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.
- Create 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. To experience this mental “white space,” try limiting sensory input to your brain. Close your eyes, turn off any sound, and be still and quiet for a few moments. Neuroscience research suggests the brain needs about two seconds of “shutting down” to deactivate the current circuits and enable an insight to emerge into the conscious attention.
- 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 writing down your fears, doubts, and concerns.
- Chop up your projects and your work days into chunks.
To shift your attention to a new project, begin by organizing your thoughts and assessing the work that needs to be done. Mentally run down the list of burning questions you must address. Here are a few favorites to get you started:
- What needs to be done?
- Why would it be desirable to do those things?
- What have you already accomplished that will help you move forward with this project?
- What do you need to know to complete this project?
- What kinds of resources and help will you need when you start working on the project?
- What’s the next action step?
Write out your answers. Writing brings clarity, calmness and objectivity to the mind.
Next, create a sequence of specific, measurable steps to complete your project. Set milestones and deadlines to keep track of your progress. It’s time to set SMART goals:
Try a three-tier structure for your goals: the theme, the goals to support your theme, and the steps to accomplish your goals.
Your theme can be the big reason behind the project, the main aspect of it, or the crucial learning and development point. The theme helps to unify the parts of the project, provide additional motivation and momentum to move forward.
Break your project into well-defined goals that will serve as the milestones for your work. When deciding upon goals:
* Make them big enough to really stretch your comfort zone. We often underestimate what we can achieve.
* Picture the benefits you gain from completing your goals. Visualize the outcomes. How would you know you have accomplished your objective? How will it feel to succeed? Capture your best reasons on paper and return to them when you need extra motivation.
* Identify the cost of your goals. Each goal comes with a price tag. What do you have to give up for the opportunity to achieve your goals? Identify those trade-offs and decide if you are truly willing to pay the price.
* 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.
* Set a deadline for each of your goals.
* Schedule regular intervals to revisit your goals and track your progress.
Divide your goals into smaller tasks or steps, giving each task a target date for completion as well. These steps will give you a clear picture of what you should be working on at any given time.
Finally, divide your work day into chunks of uninterrupted time when you can focus on your scheduled tasks and eliminate distractions. Don’t forget to take breaks periodically, and when you do so, switch your attention to something completely different and enjoyable. You want to use this downtime to recharge.
- 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.
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, such as resistance. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 is one improvement you are willing to make today to manage your personal energy better.
About Anastasia Pryanikova
Anastasia Pryanikova, M.A., J.D. is a coach, author, learning & transformation catalyst. She is the founder and principal of E-Studio, LLC, a company devoted to helping busy professionals release overwhelm and bridge the gap between information and transformation. If you liked this article, you’ll love Anastasia’s interactive and dynamic coaching programs that will empower your mind through awareness, reflection, insights, accelerated learning, and consistent action. You can learn more and get free tips on how to release overwhelm at http://www.selfhelpbookmuse.com
Anastasia also publishes Lawsagna blog, which offers “alternating layers of thoughts, tips, tricks, and other ingredients to live and learn well in law and beyond.” Please visit it at http://www.lawsagna.com