Tell me you haven’t had this feeling.
It’s the end of the day, and you’re sitting on the couch at home, exhausted. Your back feels stiff, and your brain is tired and fuzzy.
You’re trying to take a break, but even in your moment of rest, the idea that tomorrow you’ve got to get up and continue to work on a million and one things is still floating around in the back of your mind.
And the worst part about this?
It’s that throughout all the tiredness and exhaustion you’re still sitting there and thinking: “I could’ve done more today.”
I know that feeling all too well.
Whereas once upon a time I would have had this experience almost every single day without exception (weekends included), fortunately now it’s far less often.
Fighting against the fatigue trap
It’s a relieving feeling when you’ve learned how to manage your energy and productivity, and you can finish the day spent and satisfied, not stressed and exhausted.
It’s similar to the feeling you get when you take a slow, deep breath and exhale. It’s liberating.
So how do you get more done? How do you have more real productivity at work, so you finish the day feeling content and not completely depleted?
The realization I had that led me to make such a powerful change was this:
Most people are looking for what to do, but understanding what NOT to do is just as important. And in this case, what not to do is accept a life that fosters fatigue.
Look, you could be the best in the world at your job, you could use the strategies that productivity experts use, you could even have the willpower of an Olympic-level athlete, but if you’re tired and fatigued, it’s all pretty useless.
Developing limitless energy at work is a matter of knowing four things.
- How to naturally have enough energy
- What tasks to use your energy on
- What times of the day to use your energy
- How to get the most out of the energy you have
Mastering your energy management
Supercharge your natural battery
The obvious place to start is to consider your natural reserves.
This is what most people think about first when they want to increase their energy levels.
There may be a number of reasons why you’re feeling tired; it could be down to sleep, nutrition, or even just hydration. Whatever it is, a holistic lifestyle approach is needed to make the most out of your days.
What you want to do first is improve your personal standards of what it means to have lots of energy.
Most people follow the lowest common denominator. If they have more vigor than their coworkers or their family members, they’re happy enough with that.
Unfortunately following the crowd is simply not good enough. The vast majority of people experience unnecessary fatigue and stress at work, so if you want to feel good, you need to set your own pace.
Luckily, you can make huge lifestyle changes with very small choices. There are dozens of books that will help you get started, but to save you hours and hours of reading; here are 10 actionable ways to improve your natural energy levels.
1. Wake up to natural light
There are a series of light-sensitive eye cells, known as ipRGCs, which help your body absorb light and set your circadian rhythm.
When you wake up to natural light, you’re going to get up with more energy because while you were sleeping these cells have been gradually making your body aware that it’s go time.
Artificial lights aren’t able to do the same thing to your brain, which is why you may notice that waking up in a dark room and turning the light on will leave you a lot more sluggish for the first couple of hours of the day.
2. Drink an extra liter of water a day
They say food is fuel, but if we take this analogy one step further, water is our oil.
Dehydration causes your body to work harder to circulate blood, which leads to fatigue. Some medical professionals believe that up to 75% of Americans could be chronically dehydrated, partially due to the nature of other beverages they are consuming.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see how adding an extra liter of water to your day could make a big difference to energy levels.
Tip: add sugar-free electrolyte powder to your water to improve your water-retention capabilities.
3. Don’t have caffeine after 3pm
It’s common knowledge that you shouldn’t drink caffeine at night.
However, what a lot of people don’t know is that studies have shown that caffeine can negatively impact your sleep quality if taken up to 6 hours (or potentially longer) before bedtime.
In fact, a moderate dose of caffeine has a significant effect on the amount of time you spend awake or in the light stage of sleep during the night.
Also, remember that many of us don’t have moderate doses of caffeine in our system (double shot anyone?) and that we may have already had caffeine earlier in the day.
For many people, drinking a lot of coffee (or other caffeinated drinks) is a lifestyle, so their sleep quality has been suffering every single night for months or even years.
The conclusion is simple – drink less caffeine if possible and don’t consume any at all after 3pm.
Tip: For an energy boost in the afternoon, consider replacing your coffee with a vegetable juice.
