Manage your energy like a pro

3 steps to better manage your energy

By Matylda Chmielewska

Manage your energy like a pro

We all have moments where we feel low energy and like we can’t seem to be able to get back on track. These often come when they just ‘shouldn’t’ happen and when we need to stay on top of things.

In this week’s article, I’m listing advice on how to identify your energizers and drainers, and why becoming better at managing your energy is exactly like working out at the gym.

1. Become self-aware

Yes, I know it sounds difficult to do. There will be times when you won’t be able to recognize that what you’re experiencing is actually not ‘being lazy’ but that you may be running low on energy. This happened to Molly Struve who works as a Senior Site Reliability Engineer at Kenna Security. Here’s how she writes about her story on dev.to:

I have been working at my company for over 3 years now. When I started, we were a small team of 30 people. Now, we have over 120. Because I have been around so long, I have A LOT of domain knowledge about our entire application.

Up until 6 months ago, anytime someone needed help or an on-call issue arose, I was the go to person. Everyone knew I could solve just about any problem the fastest, so they came to me.

At first, she’s found it exciting and went right in whenever someone asked her for help. After a while, it got to her though. She could never relax and as a self-proclaimed people pleaser, she felt like the team couldn’t properly function without her.

Her coworkers started noticing how overworked and irritable she was and asking if she needs any help.

Wish it was that easy.

How to make sure that doesn’t happen to you?

Here’s what you can do if you’re experiencing burnout right now and/or if you want to learn how to manage your energy in a way that will help you avoid it.

Start by identifying things that drain your energy and leave you feeling overwhelmed and tired afterward. These may be things that you’re trying to avoid or leaving to the very last moment before it’s almost too late to complete them. Take note of all activities that you do at work, or are within your responsibilities that have these qualities.

Personally, I found that a lot of context and task switching is a huge no-no for me. I feel exhausted after a day or two of doing it and like I haven’t really achieved anything. For you, it may be going to meetings or speaking at events.

Once you know your drainers, it’s time to focus on things that energize you. These are the things that leave you full of strength, where you feel you can go on forever, or take on anything. It may be solving difficult problems, fixing bugs, or talking to your users.

Now that you know your strengths and weaknesses, make a list of them. Not only a mental one but an actual list using a note-taking tool or good ol’ pen and paper. You want to catalogue all the situations or tasks that you regularly encounter at work and put them on either side of your table - energizing or draining.

Now, you’ve got it all written down, let’s see how to put it into action.

2. Find your balance

Managing your energy is all about keeping it balanced. If you’ve taken some things out (= your energy), you’ll need to put it back in. You can’t run on fumes for a long time. Unless you’re a vehicle that’s being fueled solely by fumes. Then you can.

This is almost like math - for every activity from “draining” category, you need to perform one from “energizing” category. Of course, it’s not that simple and there’s no math you can do here, but you get the gist.

It is all about finding your balance.

Not sure if you’re running low on energy? Ask your teammates, I’m sure they will be willing to help you out. Have they noticed any changes in your behavior lately? If so, it’s time to get your energy back in.

As a leader, you need to be especially careful with the balance. You may be tempted to tackle only the hardest things and delegate other parts to the rest of your team. Make sure you don’t delegate all your energizers away! You don’t want to be left with only things that drain you.

On a similar note, some leaders may be tempted to only do the fun stuff themselves and delegate all the ‘drainers’ to the others. That’s fine, as long as the others also have things to do that energize them. As a leader, you need to be aware of your own energy balance, and that of your team members.

Pro-tip: Teach your team members how to manage their energy, so that it’s not just your problem.

We all experience difficult days or even weeks. It’s all in how we approach them.

One of the worst weeks of my life happened almost 5 years ago. I was working as a budding marketer at a small startup. One day I arrived at my desk just to be notified by one of the co-founders that my manager got kicked out. This came as a huge surprise (to say the least). She was the person that worked at this company from the very beginning and we were happily executing on the strategy we’ve developed together earlier the same year.

This sudden change also meant that I was now the sole person responsible for all things marketing at this startup. Although I was trying to power through things and do my best that week, it got too much very quickly. I got all sorts of messages from the developer and the designer we worked with. Some of them were about things that had no idea about back then, including sales and analytics. Just to keep it short, I’ll leave with this: I made A LOT of mistakes during this first week.

After a few hectic weeks, I was drained as I’ve never been before. As soon things settled down a bit, I packed my bag and got on a train to visit my friends who were living about 3 hours away. Oh boy, how much I needed having some time to regroup and relax! We went on a few hikes, we cooked delicious food, we talked a lot.

I came back home refreshed and ready to roll! I’ve gradually learned about things I needed to know about. The company also hired another marketing person so we could split the tasks. Things were on the bright side again!

3. Build your muscle

Finally, you can become more burnout-resistant by gradually increasing - what I’d call - work endurance.

You can compare it to a workout. When you first join a gym, you get sluggish after 20 minutes. You need to continuously push yourself a bit further with every session - just a bit above your limit - to get yourself able to push even more. It would be impossible to you to complete a 2-hour exercise circuit if you’re still in your first week of working out, but you may be able to complete it to you add on new rep or stretch your workout by 5 minutes every time.

Not an actual footage of me working out.

It’s the same with managing your energy at work. There’s a fine line between feeling productive and a cutback in your energy. Here’s one thing to remember here: the more you work hovering just above this line, the more resilient to burnout you’ll become. This way, you’ll be able to push a little bit further each time. The trick is to get your energy balance to hover slightly above 0, don’t let it fall down too much, and make sure to use up all your energy at the same time. It sounds easier than it is, so watch out.

Your turn

Remember Molly from the first part of this article? Eventually, her coworkers started noticing how overworked and irritable she was and asking if she needs any help. They stepped in and took some of her tasks off her plate, forcefully kicking her out of any Slack channels that mentioned urgent issues and treating her as a last resort in difficult situations.

Don’t forget that if you don’t take care of yourself, people you work with will notice and take action - sometimes not so subtly/friendly as Molly’s coworkers.

Takeaways

If I’d be to leave you with some key lessons from today’s post, they’d be:

  1. Keep a personal inventory of things that energize and drain you.
  2. Learn how to balance these out. Give yourself time and space to recover when you’re feeling depleted.
  3. Increase your endurance at work. Know when you’re running out on energy and hover just above this line.

How are you managing your energy? What are your tips for mastering it? Let us know on Twitter or in r/TechLeader!