Manage your energy, not your time

IMG_0471

When I was working full-time as an HR practitioner, I often caught myself saying things like:

I’ve got to put in an all-nighter, or
I’ll take time off after I finish this project, or 
After next week, I will be able to breathe again.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably uttered the same words as you worked on a project or were trying to complete a task. You just hunkered down and worked harder.

Now that I look back, I realize that the pressure we put on ourselves by chasing time, by multitasking and working crazy hours may help us achieve our short-term goals, but it is not sustainable in the long-term. And if we continue down this seductive path, we may end up over-worked, frustrated in constantly chasing deadlines, and, God forbid, sick.

When I was diagnosed with one cancer, then another, and then a third cancer, I had to re-examine my relationship with time. No longer was I able to function on 5 hours of sleep (which I saw as a badge of honour). No longer did I have the energy to take on multiple projects and manage them all successfully through completion. No longer could I work tirelessly for weeks and then expect to function normally. At the height of my illnesses, I struggled with basic stuff like climbing up a single set of stairs or even getting out of bed. I had trouble with opening a bottle of jam when neuropathy struck my fingertips. Chemotherapy caused me to forget names, directions and instructions. From this place of immense loss, I was forced to figure out how to live productively and do more with less.

The secret antidote I found is not to manage time, which is a finite resource, but to leverage our energy, which is renewable. I stumbled upon this when I came across work done by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr, authors of the Power of Full Engagement:

The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not.

They identify four dimensions of energy that we need to focus on for full engagement and high performance: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy.

Physical energy is about being mindful of our nutrition, getting enough sleep, and exercising. This was hard for me because my body was constantly fatigued. But I persevered with small changes like taking deep breaths and stretching a few times a day, then over time starting the day with a healthy breakfast, drinking more water throughout the day, slowly introducing weekly workouts and taking a 15 – 20 minute nap when I needed it. The other aspect of physical energy that the authors recommend is to do what elite athletes do to maximize their performance. It is about interval training: working in focused 90-minute chunks followed by recovery and rest. Their research shows that after 90 – 120-minute cycles, our body moves from a high-energy state to a state where we can no longer concentrate and it craves recovery (think yawning, hunger, lack of creativity, restlessness). Taking the time to go for a walk or doing something you enjoy for 20 minutes allows you to recover and rest. I am doing this with astounding results and finding that when my brain has a chance to rest and I totally unplug, I can get back to working with recharged batteries.

Emotional energy is about keeping a positive outlook in the face of challenges, obstacles and stressful situations. Negative emotions are draining and costly. My way of restoring emotional energy is to sit in a place of gratitude, connect with people and reframe situations to find the good within. I have had a lot of practice to do this over the past 5 years when my body, mind and spirit were so challenged. Now when I find myself down or stressed, I try and break out of that cycle quickly so I can focus on living life joyfully.

Mental energy is what we use to organize our lives and focus our attention. It is about challenging our brain and constantly learning. It is about feeding our mind a daily dose of good stuff and keeping distractions at bay. Having experienced “chemo brain”, I know what its like to be at the mercy of a non-functioning mind. Now I am super conscious about what I feed my mind. I am hooked on Stitcher (thanks to Shayne) and listen to one podcast a day on a topic of interest. I have become a voracious reader of non-fiction books. I spend dedicated time connecting and collaborating with like-minded individuals on projects. I push myself beyond my comfort zone. This has improved my ability to think rationally, make decisions and focus. I still need to limit the amount of time I spend on social media which can be a huge distraction, especially in these highly charged political times. And I am trying to cultivate a habit where I check emails at designated times rather than every few minutes.

Spiritual energy is fueled by our sense of meaning and purpose, it is the “why” we do what we do. It is about understanding who we are and where we are going. It is the life force that binds us to our soul. It is our personal way to connect to something beyond the physical world. I practice spiritual energy by living by the tenets of my faith. Sometimes I falter and fail, and then pick myself up and try again. Several times a day, when I have a moment to myself, I take out my Tasbih and pray – sometimes, only for a few seconds. When I am spiritually charged, my soul is happy.

