Does it feel like you’re running on fumes these days? If so, you’re not alone. The global crisis has added an extra layer of stress and anxiety on top of our usual workload. Because many of us have been forced into new routines with new obstacles, we have to look even more closely at how we are managing our time.
We still have the same amount of minutes in the day as everyone else, so instead of focusing on the challenges we are experiencing, we have to shift our mindset. It’s not simply the amount of time we have, but also where we put our energy and how much we give. Because how we feel energetically has a direct impact on what we accomplish and the quality of the work. And it also impacts our wellbeing (and that of the people around us).
Think of your energy as currency. You have to budget it properly or else you end up in debt. This translates to broken relationships and negative affects on your health. When you spend money on an item, you have to make a decision as to whether you want (or need) the most expensive, highest quality item — or if the generic, cheapest option will be sufficient for your needs. We do the same thing, in essence, with our energy.
Here are 5 ways to budget your time and energy more efficiently (without losing your mind).
1. You don’t always have to give 100%.
I’m a perfectionist, so it’s hard for me to say this. But it’s true, and it’s a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way many times over. If you are asked for 50%, stop giving 100%. Yes, there are times to give it your all and put your best foot forward. But it is simply not necessary a lot of the time. When we have the mindset that every work has to be our best work, we drain ourselves of energy. And when the time comes for the task that really needs our A-game, we aren’t able to give it.
I’m not suggesting that you do your job poorly. Not at all. I’m suggesting that you get clear about the expectations of a task before you dive in. Example: I was in charge of the promotional materials for a duo who delivered entertainment keynote presentations. One day, their agent asked me for a new bio. I wrote that bio, and then went above-and-beyond formatting a gorgeous bullet-pointed document with beautiful graphics. I spent hours on it. After submitting the PDF document, the agent’s response was, “Oh, thanks for this but all I need is a Word .doc with the text so I can copy and paste it.”
I gave 100% and she literally did not want that. Had I clarified what she needed ahead of time, I would have saved that time and energy. Lesson learned. Understand when the situation calls for “good enough” vs “the best ever.”
2. Stop trying to multitask.
In case you haven’t heard, multitasking isn’t actually real. When you try to do more than one thing at a time, your brain is simply switching back and forth repeatedly, which actually zaps more of your energy, takes more time, and results in lower-quality work. As tempting as it might be to do multiple things at once, you are much better off if you focus on one thing at a time.
In these times where our work situations have changed drastically, this may be even harder (if that’s possible). Working from home, we have more distractions and more expected of us. Some of us have kids that need or want our attention or perhaps more housework than usual crying out to be done in between answering emails and taking calls.
To the best of your ability, focus on one task for a specified amount of time, and then move on to the next. Right now, we are feeling the need to be even more digitally connected than before, but if we are constantly distracted by beeps and buzzes, it will take a toll on our energy drastically. So make time for connection, but not in the same moment that you have to finish a focused task.
3. Match the right tasks to the right times of day.
As I mentioned before, many of us are experiencing a big change in our daily routine. Can you use that to your advantage? If you have more flexibility with when you work, then you can pay attention when you are at your best — those times we call “peak” energy times. If you do so, then you will be able to get more done in less time.
If you don’t have flexibility in your schedule, then do your best to artificially engineer the “peak.” In the current situation, my husband and I are working from home with no childcare for our two young children. This means we have to alternate who works and who cares for the kids throughout the day. Both of us love working first thing in the morning, so we have to alternate days for who gets the “morning work session” and who gets the “afternoon work session.”
When I get the afternoon session, I have to put extra effort into turning it into my peak time. (It’s naturally the time where I fall into a slump, tired and unfocused.) So I make a cup of my favorite tea, and I do a little bit of stretching or walking outside before I get started. When I sit down at my desk, I put on music I like, and I do a 5-minute meditation on my afternoon intention.
How can you create an environment or state of mind that’s ready for focus? Do the best with what you’ve got to set the tone for the tasks at hand.
4. Learn how to say no.
It’s a skill we need even in the most normal of times — how to say no to things that drain our energy and give us nothing in return. Now more than ever we have to be selective about what we say yes to. We have to be honest about what we have the bandwidth for, or else we risk overload and overwhelm (and negative effects on our health). We have to make choices and decide on priorities, even when it feels like we can’t. And if we don’t make the choices, someone else will for us.
The yes-habit will eat up your time and energy, so learn how to distinguish what matters from what doesn’t. This applies to how you say yes to others’ requests, but it also applies to how you say yes to your own. When you look at your own to-do list, are there things on there that aren’t really important? Will it take more time and energy than you have the capacity for, with little or no payoff?
Saying no isn’t rude. It’s actually a respectful response. You simply can’t give a task the attention it deserves. When you free your days of pointless tasks, you will no doubt feel more energized and productive on the things that really matter.
5. Take care of yourself and those around you.
Managing your own time and energy means delegating some of it to replenishing your stores. You have to fill the tank if you want to get anywhere. And doing the same to support those you love will, in turn, restore you, too.
This means taking breaks throughout the day for sunshine, exercise, naps, or hobbies you enjoy. Right now especially, it also means prioritizing your mental health. How are you coping with stress and anxiety? (Perhaps it’s sunshine, exercise, naps, or hobbies.) But you also may need to simply UP your communication levels. Talk about what you’re feeling with those you love. Connect socially on digital platforms with friends and coworkers. And when it’s time to engage with your partner or your family at home, put work away and focus on the connection time.
Neglecting your mental health and wellbeing will cost you dearly in many ways. Making time for rest and connection will help you be much more efficient and productive when its time to get to work.
Whatever the strategy, practice self-compassion. Maintain realistic expectations for your time and energy. Recognize where you have control, and release what you have no control over. Your time and energy are valuable, and your wellbeing is, too. So be selective about who and what you give it to.
“Don’t ask a man what is important to him. Watch how he spends his time.” – Dale Carnegie