Not long ago I posted about keeping a time journal in an effort to find ways to improve my productivity. The experiment was interesting and helpful; however, any attempts to improve time management, and/or results, were short lived. What hadn’t changed was the fact that before my workday even started, I felt tired, run down emotionally, and sapped of motivation. And this was after a 3 ½ mile walk on the track at the Y.
No matter how time-efficient I was, my productivity didn’t stand a chance.
I then remembered a book I had purchased in my early 30s after watching a segment on Oprah’s talk show, around the time I was finishing my graduate studies and needed to complete my thesis (at the time it was the longest and most complex writing I’d ever done). Called The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz (yes, that Tony Schwartz), its subtitle clearly states its thesis: “Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.” Reading it, and implementing a series of rituals, helped me finish the thesis, lower my stress, and move on to a career teaching college writing before I wrote and published my first novel.
I hadn’t looked at the book since. So a few weeks ago I re-read it in one weekend, cover to cover.
Full engagement, according to the book, required me to be:
- Physically energized
- Emotionally connected
- Mentally focused
- Spiritually aligned
I’d thought I was in fairly good shape. My Fitbit, however, was telling me otherwise:
- I was sleep-deprived.
- I wasn’t eating well (I didn’t need the Fitbit to tell me this).
- The exercise goal I was attempting to make—working my way up to walking five miles, five days a week—was futile if the previous two conditions remained unresolved.
I was definitely falling short physically and mentally. And although my emotional awareness was high, I’ve occasionally worried about losing an emotional connection to my writing, especially since I got married. Spiritually, I thought I was OK, but by the time I’d finished reading the book, I figured even that could use a tune-up.
So, how to achieve optimum energy management?
The purpose, say Loehr and Schwartz, is to “Remove barriers by establishing strategic positive energy rituals that ensure sufficient capacity in all dimensions.”
In other words, create rituals that seek to restore energy levels in all four categories—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Furthermore, if possible, complete work tasks in time blocks of 60-90 minutes.
The 60-90 minute time blocks had especially worked wonders for me when I was a grad student balancing a thesis deadline with one or two sections of English 101 classes (which meant I was constantly reading and grading 25-50 four-page papers). Other rituals could include things like meditation, exercise, meal planning, pleasure reading, or taking a bubble bath, depending on your needs.
I decided to customize a plan for myself, starting with improving physical energy. I’d been going to the track at the Y weekly since August, but I decided to stop aiming for five miles and cut the walk down to three, still at a brisk pace. However, at ½ mile intervals, I jog one to three laps to bring my heart rate up and then take one or two laps of “rest”, like an interval workout, before the final cool-down and stretch.
Additionally, instead of eating a pre-workout “meal” of something like cheese and nuts or peanut butter on toast, I switched to half a protein bar, which leaves me less full and gives me just enough kick. I then try to have a protein-favorable breakfast following the walk. I also try to drink a smoothie for lunch (I’m a picky eater; thus, smoothies boost my fruit and veggie intake). I haven’t changed my dinner meals much, except I’m tying to be portion conscious. And on the weekends I still indulge in my favorite foods.
As for improving sleep, that is a work in progress. I’m reluctant to take sleep aids, so I need to find an evening ritual that involves staying off my phone at least two hours before bed, and perhaps listening to some soothing music or guided meditation. As a newlywed, I’m also still acclimating to sharing my sleep space.
Since the beginning of 2017, I had been keeping a gratitude journal, so I decided to keep doing that to support spiritual and emotional energy. I also added Morning Pages, a ritual started by Julia Cameron over twenty-five years ago, as part of her best-selling book and course, The Artist’s Way. It involves writing three pages in a notebook every morning (a practice not limited to writers, but artists and creatives of every kind). When I’d first started them, I was surprised (and even a little disturbed) to find that most of the pages were consumed with “venting”—however, I also found that the pages helped me focus when it came time to sit with whatever I was working on. Setting 60-minute time blocks also helped. I was able to work on the latest novel with little to no distraction, and rather than jump on social media following a writing block, I tried to do something like climbing the stairs for a minute or two or de-cluttering a small area. (I haven’t perfected that ritual either; then again, my workday is never the same.) I even completed and submitted the manuscript to my agent on the personal deadline I set.
The Power of Full Engagement also approaches implementing these rituals not from a place of extrinsic motivation (weight loss, lower cholesterol, although those things are certainly positive consequences), but intrinsic values put into action. Oftentimes our lives don’t reflect the values we purport to be important to us.
The authors define and explain:
A value in action is a virtue.
We may hold generosity as a value, but the virtue is behaving generously. Alignment occurs when we transform our values into virtues. Simply identifying our primary values is not sufficient. The next step is to define more precisely how we intend to embody the values in our daily lives—regardless of external pressures. For example: “I demonstrate the value of generosity by investing energy in others, without expectation that I will receive anything in return, and by my willingness to put the agendas of those I care about ahead of my own, even if it means inconveniencing myself at times.”
Here’s an example of one of my values and how I aim to make it a virtue:
I demonstrate empathy by forgiving myself and others, responding rather than reacting, and doing my best to reduce judgment and criticism of myself and others.
(That may not sound like it applies to my writing career, but it certainly applies to my well-being, and that applies to every aspect of my life.)
I would like to add more rituals—especially an evening ritual to help with sleep—as time goes on. And I would like to do better with some of the ones I’ve set up, such as taking breaks and committing to the time blocks and the work that takes priority. Furthermore, I want to these rituals to bring more organization to a workday that currently is without boundaries. No workday is the same—that kind of lifestyle (both personally and professionally) has always been appealing to me, and in many ways still is—I’ve never liked being slave to the clock or the calendar. However, sometimes it leaves me feeling ungrounded.
Finally, I want to dedicate 2018 to restoring my energy to its highest potential, especially since I have an idea of what’s coming down the pike personally and professionally—all good, mind you, but change nonetheless!
Discussion/Reflection: In which area(s) of your life are you lagging in energy? What kinds of rituals might serve you? What values can you turn into virtues?