Time management techniques can have little impact on your productivity if you’re lacking the energy to engage in deep, focused work. If you feel burnt out and overwhelmed despite managing your schedule and to-do lists carefully, it’s time to consider managing your energy. Your tasks and habits play a role in how much energy you have to complete tasks efficiently and effectively. A lack of energy can mean you struggle to get things done despite having the time. It’s normal to feel like working long hours will increase your productivity.
However, overworking doesn’t necessarily mean we produce more work or even better quality work. It can actually lead to burnout, a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion that clouds your everyday life. Instead, you can learn to work smarter by managing and replenishing your energy levels. Having an understanding of the tasks and habits that drain and energise you gives you the power to navigate your work, studies, and daily life intentionally.
3 Benefits of Managing Your Energy
Increased Mental Space
Energy management is about freeing up mental space. Your physical energy levels are important, however, it’s often that feeling of mental overwhelm that makes it hard to get things done. By managing your energy, you’ll begin to develop an awareness of what drains and energises you. As a result, you will be better able to minimise bad habits, remove unnecessary tasks, and block out time for energising tasks and habits. Less distractions and mental clutter will improve your ability to focus and make good use of your time. This makes it easier to achieve a state of flow where time, stress, and distractions melt away as you work.
The amount of energy we have to work with often depends on our wellbeing, habits, and commitments. Naturally, we all go through different seasons in life. Your studies, work, and relationships can sometimes require more of your energy than usual. It's important to adjust your tasks accordingly. Unlike time, your energy can be replenished with proper rest. Some seasons of life would require you to cut back on certain projects or seek more energising, restful habits. By understanding your needs at various points in life, you can always be working smarter to live a balanced life.
Long term, energy management can encourage you to implement better habits that improve your quality of life. This can make it easier to achieve goals like getting healthier or having better relationships. It’s easy to skip out on habits we know are good for us because we want to squeeze in more time for working or studying. However, if you know that taking a walk after lunch can help you avoid having an unfocused, unproductive work session - you’re more likely to do it. The more you make time for tasks that energise you, it’s likely you’ll form healthier habits as a result.
How to Create an Energy Audit
It can be hard to identify what drains and energises you off the top of your head. An energy audit can help you to monitor your energy levels throughout the day. This will make it easier to pick up on what zaps or replenishes your energy. Your energy audit isn’t just for tasks but also a place to examine your lifestyle by making notes on your sleeping patterns, eating habits, and social interactions. There may be an underlying reason for your low energy, mentally or physically, that goes beyond the length of your to-do list. Below, we’ll share two simple and easy ways to conduct an energy audit.
The Energy Investment Portfolio
What are you currently actively investing your energy into? The energy investment portfolio (EIP) is a method developed by Ali Abdaal to help you manage your work and life projects. This system provides a broad overview of the ongoing projects you’re currently attending to in life and helps you keep track of your ‘bucket list’, also known as, all those projects you’d like to invest in if you had the time and energy. You can do this exercise weekly or monthly to check-in with yourself and assess how your energy is being divided.
The EIP is made up of two core lists that help you to organise your to-dos. First, create a list of ‘active investments’. These are all the ‘projects’ you're currently attending to or want to attend to within the next week. This could be a habit such as going to the gym three times a week, or personal to-dos like booking a trip away. Ali Abdaal focused his EIP on his personal life, however, he recommends creating a separate EIP for work too. Second, create a ‘dream investments’ list which is essentially a bucket list of all the things you’d like to be investing your energy into. You can also categorise these tasks into habits, travel, family, and so on.
The key here is to reflect on your active investments. According to Ali, the sweet spot tends to be somewhere between 3-7 active investments for most people. This completely depends on you and your lifestyle. If you find your list is too long, you can move non-essential active investments into your dream investment list. This is an ideal way to avoid juggling too much at once while also keeping track of your future goals. Your two lists will help you to broadly assess and manage everything you’re investing your energy into. If you want to further organise your EIP, you can create additional lists or categories.
For example, Ali included an extra list for ‘passive’ investments. These are ongoing projects that have been outsourced to someone else. For example, he has a personal trainer that takes care of his fitness plans. Although he turns up the sessions, this no longer takes up mental energy and can be considered a passive investment. This distinction can be a great way to narrow down your active investment list or it could be an alternative to removing that investment. You can delegate tasks to someone else rather than stopping them entirely.
Daily Energy Audit
Reducing those ongoing active investments can help you maintain your energy. You’ll be better able to divide your time, attention, and energy across your ongoing projects without burning out. However, you might find you’re still feeling overwhelmed during the day. This is where a daily energy audit can help you to pick up on draining habits, tasks, or interactions.
The Daily Graph
This is a simple exercise you can complete throughout the day. Create a graph with Energy (low to high) on the vertical axis and Time (from wake to sleep) on the horizontal axis. You can then keep track of where your energy fluctuates throughout the day to produce a visual graph of peaks and dips. For example, you might wake up with high energy but dip around lunch time. Or, you might wake up with low energy and feel energised after a morning routine. It’s a good idea to draw one everyday for 1 to 2 weeks because each day might look different. Overtime, you’ll see some patterns in your routines, habits, and activities to understand what drains and energises you.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, created the habit scorecard as a simple exercise to become more mindful of your behaviour. By acknowledging the habits you engage in daily, you’ll become aware of what energises and drains you. It’s easy to navigate your day on auto-pilot and not understand what’s draining you out. That’s where the habit scorecard can help you to create awareness.
To create your own, simply write a list of your daily habits. This might look like: Wake up, Check Notifications, Meditate. Be detailed even if it seems insignificant. Once your list is complete, you can now mark each habit as draining, energising or neutral. James Clear uses the method of marking habits as good (+), bad (-) or neutral (=). However, you can adapt this for the purpose of your energy audit. This will be highly personal to you which makes it ideal for truly understanding where you’re losing energy. You can then use that information to reduce draining habits or make more time to replenish yourself with energising habits.