It might help to think of energy as a pot. Some activities pour energy in. Some pour it out.
So how do you achieve the right level?
I kind of like the numerical approach. After keeping track of your time for a week, you can go through and label activities on a scale of -5 to +5. Activities that score -5 might include a long meeting with someone you dislike, or rush hour travel with a screaming baby. Plus five activities might include lunch with a best friend, a bike ride on a favorite path, work on a favorite project, etc.
If your week adds up to a negative number, that’s clearly a problem — and one reason it may feel like you have no time. If any given day adds up to a negative number that’s less of a problem, as long as the week is positive — though you probably won’t feel great on that day.
But you don’t have to accept a negative number. As you’re planning your weeks, try to balance the energy scale like you’d balance a checkbook. All withdrawals must be covered by deposits. If you can see that there’s a long afternoon meeting coming up that will be incredibly draining, you can ask your spouse to cover that evening so you can go to a favorite exercise class. Or maybe you can plan an evening playdate with a friend whose company you really enjoy. If something is a more regular drain — say, the evening commute — you can get into a rhythm of doing something restorative before or after. Maybe it’s 10 minutes to read a favorite website before you hop in the car. Maybe it’s a twilight bike ride after dinner or 20 minutes of quiet while the kids get some screen time.
Or maybe you can figure out a way to get rid of any activities scoring negative numbers, or modify them to be less negative.
One of my most draining times is the pre-dinner rush, when I’m transitioning out of work mode, and trying to make something reasonable for three children, one of whom enjoys broccoli and red onions and such, and two of whom do not. While the older two are content to watch TV while I cook, the toddler is inevitably pulling on my leg, which stresses me out if I’m carrying boiling water or hot baking sheets around.
So, I looked at my schedule and realized that I don’t find cooking stressful, it’s the cooking-while-watching-kids aspect that I find draining. So my sitter and I worked out a solution that she stays until 5:30 instead of 5 (I traded off my open-ended late night — I realized I can find other sitters for evenings if I need them). I am trying to still end my work at 5. I am not always successful, but sometimes I am. Then 5-5:30 can be transition time, when I cook, pop open a beer, read a few headlines, decompress. At 5:30, I aim to have the kids’ dinner on the table and go into full-on mom mode. This has converted -3 time into neutral time, maybe even +1 if it’s a good beer.
What are your -5 activities? Have you altered your schedule to combat them?
In other news:
Welcome new readers! I apologize that your comments aren’t posting immediately. I got such a ridiculous amount of spam that I stopped WordPress from emailing me when there are comments in the queue. I try to check in relatively frequently, but it may be a few hours. You should only have to wait once, though, and after that, comments will post automatically.
I started a new gig with Fast Company this week. I’ll be writing regularly for their website’s new “How to Be a Success at Anything” section. My first post is on 5 Non-Network-Y Ways to Network.
I’m also over at Fortune’s website, writing about “Home vs. office: Where should you work?” The answer turns out to be…yes. Both. And other places! I find I’m very productive on trains.
I enjoyed the post at Modern Mrs. Darcy about the “Target Run” phenomenon. You go in for toilet paper, and come out having spent $150. I’m usually pretty good about avoiding impulse purchases, but I can see how this could happen…has it ever happened to you?
Photo courtesy flickr user donjd2