The Importance of Energy Levels in Scheduling

09 April 2011, by A. Cedilla

AKA: The E(nergy) Factor and You

While it’s intimidating and awesome to have a relentless and unstoppable machine like the Terminator on your side, it’s self-defeating — as well as delusional — to think that you can be just as unstoppable in the pursuit of your goals. For one, this is real-life, not the movies. For another, you’re made of flesh and bone. Bones ache and flesh gets fatigued. What’s more, brains get drained.

And can you imagine getting James Cameron for a boss?

Anyway, when it comes to ensuring a sustainable schedule, people often forget to factor in their personal energy levels. To everything there are cycles, remember? Ups and downs, stops and starts, peaks and valleys…

When it comes to heavy tasks and big projects, it’s never quite one straight shot – zoom! – right down the road, with a full-tank, no obstacles, blue skies and green lights all the way.

That’s a nice fantasy, but even with the best of times, you’re still a person with a body that needs rest, a mind that can burn out and feelings that can influence your thoughts and decisions (and vice-versa), and distract you from paying attention to where you’re going.

Even as the way to your goals are twisty and full of stop-starts, misfires and rapid adjustment, your body has its own demands and cycles. If you don’t want to be torn between the two, you need to be able to get them to work together. There are high-energy people , low-energy people, and a wide range in-between. What’s your baseline?

If you want to get to where you want to go, you better make sure you’re in the shape needed to actually get there. You wouldn’t want to go on a road trip without checking out your car’s condition, or preparing for anything that might come up, why expect your body to go soldiering on without taking care of it?

If genetics gifted you with a sturdy but slow constitution, you don’t need to throw yourself out trying to one of those Speedy Gonzales types. Work with what you’ve got. Smart beats fast, no matter what Wile E. Coyote shows us:

You have to consider mental, physical and emotional energy cycles:

  • What activities can leave you engrossed for hours? Woodworking? Arranging your collection? Coding?
  • What bores you senseless in fifteen minutes, and leaves you clawing at your face in thirty? Shopping for jeans? Balancing your checkbook?
  • What activities don’t really do anything for you except use up your time and displace your attention? Maybe you can re-channel that time and focus to things that make a tangible difference in your life.

Watch yourself and take notes; you have habits, habits establish patterns…what are those patterns?

  • When do you feel the most rested – narrow it down to the specific day/s of the week – Sunday? “It’s been Monday all week.” Thursday may be Hump-day, and as for Friday, either you’re in love or doing laundry?
  • When do you feel most alert, or most drained? The famed after-lunch slump, or mid-afternoon blahs can be explained by sugar-crashes and having to digest your lunch, so maybe you can tinker with your meals and snacks so they won’t leave you feeling so heavy.

When are the best times for you to do specific activities like exercise, long- and short-term planning, financial calculations or brain-storming? Find out, and make a record. Mind over matter can only go so far before your body tells you off for not listening to the warning signs

  • What little actions prepare you to go into the Zone? Do you have little rituals like setting up particular play-lists for a specific activity, a special pillow for your back, special snacks on hand?
  • What activities rev you up and get you ready to rock? Maybe you can use them to pump yourself up before going into something big.
  • What activities leave you wrung out afterward? You can then prepare for a reasonable recovery period – and this prepping need awareness and foresight. If you know a visit to the in-laws or a faculty meeting will wipe you out, don’t schedule any heavy thinking or important decision-making after the event. You’ll be too frazzled and probably won’t in the best condition or mind-set to make the best choice.

What about fuel? What about pit stops?

  • Food for thought (literally) helps you think better. Good brain-foods leave you without the jitters associated with the immediate high of sugary snacks (and the corresponding crash. We all know the phenomenon of a sugar-crash.) There are tons of advice out there for the best foods to keep you steady. Go read up.
  • Food for thought (meditation) can help calm you and shut off all the clamor that prevents you from thinking clearly. Try it.
  • You probably know about sleep debt and how you pay for it. Rest, recuperate, recharge. Get a better bed.
  • Exercise builds up your capacity and ability to do, and to recover from the doing. You’ve probably read up on gazillions of articles on exercise, now settle on an activity that energizes you and isn’t just something you tick off on your to-do list.

Recognize the natural highs and lows of your body’s rhythms. Whether you’re a night owl or a lark, whether you indulge in siestas or not, paying attention to and working with the rise and falls of your energy levels will help you have an easier time of going after what you want.

For more tips on how to take care of yourself, you can also read How’s Your Schedule, and How’s Your Schedule 2: Reducing Stress.

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