Career and Workplace

Manage Your Energy Better

Energy levels ebb and flow throughout the day. Think of energy like a glass that depletes and needs to be replenished. When that glass empties, your energy dips physically and mentally, and your productivity suffers. However, having that glass overflowing for long periods of time (think being upbeat all the time and constantly chasing deadlines) will also cause a decline in productivity because you will eventually lose perspective and burn out.

Here’s how you can manage your energy in a more balanced way so that you are able to optimise your productivity better.

Which is better: a nap or a walk?

There are many different things that can drain your energy, including any combination of the following: 

  • A lack of sleep

  • Over-work

  • Dehydration

  • Stress

  • Poor nutrition

  • Physical inactivity

  • Lack of motivation

Sleep, nutrition, and physical exercise all play a significant role in maintaining healthy energy levels. When thinking about your personal energy levels, ask yourself: Are you looking after yourself enough by ensuring that you are getting enough sleep, eating correctly, and exercising regularly? 

For example, it seems like the obvious choice to choose inactivity when trying to recoup energy levels like having a Netflix night after a long day at work. But although it feels counterintuitive, gentle yoga or a brisk walk have been proven to be fatigue fighters and are actually better for boosting energy than a nap.

In a study published in Psychological Bulletin, the researchers analyzed 70 studies on exercise and fatigue involving more than 6,800 people. More than 90% of the studies showed the same thing: Sedentary people who completed a regular exercise program reported improved fatigue compared to groups that did not exercise.

Exercise also helps you utilise your energy better during the day so that you can sleep better at night. And getting enough quality sleep is the best way to recharge your batteries.

But what if it’s mental fatigue that you’re facing? 

Tennis player Andy Murray was asked in an interview, “Why are the longer tennis matches so tough?” His response was that it’s not the physical tiredness that has the most significant impact — they train for that and can prepare for it — instead, making thousands and thousands of decisions, constantly, for a long period of time, causes mental fatigue. Think back to that overflowing glass; after a certain point, the quality of your decision-making drops.

You may not be a professional athlete, but even subconscious decisions drain energy and can cause mental fatigue, what more the regular decision making throughout the workday like the correct way to word something in a document or email, how to best communicate and connect with teammates during a Zoom meeting, or how to achieve the outcome you want from a specific task. 

Work smarter, not harder

To further demonstrate how constant high energy demands actually decreases productivity (and effectiveness) rather than increase it, John Pencavel, a social scientist and economist from Stanford University, carried out a comprehensive study of long working hours in 2014. He compared data from thousands of workers, comparing hours worked with output and success.  His findings were definitive: Workers who clocked up 70 hours a week achieved no more than those who had worked 55 hours. 

Studies on companies and countries that have embraced shorter working weeks (i.e. the four-day workweek), productivity is yet to go down. People achieve the same amount or more than they did when they worked longer working hours.

The importance of breaks

A study that looked at more than 1,000 rulings made by eight different parole judges in 2009 shows an interesting trend. While decisions are generally based on facts and law, something else was at play. It was found that the judges were more lenient during the start of the day or after scheduled breaks in court proceedings, but were harsher before a lunch break or at the end of the day. 

The researchers found that the likelihood of a favourable ruling peaked at the beginning of the day, steadily declining over time from a probability of about 65% to nearly zero before spiking back up to about 65% after a break for a meal or snack.

This shows how incredibly important breaks are to your decision-making ability and how prolonged periods of expected productivity not only tanks your energy, it also affects your mood. 

How to optimise your energy levels throughout the day

  1. Eat wisely. Too much or too little can affect your energy levels, as can heavy foods that divert your energy to digestion instead.

  2. Exercise regularly. Even a brief 15-minute walk during lunchtime or one of your scheduled breaks can boost your energy levels.

  3. Sleep better. Take charge of your sleep schedule and learn how best to wind down at night.

  4. Take breaks. Schedule them into your calendar and use them to go outdoors for some fresh air rather than to rest or sit in the break area to scroll on your phone.

  5. Don’t force it. If you experience a 3 p.m. slump every day, for example, trying to power through it will do more harm than good.

  6. Adjust accordingly. Try different ways of energizing yourself, such as exercising, eating different foods, getting lots of water or sleeping more, to find out what works best for you.

  7. Strike a balance. Remember that “maximum” doesn’t mean “optimum.” Learn to balance intense productivity with slower, “brainless” activities or breaks.