4. Avoid carbs, sugar and cooked food before work
When it comes to maintaining alertness, you want to avoid things that are hard to digest.
Your body uses a lot of energy for digestion, so it makes sense to look to healthy, light meals that are easy on your stomach.
Raw foods are usually better than cooked foods, as cooking foods destroys the enzymes that assist with digestion.
Simple carbs are foods that are digested quickly, meaning they give you a quick boost of energy before making you crash. While good for physical exercise, they’re pretty useless for long, sustained and focused work.
Complex carbs such as bread, pasta, baked goods and cereals will likewise spike your glucose and counter-intuitively take up a lot of the energy in their digestion instead of releasing it like you want them to.
It’s why we often feel sluggish after such heavy meals, and why we have the common term “food coma”.
5. Take a vitamin D and magnesium supplement
Vitamin D is an incredibly important vitamin that many of us just don’t get enough of. In fact, it’s the most common vitamin deficiency in the world, even though we can get it naturally from the sun.
Among other things, Vitamin D can improve cognition and boost your immune system, and is very important in the fight against fatigue.
Magnesium is the second most prevalent deficiency. It helps to support normal nerve and muscle functions as well as maintain a strong immune system.
Because it also assists in the regulation of glucose levels, it’s an important supplement to take if you want to increase your energy, improve your sleep, and deepen your relaxation. Magnesium supplementation has even been considered a viable way to treat major depression.
Both of these supplements can be found in your local pharmacy and online, though it’s advised you consult with your physician before you begin taking them.
6. Don’t drink alcohol within 48 hours of an important project
Aside from the obvious effects of a hangover, even small amounts of alcohol disturb your sleeping patterns by inhibiting the production of glutamine. And though most of us may not notice it at first, it can have knock-on effects on your energy for days.
Likewise, your body uses a lot of energy expelling the toxins that come along with alcohol consumption. You’ll also suffer from dehydration; just one 250ml glass of wine causes the body to expel 800 to 1000ml of water to help rid it from the body.
Then there are other side effects like craving carb-heavy foods.
The one big takeaway here is that, if you want to have more energy, you need to be extra careful about your alcohol intake.
7. Learn how to breathe properly
Have you ever seen how a baby breathes?
When they inhale, their stomach expands, followed by their ribs and then their chest, and while exhaling the reverse happens. Most of, us, however, are conditioned out of this habit and end up breathing solely from our chest.
This shallow breathing doesn’t allow us to take in enough oxygen. Deeper breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system, preventing stress and boosting energy levels.
There are also massages and exercises you can do to your diaphragm that are used by many free-divers and which can help you maximize your oxygen intake.
Reduce ego depletion and decision-making fatigue
Ego depletion is the idea that self-control and willpower are finite resources.
Essentially, what this means is that forcing yourself to exercise too much self-control early in the day could make it more difficult to focus on work later on.
A related process, called decision-making fatigue, is the deteriorating quality of decisions as a result of having to make too many of them. However, another important aspect of this is that having too many decisions to make in the first place is a drain on mental energy and contributes to ego depletion.
In fact, some theorists go as far to suggest that decision-making fatigue is a large determinant of dispersion of wealth, as the wealthy are able to outsource many of their decisions and focus on the most important tasks.
Dean Spears of Princeton University argues the same but from the other perspective; the poor have more small decisions to make and are depleted by them.
Spears asks us to consider a trip to the supermarket. A wealthy family may choose whatever they want with no regard to the price. On the other hand, a poor single parent may need to make dozens of decisions regarding price, brand, and cooking time, so by the time they reach the checkout aisle, their willpower is lower and they’re less likely to resist the sweets and snacks.
So how does this apply to your energy at work?
By eliminating as many micro-decisions as possible before going to work, and leaving fewer open loops during your most important work hours, you’ll have more mental energy to focus on the tasks at hand.
Likewise, if you can structure your routine in a way that doesn’t force you to have to exercise a lot of willpower in the morning, you’ll be more likely to carry through with the tasks.
Here are some practical ways to reduce ego depletion and decision-making fatigue:
Write a to-do list before going to bed. When you wake up in the morning, you should already know more or less what you need to do that day. If you’re going to work with a dozen ideas floating around, this is an immediate drain on your mental energy.
