Identify your energy-boosters. Then make them your top priority.
What happens when your schedule gets busier and the number of hours in your day remains the same?
You begin to get worn out. You begin to spend less time taking care of yourself. You begin to spend less time on the things you do for fun. You begin to spend less time cultivating and maintaining relationships. You begin to spend less time thinking abut how all of this may be impacting you — and the result? Eventually you hit a wall, and all of those impacts materialize, and you’re forced to face the burnout you’ve been building up to that whole time.
After cooling down from one of the busiest years of my life, I realized that I never again wanted to feel as burnt out as I did after spending several months way past my capacity of what I can reasonably handle. I wanted to determine how I could remain highly productive while still remaining mentally healthy. To find this recipe, I went to the most concentrated pocket of high achieving, driven and ambitious individuals — Silicon Valley — to collect as much insight as possible on how to balance hard work with staying healthy and happy.
The most consistent piece of advice I received was to identify 4–5 things which “fill up your cup” — these are the things that give you energy. Is it working out? Spending time with family? Journalling? Walking? Long sleeps? Side projects? Only you can lay out what these “energy-boosters” are for you.
Write these down somewhere. Keep them close. When you start to feel those low energy days/weeks creeping up on you, reach for one of your energy-boosters to help get you back to equilibrium.
This advice seems obvious, yet so few of us really do this in those moments where it feels like the world is sitting on our shoulders and the load just keeps getting heavier. Ironically, our first instinct is often to go deeper into that bad feeling instead of trying to do something to lighten that load.
What does this look like in practice?
When work/school/life is getting to be overwhelming, book a work out class or head to the gym. Call your mom or a friend. Grab your favourite journal and a lovely pen and get it down on paper.
Not post-mortem in 2 weeks. Not on January 1st of next year. But in that moment. In the painful moment — that is when you can do the best learning and reflection. The more you can extract from those moments, the better equipped you’ll be to handle the next ones.
For a more tactical approach to ensuring your energy levels stay up, I had someone recommend using a journal to track your daily activities for a week and putting a plus sign, negative sign or equal sign for the activities that give you energy, drain you of energy or are energy-neutral, respectively.
Take note of how many energy-boosters, energy-drainers and energy-maintainers you have in your day-to-day life.
You might notice that most often there are far more activities which take energy from you than give you energy when you’re approaching burn-out. After you’ve completed a week of energy tracking, make a basic outline of the energy-boosting activities you wanna swap in or add to your daily schedule for the following week so you can get closer to a net-positive energy score for each day.
For example, if taking the bus on your commute is an energy-maintainer, but walking is an energy-booster, make the time to leave earlier and swap that bus out for a walk. If eating your lunch alone is an energy-maintainer, but joining a friend is an energy-booster, message a couple people on the Sunday before the week starts and schedule those lunch dates in. Schedule your work-outs in advance for the week. Set alarms for when you’re aiming to wake up and go to sleep to make sure your energy levels remain consistent. There are plenty of ways we can improve our energy levels, but focusing first on the small adjustments we can easily make compounds into a surprising difference over time.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of just continuing to reach for the next accomplishment, achievement, accolade, promotion, etc. But we are dynamic, complex creatures which require maintenance and energy to upkeep. Don’t ignore the signs your body is giving you. It’s very important that we keep our own mental health top of mind. You are responsible for protecting your well-being and priorities. If we ignore the feedback we’re getting from our minds and bodies that we need rest, our well-being will start slipping. Soon enough, we will be so far away from our normal energy levels and balance, we will have no idea how to cultivate the feelings of fulfilment and inner peace we need to function optimally, because we will be so deeply and unknowingly caught up in activities that are emptying our cups.
So, next time you’re feeling that burnout sensation starting to creep up, take some time to think about your energy boosters, and try leaning on one, or scheduling a few of them in throughout the week.
When it feels like you’re too busy to take any time for yourself, that is precisely when you need it most desperately. Do yourself a favour and reach for a few energy-boosters the next time you’re waning to save yourself from the costly effects of burnout we all want to avoid.