We eat food that our bodies transform into the energy we use to stay alive. Plants do the same; they process sunlight, water, and nutrients, creating energy, all while cleaning our air in the process. Outside of basic life needs, we need to reflect on what provides us energy, as individuals, to live a more meaningful life.
Early 2016, I went from designing everyday into full time management. I no longer was a technical contributor to any projects or teams. Where I could once sit down and focus on making something, I found I didn’t have the satisfaction of leaving work with something made.
My daily work transformed into talking, interacting, socializing, listening. I am a relatively social introvert. This role transition left me feeling drained at the end of the day, unable to really go out and, “do something” after work. My emotional energy dried up in those, quick, eight hours at the office.
A couple of questions that have been extremely influential on how I’ve figured myself out are:
What gives you energy?
What drains your energy?
Nowadays, I bring this story up and people are surprised I’m more introverted than I let on. They don’t see me purposefully recharging, alone: cooking, cleaning, reading, meditating, waywardly walking around, listening to music. There’s also crafted “moments” throughout the workday that acts as small bubbles, pockets of alone time, that I use for smaller recharges. I schedule hours of “get stuff done” time for myself, purposefully overbook my calendar between meetings so I have time to context switch.
With this created time, I’ve been able to come home energized with an ability to decide if I want to do something “more.” A happy discovery on figuring this out: it can even mean doing things with someone around, in the room!
As I wrestled with how to recharge emotionally, I began to fall into nextepisodia insomniaism, an imaginary disorder caused by speedy internet and access to [insert your preferred choice of streaming entertainment]. I would cook dinner, watch a show, and continue clicking, “Next episode” until I lost too much sleep.
Now, a few times a month of this and I felt okay. After multiple months of multiple days of multiple weeks, this pattern started to weigh me down. Both physically and mentally. I grew lethargic, a little rounder, less quick.
So, I started to be more strict with my sleep schedule. I have a 22:00 bedtime, waking at 6:00 to get the day started. I began meditating daily, to reduce stress, allowing my body to rest because my brain was at rest. I worked out, and strive to daily, from the 7-min workout, long bike rides, running at the gym, and a bit of rowing. I regularly walk to work giving me some physical exertion acting as a transitory space to and from various mindsets.
These physical activities provided a bit more oxygen to the brain, increasing those endorphins, ultimately making me feel much better after prolonged practice. They gave me the physical energy to get through the day and do “more things” before, during, and after work.
My work is a consistent and constant mental exercise. Each day is filled with new decisions, research, conversations, planning. Through these, I learn new things each day, creating connections between disparate thoughts, trying to string one and two together. As I addressed my emotional and physical energies, I saw a need to similarly address my waning mental energy.
I’m still on my way, figuring out how to develop mental resilience and capacity for “more.” I’ve not figured out my best balance for mental energy.
One recent, helpful, practice has been reading more “fun” books and less “learning” books. For a long while, I strayed from reading-for-enjoyment to reading-only-to-learn-something. This aim to be more productive drove me to self-awareness, managerial, leadership, cultural awareness, and biographical sorts. These were, and continue to be, immensely informative. They provided me tools to grow my emotional energies but lacked the “fun factor” that I needed fora different sort of stimulation. The most recent fun books that I talk about are, the long way to a small angry planet by Becky Chambers and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams.
Like I said, I’m still figuring this one out. Any advice on how you grow mental energy — or what drains yours too, that may be something that gives me some! — would be gratefully welcomed.
Am I spending my energies on the right things?
Thinking about what gives and drains my energies has allowed me to glean insight into my personal, individual being. This is where my energies grow; that is where they don’t. I recognize when I need to feed or water one area of life so that I can ultimately bear more fruit.
Since this journey’s started, I’ve grown my capacity to “do more things” but caught myself. I don’t want to say “look at all these things” and those things have no impact or true meaning.
I want my work and life to help humans have something better than they had before. Whether that’s through design and making a product better or a way that creates empathy, driving more productive, human conversations.
I fall into the trap of confusing productivity with more rather than more meaningful. If achieving something in the world was collecting a list of things that I had accomplished with little effect or lasting impact on humanity, that “productive” time was wasted.
I’ll continue to become more efficient, more productive, but blazing that path towards something better.