Running all-out all the time is the sure path to burnout. Productivity happens when you know how to use your energy wisely.
Productivity is all about output. The more you achieve, the more accomplished you feel. But more isn’t always better. The quality of what you produce is just as important as the quantity. And one of the most powerful ways to maximize the quality of your output is to manage your energy.
Your energy is like the fuel in your car—an empty tank won’t take you far.
But the biggest difference between your car’s fuel tank and your own is that what refuels your car is universal. Unless you’re driving a high-performance vehicle, fuel is fuel. But when it comes to your personal fuel tank, what fuels or recharges you is specific to you.
To maximize your productivity, you’ll want to spend time getting to know yourself. Understanding your signals, your rhythms, and your greatest sources of energy will bump your productivity up exponentially.
When it comes to your personal fuel tank, what fuels or recharges you is specific to you.
5 tips for managing your energy to boost your productivity
Let me share some of my favorite tips on how you can keep your energy in the max productivity zone.
1. Know your low-energy tells
Let's go back to the car analogy. Imagine the feeling you get when you’re stuck in traffic. You look at your dashboard, and the emergency fuel light has come on. It’s a stressful moment to bear, but it’s also a gift. You never have to wonder how your car’s fuel tank is doing. Blissfully, it carries no emotional baggage. When the needle hits "E," it’s time to refuel.
You, on the other hand, are not always so clear in your signaling. I know, for example, that when my ten-year-old starts rolling on the floor like a toddler, her tank has hit empty. Her 12-year-old sister, on the other hand, sends a similar message through sass and attitude.
Know what behaviors tend to signal the need for an energy recharge.
What I’ve just described are my daughters' tells. You're an adult, so I'm guessing you don't tend to roll on the floor. But I’d bet there’s something you habitually do when your body is trying to send a signal. It may be reaching for a cookie, daydreaming, or experiencing a sudden intolerance for the lady in the next cubicle whose laugh is more like a cackle.
The advice here is to pay attention to you. Know what behaviors tend to signal the need for an energy recharge. We can’t solve a problem until we’ve spotted a problem. Consider keeping a journal for a couple of days and note the trends. You’ll spot your tells quickly.
You’ll never produce your best work on an empty tank. So, learn how to spot when it’s about to hit "E."
2. Have an arsenal of energy infusers on hand
The "right" way to recharge your tank is with yoga and meditation ... unless you hate yoga and meditation! If you’ve been taught that a recharge must involve deep cleansing breaths and a mantra, you’re not alone. And if said breaths and mantras do indeed recharge you, then, by all means, lean into them.
There is no one or right way to recharge. When you’ve spotted your tell, and your system needs that recharge, know ahead of time what strategies work best for you.
But we’re all wired differently. There's nothing universally right about yoga. For an introvert, watching a quick cat video (no shame) or listening to a song or two might do the trick. An extrovert may prefer a quick stop at the water cooler to pick up some dish. For some it’s reading a brief article or checking a simple to-do off your list.
There is no one or right way to recharge. When you’ve spotted your tell, and your system needs that recharge, know ahead of time what strategies work best for you. Have that cat video cued up and ready to roll. Often an investment of a few minutes can put hours back on your personal battery.
3. Schedule your day around your rhythm
I have friends and colleagues who swear they do their best work between 10 p.m. and midnight. This, to me, sounds like science fiction—I’m sound asleep by 9:45. My life may not be wildly adventurous, but it is productive.
There are pieces of your day you can control and others you can’t. But the advice here is to take ownership when you can. I strive to schedule client meetings in the afternoon whenever possible because that’s when my brain craves interaction. I try to reserve the mornings for writing and designing because that’s when I’m more analytical and structured.
Knowing what tasks you're most productive working on at certain times throughout the day helps you make good choices when the choice is yours to make.
I can usually knock out an article in an hour in the morning. But if I tried writing that same piece in the late afternoon, it would require 3 hours and a shot (or 6) of espresso.
Admittedly, certain clients need me in the morning. And the occasional late-day journalistic emergency can strike any time. I can’t control everything, and neither can you. But knowing what tasks you're most productive working on at certain times throughout the day helps you make good choices when the choice is yours to make.
4. Harness your slumps
Sometimes you just hit a wall, full stop. And even that video of sea otters holding hands while sleep-floating isn’t going to recharge you. So take that break. But find a way to make it useful.
Take a break when you need it. But know that taking a break and staying productive are not mutually exclusive.
Need to run downstairs and grab a coffee? Go for it. But stop along the way at a colleague’s desk and have a quick—and productive—conversation. Pose a question you’ve had on your mind, share an idea, or ask for a piece of feedback.
Need to stop thinking about work for a beat? Permission granted. But consider watching a TED talk or reading a blog post that might deliver inspiration when you’re ready to dive back into the work.
Take a break when you need it. But know that taking a break and staying productive are not mutually exclusive. Find a way to make use of your break time.
5. Find a break-buddy to help you re-energize
Sometimes it’s not that you need a break from work, but that you need a break from this work. Have you been editing the same proposal or staring at the same spreadsheet for hours? Have you hit a wall? Maybe you need that coffee or that cat video. Or maybe you just need to stare at something fresh.
Tired eyes aren’t productive. But putting something new in front of them can add some fuel back into your tank.
Find a colleague with whom you can swap for a bit. Ask him to give your proposal a read and suggest any adds or edits while you spend time organizing or refreshing his spreadsheet. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes on your work can give it new life and putting your eyes on a fresh project can provide that recharge.
And after 15 minutes, swap back. Tired eyes aren’t productive. But putting something new in front of them can add some fuel back into your tank.
So, there you have five strategies for keeping your energy in the productive zone. When you feel yourself waning, remember that even the fanciest cars need fuel to run. Taking a beat to recharge is not the lazy person's way; it's the wise one’s. You don’t get extra points for sobbing your way to the finish line. Keep that tank full, and I promise, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.