such splendid results from such poor materials. But the art has been simple and as far as the final result is concerned, has been followed almost unconsciously. It has consisted in always cultivating the best known variety, sowing its seeds, and when a slightly better variety chance to appear, selecting it and so onwards.”
I have no idea what the hell a gooseberry is 1. The process for cultivating them however, was strikingly familiar to how I cultivated my own energy. What I had learned was that it’s really a process of trial and error and observing what happens and building off what works.
Here’s a really well documented example of how this happens naturally in our own personal systems.
When Resistance Strikes
Resistance will happen. All we can do is be prepared for it. Here’s a couple things that help me keep Resistance at bay.
Knowing my why. Why am I taking that supplement? Why this particular routine at the gym? Why not have that tasty beer in the fridge right now? The habits that fell by the wayside at the first sign of Resistance (and there were many) were the ones that I didn’t really understand why I was doing.
Setting a plan. How long am I doing this habit for? How am I going to measure the results? What do I need to know to continue or quit the habit? Having a plan and knowing that the change is only temporary is the best way I know to trick myself into actually making the change. Setting a plan also adds to my why. Now I’m doing it for the added reason that I said I would. It now doubles as a valuable exercise in self-discipline. That’s called two birds, one stone my friends.
Starting small. I try one or maybe two things at a time. Habits take time and energy to establish. I find it’s much better to test one variable at a time conclusively than 5 inconclusively.
I measure when I can. I’m motivated by results I can see. When I can measure my efforts I do. This has included blood tests and keeping a journal among other things. I could be a lot better at this.
Being patient. I would have really liked to have had this all mapped out for me when I started. But the how could it have truly been uniquely designed for me? The only way to know what works and what doesn’t is to try things and find out. I hate it, but it’s true. The upside of this is what I do figure out this way is much more likely to stick long term.
The list below may seem like a lot —it took me over a year and a half to develop these habits. The list would be a lot longer too if I included everything I tried that didn’t work for me. We’re all different and it’s natural that our results will be too. Expect variations and make adjustments. Throw away anything that doesn’t work for you.
This is meant to be a jumping off point —not a replacement— for your own process of self discovery.
The irony in this is it takes a lot of time and energy to do. However once I started getting some early results it became a virtuous circle. I found myself with more energy to look for more and more ways to improve my energy —it gets addicting!
I’ve broken them up in three key areas: Body, Mind & Spirit.
1. I saw a doctor. This one was crucial! I was feeling sluggish, lethargic and depressed. My doctor ordered some blood tests and next time I saw him his first remark was “I don’t know how you are getting out of bed in the morning” (!). Turns out I had low testosterone, vitamin D and B12 deficiencies and a thyroid condition that months later would be diagnosed as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. All of these conditions contribute to fatigue and I’ve worked with multiple doctors since to address them all.
I also got a second opinion. Regardless of the results I would recommend doing this (it’s how I found out it was Hashimoto’s). Preferably from a different perspective (I’d recommend seeing a naturopath or someone holistically focused as well as a more traditional western doctor). My first doctor wanted me to go on testosterone injections. I didn’t think that was a good idea and it later turned out that it wasn’t.
Doctor’s are doing their best but they aren’t all-knowing and the body is incredibly complex.
2. I stopped drinking (as much). Alcohol consumes physical and mental energy. Binge drinking, especially, diverts a ton of our body’s energy to recovery.
3. I changed my diet over time. Garbage in = garbage out. What helped was when I got clear on my priority for food to serve as fuel and nutrition. When thinking about it from this perspective, a lot of the “cheap” food at the grocery stores and fast food joints is actually not cheap at all —it’s a really bad deal.
I moved to a low carb, high fat diet (fats are a great source of energy). I removed gluten (this was due to the Hashimoto’s disease but had a big effect on my energy and mental clarity also). I began avoiding sugar as much as possible. I rarely eat dairy (although many can tolerate it, our bodies really aren’t designed to process dairy). I starting eating whole foods (meat, veggies, fruits, nuts, eggs). I try to eat protein with each meal and eat smaller more frequent meals versus large meals to help with my metabolism. Also I don’t skip meals —especially breakfast and I try to eat dinner earlier in the evening to give my body time to digest before turning off the lights.
Veggie juices are also really good for sustainable energy as long as you stay away from too many fruits and sugary veggies (use a lemon or parsley to neutralize the taste of veggie juice if you don’t like it). Also you can experiment with eating less meat and other foods that require a lot of energy to digest. I find this especially impactful for lunch which is typically in the middle of my work day.
