In our fast-paced world, maintaining focused energy is one of the biggest personal productivity challenges. Much of the energy drain happens due to the sense of mental overwhelm and frequent information overload. This sense of overwhelm and inability to cope effectively with the daily flow of information, interactions, and distractions is a significant cause of stress and decrease in productivity for many people.
What stops you from having focused mental energy right now? Here's a list of common energy drainers and stressors. Do you see anything that applies to you?
• Lack of focus
• Mental clutter;
• Mindless distractions;
• Fear of uncertainty;
• Pessimistic attitude;
• Unrealistic expectations or beliefs;
• Information overload;
• Low self-esteem;
• Negative self-talk;
• Overwhelming negative emotions;
• Misalignment between your life purpose and everyday actions;
• Poor diet;
• Insufficient physical activity;
• Lack of sleep;
• Toxic home or work environment;
• Lack of social support.
Now, picture the power of the focused energy and how it could transform your life. Imagine what it feels like to be so absorbed by the task that nothing else matters. Certain practices enable us to maintain clear focus and add more energy to our days. Here’s what you can do to boost your energy and personal productivity.
- Stop multitasking to avoid the "sprinkler effect."
If you are easily distracted by thoughts buzzing in your head as you are trying to concentrate on a project, you are not alone. Mental noise and distractions create energy leaks. I call it the "sprinkler effect." Just like the sprinkler cuts through the stream of water dispersing it, distractions dissipate our energy. Our focus and perception diminish when it happens. Think of all the distractions throughout your typical day: a phone rings, an urgent email pops up, somebody interrupts your train of thought, etc. A common response is to multitask, but multitasking doesn't work. Our brains cannot do parallel processing if it requires conscious awareness. Multitasking is really a rapid task switching. The more complex and unfamiliar the tasks are, the longer it is going to take to switch between them. Multitasking causes the sprinkler effect.
- Pay attention: awareness = mental "White Space."
We can experience more focused energy if we practice mindfulness and give our full attention to the present moment. As we cultivate awareness, we gain the state of clarity, or the mental "white space." In art and design, the concept of "white space" refers to the absence, or nothingness, that makes the content stand out. White space creates balance. Similarly, when we are truly present and aware, our perception is heightened. We notice things we wouldn't otherwise. We experience more insights. We respond to situations as they arise without stress or worry generated by mental clutter.
- Chop up your projects and your work days into chunks.
Create a sequence of specific, measurable steps to complete your current project. Set milestones and deadlines to keep track of your progress. Then, divide your work day into chunks of uninterrupted time when you can focus on your scheduled tasks and eliminate distractions.
- Verbalize distractions: pour your disruptive thoughts onto paper.
When you feel bogged down by persistent, negative thoughts, write them all down and set the time when you will review the list. Writing thoughts down decreases their negative influence on the mind. When your scheduled time comes, review the list and determine which thoughts actually deserve your time and energy. Develop a habit of verbalizing your fears, doubts, and concerns.
- Practice WOW: "Witness Ordinary Wonders."
Present is the only thing that we ever experience, but how much time do we spend projecting our present fears and beliefs into the future or holding on to the constructs from the past that don't serve us well?
It takes practice to be present, but it can be done with any activity, no matter what it is and how small it may seem. This is about your mental attitude, and not the attribute of the activity itself. Here's what you do:
Each day, take time to choose an ordinary thing from your surroundings or a simple activity that you normally do almost on auto-pilot. Approach it as if you have never seen or done it before – with the beginner's mind. Think of a child who has not learned a label of your chosen item or action and is trying to figure it out. What new aspects of this familiar object or activity do you notice? What piques your curiosity?
- Befriend your emotions, even the negative ones.
It's natural and human to experience the whole range of emotions. What's important is how we process those emotions in our minds and our bodies. There are constructive ways to deal with negative emotions. You don't want to bottle them up because you will end up with emotional and energetic imbalances. Instead, you want to let yourself experience the emotion, just be with it for some time and observe. Recognizing negative emotions, labeling them, and paying attention to the physiological responses these emotions produce in your body may help to counteract their effect.
- Don't resist, accept: stewing is worse than doing.
Do you ever feel so overwhelmed and exhausted by all of the things you need to do that you can only complain and procrastinate instead of taking action? All this time, you are building resistance. Many people can relate to this experience. Resisting and complaining sap your energy. Whenever you feel the build-up of resistance, you want to stop and think about how you can move from resistance to acceptance. My earlier post on 5 ways to procrastinate with purpose can help you prepare for action.
- Get excited!
Don't wait for the next holiday to start a celebration. Make a list of five things that you are excited about today. What brings you joy when you just think about it? We all should have something to celebrate each day. This is a good exercise to do in the morning to begin your day on a positive note.
