We all have natural energy cycles when we are more or less productive. Ideally, we do our hardest work when we’re at our peak capacity, and save the easier work for when our energy and productivity cycle is at a lower level. Our lowest points are ideal for resting and rejuvenating.
But life is rarely ideal, and often we have the dilemma of needing to do the hard stuff when we’re not at our optimum. What then?
No easy answers, but here are some of my strategies:
- Bring in the reinforcements. Find someone to work with you, be a sounding board or thinking partner.
- Take frequent breaks. I had a particularly grueling project one day, and the only way I could do any work was to take a 10 minutes on/10 minutes off approach.
- Slow down. Pace yourself. Sometimes, removing the expectation of working quickly can infuse energy.
- Lower your expectations for the work session. Aim for quantity over quality. Sometimes, you can get a good chunk of the grunt work done, and then return to the project for its finishing touches when you are more refreshed.
- Lower your expectations for the project. Almost always, good enough is good enough. Do not waste energy on perfectionism.
- Accept shorter work periods. Sometimes, you only have 10 minutes. Just do what you can. You might be surprised at how much you actually can accomplish.
- Don’t shift out of “work” mode. If you have to do a difficult project, wrap up your current task, take a quick break to use the bathroom, stretch, eat a nutritious snack, and then get right to work.
- Break projects down to the smallest possible task. Focus on just one task at a time.
- When possible, plan ahead and write out your goals and strategy in clear detail. This will relieve the burden of thinking too much during your actual work session.
- Drink lots of water. Dehydration makes us tired. Drinking water makes us feel more awake, and forces us to get up and move every so often, which is helpful.
- Identify your stopping point. Know what “done” looks like, and stop as soon as you get there. Otherwise, it’s easy to catch a “second wind” and then end up working way too long on a project.
- Eat a high protein meal before you start.
And here are some things to avoid:
- Using sugar and caffeine as fuel.
- Working without breaks.
- Working past your bedtime. It’s better to get up early the next day, instead.
- Beating yourself up.
If you find that you are having to do hard work at bad times way too often, you may want to start looking at more long term solutions.
- Are you over-committed? It might be time to face reality and give up some activities or commitments.
- Can you change your schedule? Get creative and try re-arranging some routines.
- Can you delegate some tasks? Even if you can’t delegate the hard stuff, if you can delegate some easier work, it might free you up to do the harder projects at more optimum times.
- Engage an accountability partner. Knowing that you will be checking in with someone can be a great motivator.
- Engage a body double. This is a step-up from an accountability partner. It’s someone to come be present with you on a regular basis, while you do the hard work. You can read more about body doubles, here.
What are your strategies for working when energy is at a low?