How I learned to manage my energy instead of my time
In 2021, I experienced major changes: starting my own business in January, losing my beloved father in March, and writing my book, which I just turned in a few weeks ago.
How did I cope with it all? Fortunately, I have many loving, supportive people in my life. I also unconsciously changed what I prioritize.
As an employee, I used to prioritize managing my time efficiently and my schedule was packed with back-to-back meetings. As a new business owner, I knew I had to do things differently.
In reflecting on 2021, I realized I started to manage my energy levels instead. I noticed who and what gave me energy and drained energy and when to strive for neutral energy. I also scheduled my activities to maximize the impact of what gives me energy and minimize the impact of what drains energy.
Here’s a list of things I started to do as well as stopped doing to increase energy boosts and reduce energy drains. I hope some of this resonates with you.
Hiring people. Hiring my first full-time employee, Hnin Johnson, in July was the biggest energy boost. As the team project manager, she keeps all of us organized. She's good at all the things that I don’t like to do. She gets paid more than anyone else at the company, including myself. As soon as I could afford to, I brought on two part-time employees as well as keeping a spot for a paid intern. When I was employed, I made a lot more money and had a lot less energy. I would rather make just enough money to cover my modest needs and spend money to hire people who can help me retain my energy. I wouldn’t have been able to write my book in three months without having colleagues to do energy sucking tasks, like organize research notes, proofread drafts, and format the book.
Take time off and mean it. We take five weeks off a year and this is a major energy boost. When I started this practice, my team was made up of two graduate students who needed time off to focus on their finals each quarter. I then realized I also need the break. So now we simultaneously take a week off every quarter, in March, June, Sept and two weeks off at the end of December. We maintain a no contact about work rule.
Make time to care. In our two-hour weekly team sync meeting, we always start with 15 to 20 minutes of sharing stories of our personal highs and lows from the prior week. This is energizing. We genuinely care for one another, which is especially important now as we’re working virtually. Studies even show that teams that are able to share their personal lows are able to be more honest with one another when it comes to the work.
Set my own terms. I get to decide what’s good enough, which is energizing. Trying to adhere to others’ standards zaps energy. I felt this especially in writing my book. Because I went the self-publishing route, there were certain academic practices I just didn’t feel compelled to follow. I have already written hundreds of detailed footnotes from my previous career as an academic. I included only two in my new book. I also write what I want to write about, now that I don’t have to worry about how it will reflect on my employer’s reputation.
Ask for help. As a new entrepreneur, I have to ask for a lot of help. The moment I ask, it’s a bit energy draining because I’m afraid of imposing. And when people respond, even if it’s with a “no,” it’s energizing because we just connected. Over the three days before I kicked off my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for my book, I sent a text message to 120 people individually to ask for their support. I got lots of energy bursts in response. Also, I constantly ask people to review my writing. Overall, knowing that people are willing to help me is the ultimate energy boost. I wouldn’t know unless I asked.
Saying no to some work. Fortunately, most of our client work is energizing and supports our long term vision. Sometimes we have to take on work to bring in revenue. Earlier this year, I wrote an essay and developed a workshop called Explore What Success Looks Like and Feels like. We applied the framework to ourselves and we decided as a team that success feels like constantly learning, which means saying no to work that doesn’t push our own learning edge. One of the team members pointed out that the work we were doing for a major client was not aligned with our goals. So we decided not to pursue renewing the contract for next year. I recognized the energy costs.
Commute less, connect more. I don’t own a car, so commuting to meet people socially takes a lot of energy to plan. After I moved back to the suburbs and far from public transit, I became unapologetic about not being able to meet people in-person unless they are willing to meet me near my house. Instead, I talk with people over the phone, usually as I walk around my neighborhood. I get the energizing effect of connecting without having to worry about transportation.
Read for fun. I get energized by reading fiction and memoirs, and I did a lot of it this year. As cheesy as it sounds, my library card really does function as a passport to the world. Through reading, I get to travel through time and space. My favorite reads from 2021 include: Red Azalea, Shuggie Bain, The Fishermen, The Vanishing Half, Things We Lost to the Water, Please Look After Mom, and Miss Burma.
Stop cooking. I realize that while cooking with friends is energizing, cooking by myself is not. I only recognized this when I didn’t have to do it anymore. I moved back in with my family last winter. My youngest brother, who loves to experiment in the kitchen, cooks and I clean.
Keep unread emails at zero At my last job, I had over 6000 unopened emails. Whenever I checked my email, I would feel this energy sucking ping. A new company meant starting fresh. I regularly read and/or delete emails within a few days to keep my unread emails at zero.
What about you? What did you do in 2021 that gave you energy and took away energy?
I wish you a happy and energetic 2022.