I had a conversation with a close friend recently and she shared with me that she often feels resentful because she can’t seem to find any time for herself. She’s got young kids, a (demanding) full time job, a husband, home, etc. In other words…she has many roles, a slew of responsibilities and a day to day life that is fairly exhausting; doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for the “vitality, pleasure, passion and purpose” that I promote on this site. She was obviously frustrated and genuinely wanted to know what advice I had to help her manage her time.
I knew exactly what she was feeling, having been in her shoes (you can read a bit more about my story here). So, when she asked for time management suggestions, I shared my strong belief that the key to dealing with overwhelm isn’t time management, so much as it’s energy management.
After all, we all have the same 24 hours in a day. Super busy people can be quite fulfilled. Or not. Those with loads of free time can feel hopeless and uninspired. Or not. Our level of fulfillment and happiness has less to do with how we manage our time and much more to do with how we manage our energy.
Here are the best strategies I can offer for managing energy. They’ve helped me and many women I know deal with the sense of overwhelm that is so pervasive among women in our culture. True contentment comes from feeling that we’re investing our precious energy in things that inspire us and align with our values. These twelve strategies and practices help us do just that:
1. Recognize and celebrate your power of choice. Many women feel “backed into a corner” when they make decisions. We judge our choices based on society’s expectations and convince ourselves that there is only one “right” choice (and this “right” choice usually involves putting someone else’s needs before our own). It’s as if we go on automatic pilot and forget that we have the power to make a different choice. I’ve heard women say things like, “Logically, I knew I had the power to make another choice, but emotionally, it had never been an option.” Take back your power to choose. Immediately.
2. Take care of your body. Work to manage the physical energy drains as this is truly the foundation of energy management. It’s impossible to feel energized, effective and powerful when our physical body is depleted or simply not functioning at its best. Eat clean, whole foods, drink lots of water and move your body in a way that feels good (healthy exercise should not feel like abuse!). If you do nothing but these three things, you’ll experience increased energy. Add to that some practices which address the emotional energy drains (several are listed below) and you’ve got a powerful formula for vitality.
3. Get very clear on the priorities in your life and what your “non-negotiables” are. Accept that you cannot and will not do it all, so you must become crystal clear about which “trade offs” you are willing to make. Talk it out with someone close to you, journal about it, spend time alone in contemplation…this step requires some time and effort. It’s not always easy, but it absolutely has to happen if we are to take back the reigns in our lives.
4. Discernment. Before making decisions about how to spend your time and energy, reflect on which investments are aligned with your priorities. Hint: most of the things that consume our time and energy are NOT. Often, things seem to align with our priorities when, actually, they are a huge energy drain. We must become good at discerning which time/energy expenditures are actually worth it and which ones are not. And we must allow that knowledge to guide our decisions.
5. Get good at “no.” Many of us have a knee-jerk response of “yes,” when something is asked of us. Rather than quickly agreeing to something, we must allow ourselves time to contemplate and decide whether or not it’s a good energetic investment. Be highly selective and explicit about what you agree to (and if you have trouble saying “no,” these tips might help).
6. A morning routine which centers and supports you. Start the day on your terms, rather than being immediately swept up in the needs/desires of others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started the day with an energy deficit because my first thoughts of the day were stressful ones – lists of all that I had to do, regret over something that happened in the past, fear about something that might happen in the future, frustration because somebody did or didn’t do something, etc. When we allow our mind to start spinning with stressful thoughts from the moment our feet hit the ground, the momentum continues to pull us in that direction all day long. Conversely, when we start the day from a place of peace and pleasure, the momentum will continue to pull us in that direction all day long. Which kind of day would you rather?
7. Discover what feeds you energy and build those practices into your life. Part of energy management is “refilling the well”. Much like we balance our checkbook, we want to balance energy expenditures with energy deposits. Identify the things/people/practices that give you energy and then use those things to replenish the supply. If you’ve become extremely disconnected from yourself, this might require a bit of exploring and getting to know yourself again. Invest time into finding what brings you peace and pleasure. Simply follow what feels good. Then…
8. Identify your energy drains and those people in your life who are energy “vampires” and detach from them whenever possible. If complete detachment is impossible (as it usually is), create firm boundaries and protect your energy when you’re exposed to those energy drains (see #9 below).
9. Create clear and strong energetic boundaries. What I mean by that is, know what is your “stuff” and what is the “stuff” of others. I know this might sound a little woo-woo, but stay with me…many of us are highly sensitive and can easily pick up on other people’s tension, negativity, etc. Without realizing it, we absorb those “vibes” and begin to feel that same tension and negativity. Once we become aware of this tendency, we’re better able to recognize when it’s happening and to prevent it. Simply set the intention to keep your energy “clean and clear”. When you’re around others and their energy begins to negatively affect you, breathe through it and imagine yourself protected by an energetic “fence” that keeps your own energy safe and repels the negative vibes of others. (For those of you who are skeptics, give it a try. You’ll be amazed at how this practice transforms your interactions with the stressful people in your life!)
10. Manage distractions and maintain focus. Stop multitasking. Think back to a time when you worked without distraction to complete some task. No doubt, you worked more efficiently and effectively than when you’ve attempted to multitask. That’s because focusing our attention, as opposed to dispersing it among several different tasks, produces greater results with far more ease. In other words, focus allows us to conserve more of our energy.
11. Get comfortable with discomfort and the fear of missing out. Choosing one thing almost always means sacrificing something else. The feeling of loss and the fear that we’re missing out on something (perhaps, many things) is uncomfortable. For some people, it’s almost unbearable. That’s why the myth of “having it all” holds such power and allure. When we can feel that fear and discomfort, yet remain resolute in our choice (because we know the peace of mind that results from remaining true to our values), those fears and anxieties begin to loosen their grip and we can take back control of our energy.
12. Break out of the cycle of worry and control. We expend so much energy within this cycle and it causes us to ruminate on certain topics, endlessly (and to no avail!). This involves “re-training” our minds. Meditation/quiet contemplation helps. So does practicing surrender and trust. Use the breath and/or affirmations to bring yourself out of that mental loop. It takes time and consistent practice, but it can be done and it’s incredibly liberating.
I hope that these strategies serve you. I’d love to hear about your experiences and the practices that you’ve found effective in the Comments below.