If the workday is a marathon, 3 p.m. might be that 20-mile mark when you hit your wall–the six-mile stretch that marathon runners claim feels like hell. In your workday, this is that moment late in the day when you’re just getting started on the thing you planned to finish in the morning–feeling grumpy and groggy and impossibly far from getting everything done.
Experienced marathon runners will tell you that if you pace yourself and properly prepare, those last six miles don’t have to be quite so tough. The same goes for your workday. Energy Project CEO Tony Schwartz certainly believes it. He’s worked with companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft on how employees can better manage their energy.
Schwartz not only encourages, he practically mandates that people take breaks every 90 minutes in order to better work with the body’s natural rhythms. The idea behind this is simple: Spend your energy more wisely, and you’ll have more of it to go around.
Here are six simple ways Schwartz recommends using less energy to get more done:
We have a finite amount of energy each day. If you’re obsessing over mistakes, missteps or things that didn’t go your way–essentially dwelling on the negative–you’re wasting energy that could otherwise be used toward productive tasks, says Schwartz. Try to pay attention to when you are having those Debbie Downer moments and rein them in. You’ll be saving energy, not to mention you’ll be a more pleasant person to be around.
Getting lost in email or mindless tasks can suck away much of your energy. It’s also a great way to avoid tackling the tough projects. But ultimately, when you’re not focusing your greatest energy on your most important tasks, you’re wasting it, says Schwartz. He’s a big proponent of doing the most challenging,most important things first-thing in the morning when you’re rested and less prone to distraction.
Working for short and focused periods of time is far more effective than working for long stretches without planned breaks. When you don’t know there’s an end in sight, you end up finding small and often time-wasting ways to distract yourself anyway. Work in intervals and you’ll find you’re using your energy more wisely.
If you say you’re not into rituals, you’re wrong. Most likely, every morning you wake up and brush your teeth. There’s a ritual right there. Rituals are a powerful and easy way to trigger your mind to focus and help you build some structure into your day. What else can you do that might help you feel more energized and focused? That might mean exercising every morning, making a cup of tea mid-afternoon or taking a walk during your lunch break. Be more conscious of the ways you’re building rest and renewal into your day.
We all know by now that when we’re sleep deprived, we’re less focused and more irritable. Our energy is not being used effectively. Being sleep deprived is one of the quickest ways to deplete your energy reserve, says Schwartz. Start paying attention to how many hours of sleep you get each night and how you feel the next day. You’ll start to notice marked differences in your energy levels depending on how much rest you got the night before. Become more conscious of how sleep affects your energy and you might find yourself going to bed at a more reasonable hour.
Often we don’t realize just how tired, anxious and unfocused we are in the moment. Schwartz recommends checking in with yourself regularly to rate your energy level. “A simple but powerful way to check in with yourself is to intermittently rate the quantity and quality of your energy–say at mid-morning, and mid-afternoon–on a scale from 1 to 10,” he writes. “If you’re a five or below on either one, the best thing you can do is take a break.”