4. As weird as it sounds I removed coffee (I found that when I went off coffee I had much more balanced and sustainable energy compared to the peaks and valleys coffee would cause). If removing coffee borders on sacrilegious for you, try switching to organic coffee, drinking it black and limiting it to one cup (as big as you like) in the morning. I still drink tea regularly which is easier on my body and doesn’t seem to have the same effect. Regardless I don’t drink caffeine within 8 hours of bed time (caffeine within 8 hours of sleep has been shown to affect our sleep cycle).
5. Supplements – I take a table spoon of MCT oil in the mornings, usually with my tea. This is like rocket fuel. Sometimes I’ll take another tablespoon later in the day but not often. Also I take B12, vitamin D and Omega 3s daily which I think all help. Occasionally I take bee pollen, but I don’t really see a noticeable impact from that.
6. Medications – I went on thyroid replacement therapy for the Hashimoto’s which helped even out my hormones that play a part in regulating energy levels.
7. Exercise – This has a funny way of giving me more energy, not less. I surf, work out, do yoga, and run. I try to do one of those every day if not every other day. Even taking a walk after lunch can have a big impact on my energy and metabolism.
8. I drink plenty of water.
9. I figured out how many hours of sleep I need (it’s different for everyone) and then kept a steady sleeping schedule. To figure out how many hours you need try sleeping a few days in a row without your alarm clock and see when you naturally wake up. Once I was able to, I ditched the alarm clock all together (it’s not an ideal way to wake our bodies up). Bonus points if your sleeping schedule has you in bed before 10:00 PM.
10. I meditate daily – Thoughts can give us energy or drain it. A healthy mind and mindset is just as important as a healthy body for making good use of our energy.
11. I learned about introversion. Take a personality test and see where you fall on the spectrum. This will help you see how your lifestyle may be energizing you or draining you. When I realized I was really introverted I started making a lot of adjustments to my schedule that helped my energy and helped me become more effective. Quiet, The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain is a great read if you find yourself to be on the introverted side.
Personality tests aren’t rigid definitions of who we are, but we can use them as powerful tools for greater self-awareness and a jumping off point for experimentation.
12. I constantly work to improve my systems to save mental energy —read Getting Things Done by David Allen.
If we don’t have a system we trust for storing and managing information our minds will spend a lot of energy in the background trying to keep it all together.
13. I look for ways to do more with less energy. Whether it be batching my cooking for the next week all at once, using frameworks and mental models to support and inform my decisions or hiring people to do tasks that take a lot of mental/physical energy for me. There’s tons of resources out there to help you figure out how to do more with less. My friend Taylor Pearson writes about this here and is a great place to start. Tim Ferris’ classic The Four Hour Work Week is also required reading.
14. I cut out TV and I *try* to cut out “screen time” an hour before bed (phone, tv, computer, ipad).
15. I read and listen to podcasts. Ideas are stimulating. Also most the ideas I’ve shared here were found through either reading or listening to podcasts.
16. I try to accept when I do have low energy. Instead of lamenting over it, I ask myself what may be influencing my energy? I run through the last few hours/days, is there anything that sticks out? Did I do something differently? Has something been on my mind? I do the same when I have exceptionally high energy. Over time patterns begin to emerge.
Just by being aware I find I start consciously shifting to more of the things correlated with high energy and less of the behaviors correlated with low energy.
17. I keep my space clean and organized (as much as possible!). A messy room or workspace can effect our energy levels. I keep things that I find empowering and inspiring visible (family photo, piece of art, quotes, vision board).
18. I try to get outside in nature every day, even if only for 15 minutes. I’ve been fortunate to live by the ocean for much of my life and being by water usually recharges my batteries.
19. I take inventory of who I spend my time with. I spend less time with “energy vampires” (you know who they are!). On the flip side, I try to spend more time with people that energize me and make me feel good.
20. I developed a morning routine. Hal Elrod calls it the Miracle Morning and Tony Robbins calls it the Hour of Power. Whatever you want to call it, having some sort of morning routine for yourself can be incredibly powerful. Whether it be exercise, meditation, writing, reading, visualizing or a combination of these there’s something about prioritizing my growth that sets the tone for my entire day even if it’s only for a few minutes.
21. Maybe most important, I strive to live a life of integrity and kindness. I help others when I have the opportunity. One of life’s paradox’s is that sometimes the most energizing thing we can do is to give our energy away.