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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.
An older 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 And the quick thrill of satisfaction that comes from being productive would’ve soon been replaced by exhaustion and a nagging sense that I’d betrayed myself.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 (don’t all the articles and statistics “prove” that early birds are more successful??).
I want to take frequent breaks throughout the day to get away from my screen, take a walk, read a book, and cook for myself … but I should put in my full 8+ hours of uninterrupted work each day (how else do you expect to get everything done??).
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.
It’s taken years, but 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 at least 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.
DISCOVERING MY OWN RHYTHM
After fighting my own energy flow for most of my life (and frequently slipping in and out of burnout), I’m finally paying more attention to my natural rhythm so I can work with it, instead of forcing myself into a box I’ll never fit into.
Here are a few patterns I’ve noticed in myself:
- I just don’t do early mornings. (And trust me, I’ve tried every trick in the book to be a morning person. It’s time to give it up!)
- I need buffer time in-between my appointments (15 minutes minimum!).
- I have the most energy, focus, 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.
- I need at least one weekend day with no plans to energetically reset.
- 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.
- The weather hugely impacts my energy. (I might as well be solar-powered, because my level of motivation directly correlates to how much sun in shining through my windows.)
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.
My conclusion: Working WITH your natural energy flow, instead of against it, will re-energize your life.
WHAT DOES YOUR NATURAL RHYTHM LOOK LIKE?
What are some patterns you’ve noticed in your own energy flow on a daily, weekly, monthly, or seasonal basis?
Keep in mind that, if you’ve been following a certain schedule (out of necessity or “shoulds”) for a long time, you may have gotten so out of sync with your natural rhythm that it’s hard to know what it is anymore. So start paying more attention to your energy ups and downs, and jot down any patterns you notice. Do certain meetings, tasks, environments, or people drain your energy? Is it easier to focus at certain times of the day? When do you start itching to take a break?
And here comes the tough part: How will you give yourself permission to follow your rhythm? What might you need to rearrange or say “no” to? I’d love for you to leave a comment below to let me know!
Kristen (& Rachel)