I’m sitting here on a Friday afternoon, and I have a running mental list of everything I could or should be doing right now. I should be responding to emails, or going to the gym, or running errands, or planning dinner, and on and on.
But it’s Friday afternoon, and I’m just not feelin’ any of it. All I want to do is sit outside with an iced coffee on this gorgeous sunny afternoon and do some writing. So that’s what I’m doing.
The old version of me would have shamed myself into doing something “more productive.” I would have pushed through my “laziness” until I checked everything off my list. And the quick thrill of satisfaction that comes from being productive would’ve soon been replaced by exhaustion and a nagging sense that I’d betrayed myself.
I’ve fought this internal battle over and over again:
WHAT I WANT TO DO TODAY VS. WHAT I SHOULD DO TODAY
I want to wake up naturally and have a leisurely morning … but I should get up early and start my day with something productive (all the articles and statistics “prove” that early birds are more successful!).
I want to take frequent breaks throughout the day to read a good book, take a walk, and cook for myself … but I should put in my full 8+ hours of uninterrupted work each day (how else do you expect to grow your business??).
I should exercise (and meditate, and write, etc., etc.) every day to stay consistent … but I want to do it when I feel inspired.
The more self-aware I become, the more obvious it is that I have a natural energy flow throughout the day (or week, or even season), but I’m so quick to ignore it based on what I feel like I “should” be doing instead.
I’ve learned that ignoring your natural “flow” = a fast road to burnout.
Thankfully, as a recovering over-achiever, I’m getting better at releasing the “shoulds” in my life, and let me tell you — it feels so much better on the other side.
HOW TO TRANSFORM YOUR BURNOUT
Having chronically low energy and feeling burnt out can happen for a lot of reasons, but one of the major culprits is ignoring your natural energy flow.
I was recently working with a client who was trying to stay super motivated and productive throughout the entire work day, and then she wanted to come home and spend 3+ hours studying for her GMAT and job searching. She was asking me about productivity strategies for keeping her energy up all day long.
I told her, “I hate to break it to you, but there’s no such thing as having endless energy all day long. Your energy is naturally going to ebb and flow — we just need to work with it instead of against it.”
I asked her to spend a week mapping out her natural energy ups and downs. She always thought she was a morning person, so what she discovered surprised her a bit.
As it turns out, she felt most energized between 9:30am – 1:30pm, and then again from 7-9pm. So we built her workday around that. She spent her “off-peak” hours doing things that required less brain power (like sending emails and compiling data), and reserved her most creative and important projects for her “peak hours.” She even started bringing a mid-morning snack so she could keep working until her energy started slowing down around 1:30, and then she’d take a later lunch.
The result? She started getting way more done in much less time, and her feeling of burnout started to melt away.
I’VE FINALLY GIVEN MYSELF PERMISSION TO FOLLOW MY “FLOW”
I, like most of you, have been fighting my natural energy flow for most of my life (we teach what we most need to learn, right?). But within the past 6 months, I’ve started to give myself permission to “follow my flow.”
Here’s what my flow looks like:
- I just don’t do early mornings.
- I need lots of downtime.
- I have the most energy and motivation between 10am-3pm.
- I feel most inspired immediately after being out in nature or listening to an inspiring podcast or audiobook.
- When my calendar gets too full, I hit a breaking point and want to cancel everything.
- If I try to do anything every single day (exercise, write, meditate, etc.), I’ll start to resent it and rebel against it.
- My creative flow works best when I tap into it first thing, before handling the logistics of the day (emails, technology, etc.).
- On Fridays around noon, my brain essentially shuts off for the weekend.
- When the weather is nice, I need to grab my laptop and work outside for a couple of hours.
I’ve betrayed every one of these “truths” about myself more times than I can count, and it feels awful every time. The more I give myself permission to live and work according to these self-imposed “rules,” the more energized I feel.
Working WITH your natural energy flow, instead of against it, will re-energize your life.
WHAT DOES YOUR “FLOW” LOOK LIKE?
So, now I’d love to know, what does your natural energy flow look like? What “rules” could you create for yourself to work with (instead of against) your “flow”?
Keep in mind that your flow may not be what you think it’s going to be, so try spending at least a week tracking your energy ups and downs before you start making any changes.
And here comes the tough part: How will you give yourself permission to follow your flow? What might you need to rearrange or say “no” to? Leave a comment to let me know!
Kristen (+ Rachel)
My energy runs much the same way. Sleep at midnight, wake at 9am, walk the dog and then all day until about 4pm I have good energy. I have to take a lunch break to recharge and I can work again, if necessary, after dinner. I agree that everyone should find their ebb and flow and I think Google has done a great job of letting people do just that. I wish more companies would follow suit.
Sounds like you’re already very attuned to your natural energy rhythms, Linda, which is awesome! And I agree — I wish more companies were open to letting employees work with their natural energy flow. Even if you don’t work for Google, though, it’s always worth asking for what you know will be best for you (and ultimately for the company, too!).
I really love this post and I’m really happy you guys are sharing this! My perfectionist side is constantly battling between being productive and doing what I want. Led me to believe that there’s never enough time to get everything done. I don’t think I have any peak times where my energy/motivation is highest but I know that I do need breaks on long days. I think I need to control my energy so that it’s evenly distributed everyday. So I guess I need to tell my perfectionist side that my to-dos can be done one day at a time instead of all at once.
Such a great awareness, Riya! Perfectionism can be a huge energy drain (I know that from experience, too!), so whatever you can do to quiet that inner perfectionist will definitely help you maintain your energy throughout the day. I feel like you’ll resonate with this #ClarityGem about perfectionism. 🙂
My flows are generally these: I am only productive and work in the early afternoon. Sitting outside with my laptop gives me the most creative energy. No matter what time I wake up, it takes me 2-3 hours to get motivated to do anything. My body loves to wake up at 9am, and when I have to wake up earlier than that it’s angry at me. I love to read at night before bed. I can’t have too much on my schedule or I will feel overwhelmed.
“Sitting outside with my laptop gives me the most creative energy.” 100% agree!
Lovely article! Totally resonates with me!
Awesome, thanks for sharing, Rachel!
I find that I’m full of creative energy late into the night, around midnight – 3 a.m. But I always feel guilty being up late, writing, reading, etc. So I try to force myself to go to sleep, wake up early and try it in the morning. It never works out, and this article made me realize I need to work with my natural flow.
But do you think those late hours are detrimental to my health? Should I actually try adjusting?