Take a break and do something fun while working. Studies have shown that fun can regenerate your ego depletion. Some psychologists recommend table tennis as it keeps your brain active and gets your body moving.
Develop confidence in your willpower. While willpower is limited by your physical energy, it’s also mediated by your mindset. Having confidence in your willpower will give you an extra boost.
Replace ‘maybe’ with ‘no, but’. When you say maybe to a coworker or friend, you’re leaving an open loop and creating an expectation that will mentally drain you. By saying no (with a conditional ‘but’), you don’t need to spend any time thinking about disappointing them in the future.
Focus on the present. Somewhat unsurprisingly, studies have shown that focusing on the present moment and mindfulness prevents ego depletion.
Improve your social relationships
We all have people in our lives that we can describe as “draining.”
Unfortunately when our relationships at work aren’t hugely positive, this is exactly what happens.
In situations where we are uncomfortable, our body will tense up and elicit the stress response, which has a huge impact on your energy.
In fact, a study out of Tel Aviv University that tracked the impact of the workplace on the health of 820 individuals over a 20-year period, found that the quality of workplace relationships, namely, social support, was the largest predictor of mortality.
This means not only does the quality of your work relationships impact your day-to-day productivity; they predict how early you are likely to die!
So how can you ensure you have energizing relationships when you don’t like your co-workers?
Unfortunately, you can’t always choose who your coworkers are, but what you can do is decide how their actions impact you.
A hostile work environment often comes from a lack of communication.
Think about it, a huge proportion of people come to work stressed, and the nature of their job may mean that they see their co-workers as competition. However, people will always value positive social relationships, so all it usually takes to change the tone of an office or workplace is for one person to take the step forward to creating a positive bond before a relationship can flourish.
But what happens if there is someone who is unbearable?
Maybe their negativity is always going to sap your energy, regardless of the attitude you bring to the table.
Well, in that case, you need to do a few things. Firstly, you need to recognize when you are dealing with one of these people. Next, limit your contact with them as much as possible. Make an effort not to get pulled into their chaos, even if that means setting strong boundaries that hurt their feelings or cause friction between you.
Here are 5 simple ways to improve your relationships at the office.
- Spend more time with your high-energy co-workers and friends.
- Practice giving with no expectations.
- Make an effort to speak to everyone and especially to congratulate them on their wins.
- Proactively organize events to facilitate office relationships.
- Send emails expressing gratitude.
Engage your brain’s Reticular Activating System
Have you ever noticed how sometimes your brain is turned on and honed in like a laser beam, but other times it’s so uninterested in whatever’s in front of you that you just can’t help but yawn?
This response is regulated by your Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is the part of the brain that’s used to regulate your wake-sleep mechanisms.
One of its roles is to filter the limitless information that comes through your senses (minus smell). The RAS tells your brain what’s important, when you should pay attention, and how alert you need to be.
Two principles that govern the RAS, and in turn your attention, are urgency and novelty.
So how can you use the RAS to your benefit?
The RAS responds to any information perceived as immediate. This is because in a survival situation, you need to be thinking intently about the threat facing you.
One way to consider this at work is in the context of time limits. If you have a deadline in three hours, you’re going to be more focused on that than something due in three weeks.
You can manipulate this by setting time-based rewards and punishments relating to your work goals. When you consciously make the more important projects time sensitive, while leaving the less important tasks for later, your RAS will help you focus on what needs to be done.
If you already have obvious punishments for not getting things done on time, you need to highlight these better. While it’s often more glamorous to think we can use positive motivation all the time, negative motivation is usually a lot more effective when it comes to our arousal and attention.
Another important principle regarding your RAS is novelty. Again, evolutionary drives mean that your brain will focus on anything that is new and different.
You can use this to your benefit by introducing new ways of working, however small, into a stale work routine. It can be as simple as problem-solving by going for a walk or finding a new workspace, engaging in brainstorming sessions, or allowing extra room for creativity in your day.
Find your rhythm
No, not that type of rhythm.
