Manage Your Energy: Stay Productive without Burning Out

by @deanyeong | Get free weekly updates here

A common mistake many people make in improving their productivity is that they are overly obsessed with EFFICIENCY.

They want to gain the best outcome with the least effort, and they want it FAST.

But productivity isn’t just about efficiency. It’s also about effectiveness.

  • You get your clients’ work done fast, but does your work help solve their problems?
  • You lose 20kg in 4 weeks, but is this healthy and sustainable?
  • You get your children to listen to you with authority, but do they really respect you?

Many people fail to think long-term. To achieve their goals — financial, health, relationship — immediately, they risk damaging the very thing that helps them to produce the results.

And this happens, too, in terms of productivity.

We assume being productive means to get more done in less time. And yes, we succeed for a while by working long hours, sacrificing our health, and abusing our energy. But at the end of the day, we’re paid back with an inability to stay focused and severe burnout.

To stay focused, creative, and productive, we should all take a new approach to how we work and live. When we do, we’re going to:

  • Stay focused for an extended period of time without feeling forceful.
  • Have unlimited capacities to stick to our personal and work routines.
  • Stop feeling stuck and burnt out even with multiple responsibilities.
  • Gain control over our time physically, mentally, and emotionally.
  • Find meaning in our work and life.

Focus, Flow, and the Sense of Time

The most popular productivity strategy is always related to time management. That is because time is how we quantify productivity. Time is a finite resource, at the same time, time is our capital to generate more of what we want in return, whether it is money, relationship, or status.

Time is quantified equally for everyone. A second for me is a second for you, a week for Sean is a week for Sarah, and a decade for Tim Ferriss is a decade for every single one on the planet.

However, we feel and perceive time differently. Without comparing yourself to another person, you, yourself, can feel time differently too, from one moment to another.

In the book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi stated that we can lose the sense of time when we’re fully focused and engaged with the task at hand. And Mihaly called this the state of flow. We get so much — great work — done in that period of time without feeling the existence of time.

And I bet you have experienced times when you’re stuck, staring at your computer screen, and have no idea of how to move on. Every minute in that state feels like a lifetime.

The common solution most people employ is to work harder, stare at the computer screen harder, and think harder. Why are we doing that? Because we have to get shit done on time.

Managing Your Energy to Avoid Burnout

You see. It’s difficult to manage your productivity with the traditional way of blocking out periods of time on your schedule because our performance varies from moment to moment.

NOTE: I’m not saying to trash your calendar entirely. Scheduling tasks into your timetable is still essential, but we should be flexible with our schedule if we want to take our productivity to the next level.

Instead of forcing yourself to work on energy-consuming tasks when you are stuck or unable to focus, take a step back or work on something else.

Go for a walk. Get some fresh air. Get back to it half an hour or a day or two later.

While you’re energized, take the opportunity to get the most out in that period. Below are a few examples of how you can improve your productivity based on your energy level throughout the day:

  • Design a morning routine to frame your mental and emotional state, so you’re solution-focused throughout the day.
  • Practice a new habit or solve creative problems in the morning because that is when your energy level is at peak.
  • Don’t check emails in the morning to avoid distractions when your energy level is high.
  • Schedule regular breaks or power naps in the afternoon to replenish your energy and prepare yourself for another cycle of work.
  • Reduce screen time after 6 pm to promote better sleep at night. If you have to, use f.lux (for free) to reduce blue light exposure.

In fact, managing your energy isn’t just something you can implement into your daily routine. It is also essential to apply it to a longer time frame such as your weekly and annual commitments.

Regularly review and reflect on your progress so you can make better decisions when managing your long-term commitments. This helps you avoid stretching yourself too thin with multiple priorities and then delivering nothing at the end of the day.

Very few people are doing this because these changes of process and workflow don’t usually provide an immediate spike in productivity and performance. Often, it feels tedious.

Compared to power napping and reviewing your progress, burning the midnight oil working on unfinished projects allows you to have something to show the next day.

However, this short-term tactic will only damage your overall productivity in the long run.

If you’re an employer, the best practice is to adjust how you measure and judge the productivity of your team. This helps your team to manage expectations and have more flexibility on how they will manage their energy and performance.

Wrapping our head around how we spend our energy does have another benefit. Instead of seeing your time as two separate areas — work and life, we come to realize that there is no fine line between work and personal life.

What we do in our personal life — outside of our work — will directly affect the performance of our work, and vice versa. This acknowledgment makes a significant difference in how we think about spending our energy and time.

Balancing the Input and Output

It’s unavoidable to talk about the stimulus around us when we’re talking about managing our energy. Because consuming information (a) requires energy and (b) affects the quality of our energy.

We are what we consume, not just food, but thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and identity. We’re constantly exposed to things and people who are hungry for our attention.

In fact, our minds too, are wired to crave information and stimuli because that was how our ancestors survived over hundreds of thousands of years. Instead of letting your mind run free grabbing everything it sees, manage what is within your reach and get rid of unrelated stimulus.

For me, I make sure I read for 30 to 60 minutes a day, every day. Then I summarize every book I’ve read.

To make this unique approach work, I suggest we make a deeper observation of what we consume mentally, emotionally, and intellectually. And only then, we can effectively eliminate unrelated stimulus and take control over our energy in work and life.

Dean Yeong

Writer. Reader. Lifting weights & drinking coffee.