When you have no energy left for what matters most

“Every decision to use a portion of time on anything represents the sacrifice of all the other ways in which you could have spent that time, but didn’t – and to willingly make that sacrifice is to take a stand, without reservation, on what matters most to you.”

4000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

So you know you want to be working on your book, or that new business idea you think you’d be great at, or your art, or whatever it is that gets you excited and gives you the feeling of, yes, this is it!

But life just keeps getting in the way. You have to shower and feed yourself and tidy the house and run errands. Then you have to get to work and perform well at your job and pass performance reviews with flying colours.

At the end of the day, you just want to load up Netflix and treat yourself to some mindless nothingness. So your book isn’t written. Your business isn’t launched. And your art doesn’t leave the walls of your imagination to delight others in its realness.

You just don’t have the energy to make it all happen, and the things you actually want to be doing most on your time here on earth are sacrificed first.

This isn’t about having enough time, it’s about having enough energy.

Why don’t we think more about energy management? Why are we obsessed with managing our time when without energy we can’t do anything?

We wake up with a tank of a certain amount of energy, and as we go about our day, we make withdrawals from that tank.

Say you wake up after a crappy sleep with 75% in your tank. You have an average-level stressful commute and it’s down to 65%. You see a beautiful sunrise and it’s back up to 67%. But then work hits it down to 20%, followed by grocery shopping, cooking up dinner, and trying to make the house look more presentable.

If your tank plummets down to zero, how can you expect to feel creative and inspired as soon as you have a spare moment? How can you expect Netflix or browsing on your phone to not be a much more appealing choice?

You can only work with the energy in your tank, so you have two options:

1. Add more energy

This means knowing what gives you energy, starting with the essentials:

  • sleep
  • food
  • hydration
  • movement
  • looking after your mental health

These things provide your energy baseline, or the level of energy you wake up with and how easily you maintain it during the day.

Other energy-adds depend on you. Perhaps being around other people energises you, or maybe it makes you desperate for a lie-down.

These are important, but the real difference comes through losing less energy, not adding more…

2. Lose less energy

This means looking closely at what’s draining you. This could be a job you hate, or even a job that’s ok but isn’t right for who you are and how you want to be spending your time.

It could be doing more than your fair share of the housework. It could be taking a second job to make ends meet. It could be being unable to say no to other people’s requests, so you end up with a to-do list packed with shit you don’t want to do and don’t even really need to do that exhausts you.

It could be stress about finances or health or relationships or other people. It could be toxic relationships and environments and expectations that make you feel like crap.

That might sound like a lot of possible reasons. But it’s only just scraping the surface of the ways you could be depleting your energy.

Start by looking for the big energy detractors. What’s responsible for 80% of the stress and negativity in your life right now, and what can you do to alleviate it?

Maybe your only real option is accepting your big energy sink – but that’s a hell of a lot better than torturing yourself about it every minute of the day.

There are a few ways to lose less of your precious energy, or at least to make a start:

  1. Realise you can’t do everything – and that’s actually ok. It makes the stuff you choose to focus on all the more important.
  2. Let go of what’s overstayed its welcome. Make the hard decisions about who and what gets to stay in your life – this includes toxic people, unhealthy environments, commitments you’ve outgrown, and friendships that sap your energy.
  3. Give yourself permission to choose for yourself, not others.
  4. Use boundaries to stop your to-do list filling up with others’ requests again.
  5. Say no to 7/10. You know that stuff that’s ok but not great? It’s easy to say yes to it, but really it’s just getting in the way. Make more room for things that are 8-10/10 instead.
  6. Make bad habits harder and positive habits easier (especially those that contribute towards your main goals). Atomic Habits by James Clear is the go-to book for reading about this.

You are the sole gatekeeper of your energy reserves.

What do you really want to do during your lifetime? And how can you safeguard and maximise your energy to make space for that?

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