There’s a phrase going around in productivity circles; you might have heard it.
“Don’t manage your time, manage your energy.”
Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project popularized the idea. His company works with organizations to improve employee engagement and sustainable performance.
The notion is simple, especially if you’re already familiar with the idea of sleep stages.
Well, arousal is one of what’s known as our ‘ultradian rhythms’ which we have in both our sleeping and waking stages. Other rhythms we have include blood circulation, growth hormones, bowel activity, and appetite.
When it comes to alertness, during the day we move through 90-minute periods of highs and lows. While going to and from these 90-minute periods, it’s important for us to recharge. We do this by taking breaks in the cycles.
At the end of each cycle, we switch from our parasympathetic to sympathetic arousal, meaning we must draw on our bodies own stress hormones (adrenalin, noradrenalin, and cortisol) as well as caffeine and high sugar foods, for our energy.
And so, it’s important that at the end of every 90-minute cycle, you spend 5 to 10 minutes resting. This could be doing anything different to the work you’ve been doing and that allows your brain to recharge. Drawing, mindful breathing, going for a walk, and journaling are all very effective.
A few ways to take breaks and maintain your rhythm include:
Starting an energy journal
While, theoretically, three 90-minute bursts of work (beginning early in the morning) is proven to be the most effective way to approach your work, everyone has their own pattern. Keeping an energy journal where you simply score your energy level each half an hour or hour, can allow you to see where you have the most energy during the week and what might be influencing your highs and lows.
Doing the right type of tasks at the right time of day
If you’re like most of us, you’re probably doing the wrong type of tasks at the wrong times in the day.
For instance, some research suggests that your creativity should be reserved for when you are not at your most focused.
A study from Wieth and Zacks that examined the effects of time of day on problem-solving found that creative ideas came best in the evening for self-identified ‘morning people’, and best in the morning for self-identified ‘evening people.’
The theory is that as our minds tire, our focus widens, which is optimal for creative thinking.
Likewise, when it comes to decision-making fatigue, you could structure your decisions in a way that the most important decision can be made at the height of your energy levels, while those less important ones can be made at the end of the day. This is while keeping in mind the earlier point that decisions can deplete your ego.
Ultimately, it’s best that you experiment and find something that suits you.
Tip: Take your breaks incredibly seriously! Your breaks are just as important as your work time.
Treat your body like a temple
There is a strong psychosomatic relationship between body and mind.
If you’re going to work with a stiff neck or a sore back, like many of us are, you’re going to be distracted from doing your best work.
You need to start looking at your body as a tool that you have to use, no matter what your profession. When it comes to focus, in just the same way in which you wouldn’t want to work with a slow computer every day, you don’t want a body that is heavy, tired, and sluggish.
How to treat your body like a temple:
Stay physically fit
A lot of people, particularly when they don’t exercise often, choose not to make it a priority because they think they don’t have time and it will leave them tired. The reality is the reverse, the more you exercise, the more your body will effectively circulate oxygen and the more energy you’ll have every day.
Eliminate eye strain
If you spend lots of time staring at a computer screen or with your head buried in books, you need to do your best to eliminate eye strain or you’ll end up experiencing fatigue and headaches.
There are a few ways you can do this, but taking breaks every hour and spending time looking off into the distance is a good place to start. You can also look into getting a pair of glasses that filter blue-light from electronics.
Fix your posture
Posture not only has a huge influence on energy levels, but it also impacts mood. By sitting up straight, you allow your lungs to open up fully, taking in more oxygen to your muscles and boosting your energy.
Consider taking up yoga or Pilates to strengthen your core, and if it’s an option, invest in some ergonomic furniture.
Walk, stretch, refresh
Every time you take a break at work, it’s best that you move around a bit. This will rest your eyes and your mind, and also facilitate blood flow and circulation.
This was a monster of a post, and we don’t expect you to take it all in straight away.
Limitless energy may seem like a superpower, but even for the average person, it’s just a series of smaller habits.
And those habits start with a commitment.
When you commit to maximizing your energy, you’re not just changing your work.
You’re changing your entire life.
Are you ready to make that change? Make sure to let us know and keep us updated in the comments!