Incredibly, it took cancer to help me appreciate how to live life fully by managing my energy. When we are physically active, mentally agile, emotionally stable and spiritually charged, we can balance the different aspects of our lives with ease. When we alternate between hard work and play, we give our body and mind the fuel to work better. Today I feel awesome most of the time by following rituals to manage my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy on a daily basis. So the next time you feel tired, drained, stressed, or even lethargic, bored or stagnant, focus on managing your energy.

22 Comments

  • Shanaz Moloo , December 31, 2017

    Great advice Munira, you are an inspiration – love reading your posts. Wishing you all the very best for 2018 & beyond!

    • Munira Premji , January 30, 2018

      Dearest Shanaz – -I just picked up your message. Thanks! Wishing you an incredible 2018 as well!

  • David Young , December 5, 2017

    Munira, I’m so glad I found you’re post today (they keep ending up in the wrong email folder). Very inspiring, thank you and I’ve downloaded Stitcher.

    • Munira Premji , December 5, 2017

      woohoo stitcher! so glad the post ended up in the right email folder!

  • Patti Kurgan , November 30, 2017

    Munira, thanks for passing along this excellent strategy. I love the shot of you – you seem to get more youthful looking all the time, which is a testament to how you are living your life. 😃

    • Anonymous , November 30, 2017

      Woohoo #youthful! Planning to come downtown next week Patti. What would be a good day to grab a coffee?

      • Patti Kurgan , December 4, 2017

        That would be fabulous! I sent you a text with some options (I am around Tues, Wed and Thurs). Hugs!

  • Anonymous , November 29, 2017

    Mukhiani Maa

    as usual , very good advise, i believe we were truly blessed recently and one of the reasons could have been your drive and inspiration with all of us in together … including your family’s prayers , it happened!

    Salome

  • Anonymous , November 29, 2017

    as always ,so meaningful comments , mukhiani maa , i believe your prayers did help us all recently……honestly , we were all in and you were one of them who probably made it happen, i can resist that feeling…

  • Anonymous , November 29, 2017

    Beautifully explained! Been there done all, its too bad our illness teaches us lessons we should have practiced all along! Here is, to your good health & happiness, May you always have good health, Ameen
    Thanks for the positive message and a great lesson to always remember!

    • Anonymous , December 1, 2017

      To good health and happiness for all!

  • caribbeanandmodernity , November 29, 2017

    Inspirational and practical message, Munira

    • Munira Premji , November 29, 2017

      Thanks @caribbeanandmodernity!

  • Anonymous , November 29, 2017

    I absolutely loved your article. It comes to me at a time when I’m struggling within myself. Thank you for sharing. You are truly an amazing soul. May you always remain Blessed. Love you 😘 Mumtaz

    • Munira Premji , November 29, 2017

      Dearest Mumtaz – – Often we are pulled in so many directions that life can be overwhelming. You can so manage your choices – and your energy!

  • Dilshad , November 29, 2017

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time as I’m finding I am REALLY competing with time to complete projects at my end. Thank you for the reminder. I have to make a conscious effort to leverage my energy. Sometimes I feel like that stretchy character on Fantastic 4 – being pulled in all directions. The more older I get my elasticity has worn down so I’m easily pulled in so many directions! Lol. I think along with leveraging my energy I have to learn to say NO probably a little more.
    Thank you for this gentle reminder. It has come at a most critical time in my life…as I find your posts and it’s messages often do.
    Love you!
    Dilshad

    • Munira Premji , November 29, 2017

      Dearest Dilshad – – Thanks! A question I have learnt to ask myself is”if i say yes to this, what am i saying no to?” That quickly helps me decide what to take on (because like you, I find I am pulled in so many directions…….)

  • Dave McMullen , November 29, 2017

    Excellent advice Munira! Thank you and God bless,
    Dave and Erika

    • Munira Premji , November 29, 2017

      Dave and Erica – – I loved spending time with you this weekend. Looking forward to seeing you again on sunday!

  • Mary E Coulas , November 29, 2017

    What wonderful words. So glad that you are doing well. You are an inspiration to me.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: