One of the questions I get asked most often is, “How do you have the mental energy and the time to do all the many things you do?”
Let me first say that it’s never about time. It’s always about commitment. And, in order to effectively live from commitment, I’ve learned to maximize my mental energy.
For me, everything starts with a clear vision of what I’m doing and why.
Beyond that, I've found that my mental energy can only be as good as my physical body, so I make every effort to arrange my life for daily exercise, healthy eating, and plenty of rest and relaxation.
I don’t always get it perfect, but I’m aiming for those three areas of physical wellness on a daily basis. I've found that my mental energy flows from how well I meet those objectives.
I've also learned to follow three simple practices in order to maximize mental energy.
1. Map Out Five Main Priorities Per Day.
I typically have a to-do list a mile long, but my friend Ray Edwards reminded me that when I focus on 5 main priorities for the day, my mental energy is greater, and I actually accomplish more.
I also find that when I’m consistent in this practice, my focus and energy increases throughout the week. Additionally, my propensity to get overwhelmed is dramatically reduced.
Remember, if you don’t have a plan for your day, someone else will design a plan for you.
Go ahead. Write out your lengthy to do list. But, then, intentionally select the 5 items that absolutely have to be accomplished this day.
Having this kind of focus will help you learn to appropriately say no to other people’s agendas. And, if you do get derailed, it’s no big deal. Whatever priorities are remaining move to the top of your priority list tomorrow.
No guilt. No shame. It’s simply a practice that allows for focus and freedom.
2. Do the Hard Stuff First.
Once you've made that list, go ahead and start with the most difficult item on your agenda.
If you’re like me, you may have developed the habit of procrastinating on things you don’t enjoy doing or that are hard for you to do.
For example, I woke this morning dreading analysis of some survey responses I’m working on. However, I know it’s best to dive into that type of work first thing in the morning when my mind is refreshed.
If I wait until later in the day, my mind will be flooded with “to-do” list items, and I won’t have the mental energy to focus on the work that requires more purposeful and intentional thought.
Do the hard stuff first. You’ll always make time to accomplish the rest. Once you get that activity checked off your list, I can promise that you’ll exhale a sigh of relief.
Then dive into the rest of your day. No matter how it goes, at least you've accomplished that one big thing.
3. Zip Up Your Lips
Have you ever noticed how mentally exhausted you feel after a long phone conversation or a meeting that went on forever?
I used to love checking in with a friend or family member in the morning. What I learned the hard way was that my brain was fried by the time I started my work day.
I’ve seen the same impact on many of my clients who are forced to start each day with one or more phone or meeting conversations. This is, in part, why so many people try to get into the office before everyone else.
I know it’s not always possible, but when you can, save those “talking” moments for later in the day.
Conversations, whether they be via SKYPE, phone, in person, whatever—all that talking taxes our brain and zaps our mental energy.
Even if you’re an extrovert who loves conversing, chances are you’re getting wired to the point where you’ll hit the wall by late afternoon.
If you have a choice to refrain from dialogue in these area (and, for some of you, this may even include email), try a bit of focused silence in the morning and watch how your mental energy increases.
These are simple, yet powerful, practices. The bottom line is this. None of us has more time in a day than anyone else. However, some of us seem to accomplish more because we have more mental energy.
Here’s a challenge. Spend just two weeks doing what I've suggested, and let me know how it goes. You may even discover some additional practices that work specifically for you. I’m waiting to hear all about them.