Next, list five things that you are grateful for or people you would like to thank. Notice any shifts in your emotional state once you have competed the exercise. Expressing gratitude for things that go well is a sure way to cultivate positive emotions. Positive psychology studies have linked feelings of gratitude to emotional well-being.
- Have a clear vision.
When Michelangelo was asked how he created the sculpture of David out of the block of marble, he said: "I simply chipped away everything that wasn't David." You can chip away at marble, but you won't create David unless you have a clear vision. Know what your "David" is.
- Eliminate inconsistent goals: don't try to be in two places at the same time.
Prioritize and eliminate inconsistent goals. The goals we set often compete for our time, effort, and resources. It’s important to know the priority of your goals and check for conflicting objectives. You may be as passionate about visiting Italy as you are about visiting Brazil, but you can't be in two places at the same time. You must choose.
- Use the three "Energize-Rs" to supercharge your days: rhythms, rituals, and routines.
Paying attention to the changes in your energy patterns throughout the day is a first step towards bringing more energy into your life. You can do it with the help of the three "Energize-Rs": Rhythms, Rituals, and Routines. Here's the link to my post on these three powerful "Energize-Rs."
- Embrace uncertainty, just like you would do in a casino.
How comfortable are you with uncertainty? What stops some people from pursuing their dreams and their mission is fear of the unknown. Interestingly, uncertainty can actually add to our motivation.
Do you ever wonder how people can spend hours pulling a lever of a slot machine? It is the uncertainty of the reward that keeps them interested. The anticipation of uncertain rewards has been linked to the increased production of the neuromodulator dopamine, which is responsible for a focused attention and more pleasurable experience. Imagine what would happen if you were to get a regular salary for pulling the same lever but no chance of a random win. You’d be bored to death very soon. The uncertainty of the reward keeps the excitement alive.
- Practice bodily awareness: think on your feet.
We all have bodily-kinesthetic intelligence that enables us to learn through movement. Our body can also guide us in making decisions if we are attuned to our physiological responses. When you are evaluating your options, listen to your body. If your breathing is full and open, your muscles are relaxed, and you sense pleasant spaciousness in the chest or head, you may be moving in the right direction. On the other hand, if your muscles become tense, especially in the shoulder and neck area, you have a "pit" in the stomach, or your attention is scattered, your body may be telling you that something is amiss.
- Don't let toxic words poison your body.
Avoid negative conversations as you eat because the chemicals your brain sends through your body in response to the negative emotions or stress affect your digestion, and you need nutrients for sustainable physical energy. Don't let toxic words poison your body and block your energy flow.
- Open an account at the Bliss Bank.
Start feeding healthy, energizing images to your mind and you will feel more energized yourself. Consider opening an account at the "Bliss Bank." The Bliss Bank is a collection of small things that can cheer you up quickly. It can be pictures of your kids or your pets, a souvenir from your favorite place, a song or an image. Your Bliss Bank should be easily accessible at home, in your office, and your car so that you could draw from it whenever you felt sad, stressed out, or simply needed to recharge.
- Use the power of visualizations: if you don't like what your eyeballs see, use your mind's eye to create whatever you want.
The images we create in our mind's eye can be as real to our brain as the ones we see with our eyeballs. Athletes use the power of visualizations and mental rehearsal to train, and so can we to boost our energy. What could you imagine right now that would help you feel energized?
- Tune up: listen to music and healing sounds.
Music elevates dopamine levels, those "feel good" molecules. If you think of it, music delivers many of the benefits that people often try to get from food: stress relief, comfort, energy, pleasure, etc. So, let's start using music and movement to bring more energy, joy, and vibrance into our lives.
Ayurveda, a system of medical knowledge that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago, explains healing sounds as rhythms and vibrations found in nature that resonate with our bodies. Spending more time outdoors and listening to natural sounds of wind, waves, leaves, and birds can have a harmonizing effect on your body and mind.
- Embrace your "wild" side: spend more time in nature.
We’ve all probably experienced the peace and clarity that nature can bring about. We don’t need to go far to have the benefits. Take your pressing problem for a walk in the park. If you enjoy gardening, remind yourself of the need to love and nurture yourself as you water and nurture your plants.
- Hang out with people who can lighten up the room.
Sometimes, all we need to do to get energized is to talk to certain people.
- Who are those people with vibrant, positive energy in your life?
- How can you limit your interactions with people who drain you?
- How can you strengthen your support system?
Taking personal responsibility for your energy also has an effect of attracting more people with positive energy into your life. Do you know people who can lighten up the room with their presence? Everybody wants to be around them. With little practice and conscious choices, you can be that person.
What are your best personal energy management practices?