Fuel your energy: it’s more productive than stressing out

Energy or stress?  It’s mid-afternoon, and you’re falling behind, unable to focus on the upcoming deadline.  What’s wrong with you, you ask yourself, as you drain the last of your third coffee of the past two hours… You can’t focus, your energy stores are close to zero, and so coffee seems like the right thing, right?

You’re confusing stress with energy.  The coffee you’re drinking as if your life depended on it is not energy, it’s a shot of stress (caffeine is a stimulant, not a food).  You’re not fuelling up with the energy you need to be focused and productive, you’re fuelling up on stress.  And this is the answer to what’s wrong with you.

Stress is not all good, or all bad.  It’s there to save your life, should a grizzly (or your boss) stand nearby, so it’s good.  Stress is there to give you the occasional extra push you need to complete a deadline.  But used too much, too often or for too long, stress becomes costly.  It’s exhausting, depleting your mental and physical health.  It’s toxic and addictive, and as your energy stores get further depleted, you use even more stress to compensate, accelerating the slope towards depletion… and burnout.

Stress is the instant, flash, physiological activation of all your systems to save your life.  It’s amazing.  But when everything in your life activates your stress response, it’s no longer amazing, it’s exhausting.  Your boss, your deadlines, your phone: they’re all grizzlies surrounding you, ready to kill.  When your daily life becomes tainted with artificial life-or-death situations (my boss will kill me! Being late to that meeting will cost me! My job is on the line! My life’s at stake!) you become depleted, depressed… and burned out.  And stress is cumulative, with the load adding up over time from all areas of life.

You need energy (not stress) to fuel you.  You wouldn’t dream of driving your car without gas (energy), turning the key over and over to rev up the failing engine (stress).  So why are you trying to rev up your productivity and stamina without gas?  Energy and stress are both large, complex topics, so what I’ll share with you today are just a few tips, kind of the “tip” of the iceberg.

  • Your most focused, productive time is probably 10am to 1pm: assess what’s your prime time, to do then what’s most important and demanding.  Keep low energy times (usually mid-afternoon) for the less demanding stuff.
  • Fuel physical energy through the day: take a lunch break with real food; stretch or go for a walk; get a bit of fresh air. These will go a long way in keeping you focused and productive.
  • Fuel mental energy through the day: take a brain break by stepping away from work and electronics every 90 minutes or so. Stand up, take a few deep breaths, look outside.  And don’t use that time to check your social media; to your overworked brain, it’s just more work.
  • Check on your sleep: if you’re like most North Americans, you’re not getting enough sleep to refuel. Sleep is not lost time; sleep is what makes you focused and productive.  And you need about 8 hours, regularly, to be at your prime.  Any less, and you’re getting low on energy by 2pm – or earlier.

Action needed. If you want better, steadier, focused energy, you’ll need to fuel enough and regularly – and this means today.  So what do you need today to fuel energy, to be focused, steady and productive, instead of frazzled, overwhelmed and scattered?  You make choices; you live their consequences.  What do you choose for you today?

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