As a runner, I recognize that I only have a certain amount of energy to run a distance at a certain pace. By fueling my body with the right types of food and energy bars, I am able to incrementally increase my maximum output. Running a marathon is a great example. On a normal day, running 26.2 miles is outside my physical capacity. But with some training and slow stepping up of my mileage, I am able to build my body’s energy capacity to that level. Mental energy is no different. Our ability to think, smile, create, walk and chew gum has a finite energy source. On a typical day, my mental energy level is at its highest around 7 am and at its lowest after dinner. The importance of managing mental energy toward success doesn’t stop with knowing your mental time clock. This is nothing new. Perhaps more important is focusing your mental “spend” on the things that matter. The other day I as I was driving home from a week long meeting when I received a frustrating phone call regarding a returned check to my Chevron credit card. After 45 minutes we realized the mistake and remedied it. However, I was exhausted. It took a large portion of my mental energy. Each and every day you and I both recharge our physical and mental batteries as we sleep. By focused training like reading, engaging conversations, audio programs, and meditation, you increase your mental capacity. If you’re doing this, keep doing it, if you’re not, you should. During a typical day, you also spend that energy on important things such as writing, talking with your kids, working on projects at work, and planning for the future. Unfortunately, things like my Chevron credit card phone call interrupt the normal flow and “steal” some of that energy.
Awareness of the limits of your mental energy gives you a sense of urgency or a desire to protect the things you are doing. Just like time management, mental management is a must have skill for a successful life.
Of course, interruptions do happen and sometimes are important to handle. You can’t control that. Here is a list of 3 things I recommend to keep mental energy at its best:
Wind Energy (Photo credit: janie.hernandez55)
1. Avoid Distractions: This is so obvious and immensely important. So many times I’ve sat down to work on a mentally draining task (like writing a blog post), only to have my focus taken away in a moment of email distraction. Even if the email doesn’t need my attention, the mere fact that I know I got an email takes a little slice of my mental energy. If you are intentional toward avoiding distractions, you will learn with time the things that take distract you and steal your mental energy. I use squarespace notes app on my iPhone to send quick notes to my Evernote inbox. When something distracts me and I don’t want to fix it then and there, I put a note in squarespace to fix it. Then, I fix it.
2. Schedule your mental tasks at the appropriate times: Different tasks take higher and lower levels of mental energy. This is something you will learn with time. Typically the more creative (writing, planning) and involved (things with complicated directions) take the most mental energy. Creating enough space in your schedule and the best available time will vastly increase your mental energy and lessen the frustration. Deciding to build the IKEA entertainment center and hour before church is a bad idea. Mental energy tasks are not usually the “on a whim” things you want to do. Be intentional and realistic and schedule this time.
3. Know what you want to do: This may be too “big picture” for a small blog post, but you need to know what your goals are. If you have a vision, and idea of what you are trying to accomplish, you will be able to identify the things that are ‘right” to be doing. If you don’t have a vision and a plan in place to achieve that vision, I am going to create one for you. Your vision is to create a vision. With a defined vision, you will have “stuff” to do. We all have “stuff” we have to do such as laundry, dishes, feed the dog, etc. Most people stop there. That’s the mediocre life. You are going to plug in your awesomeness and the “stuff” needed to be done to accomplish this awesome. If what you are doing does’t fit into one of those two categories, stop doing it.
Remember that you own your mental energy. It is yours to spend as you wish. We all have responsibilities. Better management of your mental energy will improve your results in all areas of life and leave room for you to do things that make you awesome.