The key to getting your energy back

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Image credit: istockphoto.com/portfolio/JohnnyGreig

Doing your best work requires focus and energy, but it’s hard to stay focused for an 8-hour stretch. Are you regularly finding that you don’t have the energy to complete your most important activities of the day or that your day seems to be misaligned with how your body feels? There’s a simple explanation that you’re probably overlooking and it’s based on a biological phenomenon called the circadian rhythm.

So how can you figure out what your unique energy peaks and dips are so you can properly allocate your energy to get your work done? How do you make the most of those limited timeframes where you’re feeling your best and have the mental and physical ability to engage in the most challenging tasks of the day? And what’s the best way to ride out any lulls?

Below we take a look further into these common questions to find solutions to regain your energy.

What the Science Says

It’s just not realistic to expect yourself to be on all day. Just as you wouldn’t expect yourself to walk at a brisk pace for eight solid hours, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be focused or think strategically for that amount of time. To make matters worse, few of us are getting adequate shut-eye. Around a third of the time, Americans come to work with less than 6 hours of sleep. That’s just not enough and the effects can be very detrimental to your work.

Map Your Day To Your Natural Energy Cycles

There are a few optimal windows for doing your most creative and focused work according to your circadian rhythm. Almost everyone should naturally experience a peak of energy 1.5 to 2 hours after waking up, followed by a mid-day energy dip and another energy peak around 11-12 hours after their wake-up time.

Figuring out your individual circadian rhythm is probably the most important and challenging part but you might want to match your circadian rhythm to your schedule by organizing your work, exercise, and other demanding tasks around these peaks and valleys using specialized software. Doing any type of focused work such as writing, decision-making, or technical coding should be planned during high-energy hours.

In the case of exercise, intense workouts such as strength training, HIITs, or cardio should also be scheduled during your highest energy windows, whereas activities like yoga or walking can be effectively done during your energy lulls. During the lulls, you can also turn to tasks that don’t require a great deal of focus such as cleaning out your inbox, paying utility bills, or returning phone calls; essentially tasks that are like muscle memory work.

Get Up And Move Before Engaging In A Long Focus Session Or Important Meeting

Any kind of physical movement will temporarily boost your alertness and energy levels. For example, a simple five to ten-minute brisk walk, or even a two to three-minute active stretch can boost your energy and focus immediately after. The reason is that when you move, oxygen flows and helps your body and mind overcome fatigue.

Meditate At Your Desk

No, you don’t need to get into a meditative stance or lay on your back. You can even do it with your eyes open. Mindfulness exercises are a great way to re-energize during the day. The trick is to calm your mind, focus your breathing and become fully present without thinking about the past or future.

Research suggests that even a few minutes of meditation improves concentration and focus in a tired brain. Similar to the energy restoring mechanism behind exercise, five to seven deep belly breaths can give you a lot more oxygen, which in turn means an energy and focus boost.

Avoid Relying On Caffeine

Drinking coffee often feels like it mitigates the effects of a midday dip. But it’s not actually giving you more energy. All it’s doing is masking the effects of your low energy by blocking a chemical that tells your body you are tired. And while this might work for a while, caffeine, like any other drug, soon begins to have diminishing returns.

In fact, the more dependent you are, the less the benefit you gain from using it and the more you need it just to get to your normal level. Instead, try using caffeine sparsely and strategically to feel energized in the following ways:

  1. Ahead of a big monthly meeting.
  2. If you’ve gotten a particularly bad night of sleep.
  3. Take a coffee nap – essentially drink coffee right before taking a 15-20 min nap which perhaps counterintuitively, works better than coffee or napping alone.

Importantly, don’t drink caffeine within 10 hours of your bedtime, otherwise, both your time to fall asleep and sleep restfulness could be influenced, which you guessed it, means less energy the next day and the need for more caffeine.

Add Music To Your Toolset

Music is a scientifically proven great way to impact your mental state, whether to get hyped up or calm down. Just as you use music to energize when working out, you can do the same before your next mid-day energy lull.

Get More Sleep

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times. More sleep = more energy. Yet most people, a whopping 50% of Americans, think they can live with the trade-off of getting just five or six hours of sleep and be fine. But the reality is that even small amounts of lost sleep will have noticeable effects.

A 2009 study found that people who had their sleep restricted to five hours a night for four days in a row showed the same loss in performance at a simple cognitive task as people who had a blood alcohol content level of .06. In layman’s terms – they had the cognitive performance of a tipsy person. But beyond the vacuum of how you’ll feel the next day, getting eight hours of sleep on a regular basis, will make the mid-day energy dips be far less painful and more manageable.

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