Energy, not time, is the basis for productivity. Having all the hours in the day won’t help you if you’re exhausted for most of it.
Your habits define your energy levels. If you have good habits, you’ll feel energized and be more resilient to burn out, both physically and mentally. If your habits are misaligned, you can get into a cycle where you feel worse and worse, until it’s a struggle just to keep up.
Here are five habits you can work on this year to increase your energy levels.
Habit #1: Go to Sleep Early
Sleep is the foundation of your energy. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll start to underperform.
While some people claim to work best on six or less hours of sleep, research says they’re kidding themselves. Seven to eight hours are pretty much mandatory if you’re going to stay cognitively sharp in the long-run.
For some people the sleep deprivation may have mentally plateaued, meaning they feel slightly tired all day, but they don’t think they’re getting any worse. An interesting experiment showed that sleep deprivation caused continuous declines in mental performance, even though subjects felt like they were holding steady.
Try this: Go to bed by 10pm every night, including weekends, for the next thirty days.
Habit #2: Exercise Every Day
Exercise is a long-term investment in your energy levels. It’s easy to cut in the short-term, but over time you’ll reduce your overall fitness, making it harder to think straight and stay alert throughout the day.
If you struggle to find time for exercise, don’t make going to the gym your prerequisite. Make a habit of doing some pushups or burpees every day throughout the day. These will get your heart pumping and blood moving, and they don’t require setting aside two hours from your already busy schedule.
You can add gym or fitness classes on top of this foundational habit, but this basic investment in exercise will keep you sharp when you can’t make it to the gym (which is good right now as they are not open any way.)
Try this: Do at least 10 burpees every day at home.
Habit #3: Twenty-Minute Naps
Napping may feel lazy, but there’s research showing it has a range of cognitive benefits. This is particularly true if you’re doing a lot of learning, since the short burst of sleep can help with memory.
A short nap can turn you back on for work in the afternoon, when you’d normally be exhausted. The key is to learn how to take short naps.
Many people take naps which are too long, pushing them into deeper phases of sleep which cause them to feel even groggier when they wake up (although the benefits to even these naps often occur after the initial grogginess wears off). The key is to wake up immediately with your alarm. If you start adding more time, a quick nap can become a long sleep.
Try this: Insert a 20-minute nap after you eat lunch to recuperate your energy for the afternoon.
Habit #4: Do Your Hard Work in the Morning
Aim to get your most important work done in the first four hours of the workday, starting as soon as possible.
The benefits to your energy here are mostly psychological. Your energy levels depend a lot on your mood. If you get through some important work, your mood is usually good and you feel productive. If you've wasted time on emails, meetings, calls or failed to produce something valuable, it's likely you'll feel frustrated and exhausted entering the second half of the day.
The other reason for this approach is that deep work isn’t always sustainable for the full workday. Better to concentrate it into a specific period than randomly insert it across chunks of time.
Try this: Make the first four hours of your morning a quiet, deep work zone.
Habit #5: Set Your Intention the Day Before
Energy is often about momentum. Start working hard and you’ll overcome procrastination and keep going throughout the day. Start slow and you may end up struggling against your own impulses, wasting the energy on things that aren’t productive.
One way to avoid this is to set a very clear intention of how your day will go, particularly in the beginning, the night before. Visualizing this intention and writing it down into your schedule can make it happen more automatically when you wake up.
Try this: Before you go to bed, write down your plan for the next day and visualize it.