I have limited energy resources.
In truth, I always did — but tended to ignore the whimper of my body and mind by forcing caffeine down my gullet. I was the girl who would show up at the coffee shop several times a day and get a quad-shot espresso, regardless of whether I was physically unwell by the side of the road up to three times a day or whether my panic episodes piled on top of themselves for hours at a time. Regardless of what my body was telling me, I needed to get my work done.
These days, I don’t have the luxury of shocking my body into working for me anymore. I have a partnership with my internal rhythms, and that partnership allows me to make peace with what I’ve got in my reserves. It permits me to figure out how best to make use of my energy on any given day, whether I only have three, five, or seven hours of cognitive and physical ability.
I share these tips with you because even though I happen to live with chronic illnesses, the skill of working with your body, and not against it, is one that anyone can use, because we all have limited energy resources, even if your limitations aren’t quite as severe as mine.
You might have a new baby in your household. New caretaking responsibilities. Perhaps you’re simply tired of living frantically from hour to hour — and not stopping for anything short of the roof caving in.
Figure out your internal rhythms. Then plan accordingly.
There are two main ways in which I leverage my internal rhythms: through intuition and record-keeping.
Via intuition, I’m able to check in with my body at any given time. How is it feeling? On a functionality score of 1 to 100, where do I stand? I honed this particular skill during the worst of my illness last year, when my sister-in-law would frequently sit with me; we used this scale so that she could know the appropriate actions to take. A low score meant that I was probably unable to hold a conversation. A score above 60 meant that I was having a good day (with all things being relative, of course).
Intuition is an excellent skill to deploy in the moment.
Record-keeping is a way to understand how your rhythms tend to operate. I highly recommend Allie Rice’s Intentional Systems Bundle as an elegant workbook to better understand such ebbs and flows, in which she includes several weeks’ worth of hour-by-hour charts. But if you’re choosing not to make such a purchase at the moment, it can be as simple as finding a basic notebook and tracking your hourly energy level, which may follow daily, weekly, or monthly patterns.
For example, I work best between 5am and 3pm. Though I’m not a machine, and therefore can’t rely exclusively on this bit of knowledge, it does help in my life as a microbusiness owner. I don’t schedule client calls for after 3pm, because neither my clients nor I would benefit from my depleted self. I also give my working hours, odd as they might sound, to clients in an introductory email, so that expectations can be set according to how I work best.
After a long day at work, I prefer to relax for a while before doing anything else. This entails at least a half-hour of guilt-free surfing through social media on my phone, reading a chapter of whatever novel I’m working on, or taking entirely too many photos of our dog.
During the workday, I do require rest. I honor that need.
Around the same time every work day, there does come a time when I need to rest — which means something different for everyone. Sipping tea in a sunny window may work for you. I often require a full-fledged nap. In the beginning of my journey toward understanding my rhythms, I’d frequently panic about my need for rest. After all, how was anything going to get done if I needed to nap twice a day?
Overwhelm is the ultimate productivity killer. As a solopreneur, I need to concentrate my focus and simplify in order to stay motivated. Everything I teach my clients revolves around the concept of simplification. When you can remove all of the distractions – mindless scrolling, reading your email (again), organising files that have backed up on your desktop, and so on – you can focus on the things that will genuinely move the needle. It’s like watching the sweetest apples float to the top of the trough of water. Then you can choose one, and only one, and work on it until it’s finished.
The answer? My work still gets done. It gets done because I care about my work, and because I’ve learned — though the process is ongoing — to say no when my plate is full. Because to honor my body, my clients, and the work that I do in the world, is a privilege and a priority.