When it comes to trying to fit everything in, we often look to time-management hacks to get through our to-do list. But as it turns out, if you want to achieve more, you need to manage your energy, not your time.
Being frugal takes more time than convenience solutions and modern life is busy. So it makes sense that we want to look for time-management hacks.
And while time-management strategies are definitely useful, in this episode I want to argue there’s something just as important if not more so than time management.
And that’s how we manage our energy.
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Energy management is the key to being more frugal and frugal living can give you more energy.
Have you ever had good intentions about what you want to get done in the evening before bedtime, only to spend the time on the couch in front of a screen because you’re too tired to even think about your to-do list?
When I started thinking about my own time-management I realised I had plenty of hours in my day to get stuff done, but I don’t make the most of those hours because of lack of energy.
Managing your energy is harder than managing your time. There’s no app for it. But when you don’t manage your energy, it becomes almost impossible to manage your time.
Managing Your Energy is Hard if You’re a Woman
If you’re a woman listening, particularly if you’re a mum, then energy management is even more vital.
Because if you’ve got kids, you probably don’t get regular sleep. And fractured sleep is not as restorative as a good night’s sleep.
And of course, shift work, noisy neighbours, barking dogs, snoring partners and staying up too late can also impact your ability to get a whole eight hours of shut-eye.
Another factor that impacts our energy is our hormones and our reproductive phases and how this system affects our iron levels.
Not to mention that puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and menopause can be quite depletive if not balanced with good nutrition and rest.
Ladies, can you relate to this?
This beautifully orchestrated system – and it is beautiful, the way everything in our body works together is amazing – if it’s not in balance, it can leave us feeling exhausted.
Another thing to keep in mind is that research shows women are more negatively affected by lack of sleep. It affects our working memory. And we’re less likely to be diagnosed and treated for sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, even when we might actually have them. Because most sleep disorder studies are done on men. And they present differently for us.
Finally, chronic stress is such a big factor for many of us and it completely drains our energy.
So much of our current culture causes stress: our busy schedules, the fast pace of the world, difficult relationships, current events and the 24-hour news cycle, social media, digital entertainment, chemical stress from pollution, infections, inflammation, even constant noise pollution can cause stress. All of these things lead to low-level chronic stress which depletes our energy.
But I want to mention a particular cause of chronic stress that is often overlooked and underappreciated.
If you’re like most women then you’re mind is running a million miles a minute with a to-do list that can wrap around Jupiter. Because women still do the vast majority of administrative thinking.
It’s all the constant little things like making sure there’s fruit for school lunches, and booking dentist appointments and RSVPing to birthday invitations and making sure the car is serviced on time and remembering to pick up milk on the way home.
And we’ve only been awake for 28 seconds.
And it’s 3 am.
Can you relate to this?
This constant mental micro-management is necessary unless you want the car to break down or tooth decay, but it’s exhausting.
So, all of these things – sleep, hormones, stress – as well as lifestyle factors like nutrition and physical activity – affect our energy levels and therefore how well we can use the time we have.
So what has all of this got to do with frugal living?
Well, before we can create frugal habits, before we can thrive, we need to look at how we managing our energy.
Simplifying is a Solution
When we look for solutions, we find that they include simplifying our lives. Minimalism. Living more frugally. Mindfulness.
Yes, we need more energy to create frugal habits.
BUT being frugal will also give us back some of the energy that is being sapped by modern living.
So after that long intro, I want to share some strategies that can increase energy. For me personally, it’s my focus for the year and I want to share some things I’ve been working on.
Energy management is the foundation on which to build everything else. In order to manage your time better, develop frugal habits, stick to your budget, achieve your goals and realise your dreams, you first have to manage your energy.
And it all starts with a good night’s sleep.
Managing Your Physical Energy
One of the first things I ever bought online years and years ago was the book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz and the idea was a big revelation to me at the time.
Some of what I’m going to talk about in this podcast episode comes from that book and others, and I will link to all references below.
Also below is a worksheet that you can use to create your own energy management rituals so that you can be intentional about them and they become a regular part of your week.
In their book, The Power of Full Engagement, the authors break energy into four parts: physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy, and spiritual energy – other authors call this mindful energy if you prefer to think of it that way.
Physical energy is foundational. It’s pretty hard to function well when you’re sleep-deprived, so let’s look at physical energy first.
If you think of physical energy as a triangle, the three points of the triangle are sleep, nutrition and movement or exercise. And they all affect each other. So if you’re not doing enough physical activity, for instance, that’s going to impact the quality of your sleep. And if you’re not sleeping enough, you’re more likely to reach for sugary, high-calorie foods to compensate, to give you more energy.
Let’s look at sleep specifically.
Getting Enough Sleep
We can’t always control whether or not we get a full eight hours of sleep without being woken in the night. I’m not suggesting we can make our sleep circumstances perfect.
To paint a picture of where I’m coming from, my kids are nine and seven and they don’t sleep through the night. That’s a reality I can’t change.
But we can take steps to improve the likelihood of getting a good night’s sleep, improve our sleep quality and therefore increase our overall energy.
So what things can we do to improve the quality of our sleep?
The first step is to just be in bed for eight hours. Going to bed earlier and having a regular sleep time that supports your natural circadian rhythms goes a long way towards getting more sleep.
Going to be early doesn’t guarantee sleep, but it makes it a whole lot more likely than if you stay up late.
The next thing is to create a bedtime ritual that supports the winding down your mind and body so it’s easier to fall asleep. We do this for little kids. But we don’t ever grow out of the need for winding down.
Part of this ritual might include eating earlier so we give our digestion time to work before bedtime when it naturally slows down. It might include calming rituals like having a warm bath and reading a book or planning for the next day or chatting with your spouse.
One thing to leave out of your relaxing bedtime routine is digital media. Firstly, the blue light that screens emit can interfere with our natural circadian rhythms.
Light helps regulate the hormone melatonin, which regulates our wake/sleep patterns. Bright sunlight in the morning and during the day helps reduce melatonin and wake us up. As the light fades, melatonin rises to get us ready for sleep.
The problem is, modern life gets this backwards – we spend all day working indoors in dim lighting and then spend the evening under bright lights and in front of bright screens.
So it’s important to get some natural light during the day and if you really can’t or don’t want to avoid screens at night, to use a blue light filter on your devices or blue light glasses. There are blue light apps you can download for free for mobile devices and computers.
The other reason screen time can affect sleep is because the media we watch can be stressful or upsetting or even too exciting for bedtime. I can’t sleep after watching Game of Thrones just before bedtime for instance. Having an hour or so between screen time and bedtime to unwind can help.
The Role of Food and Exercise
Alcohol, caffeine and sugar can affect sleep quality, so cutting back on all of those things can help us to sleep better at night.
What we eat doesn’t just impact sleep quality, it can affect our energy levels throughout the day. If you’ve ever had a food coma after eating too much, you know what I mean. After eating, our energy is directed to our digestive system, so smaller meals of whole foods not processed foods, low in added sugar and processed grains can help moderate energy throughout the day.
Drinking enough water can increase and maintain our energy. Research suggests that even mild dehydration can affect our mental acuity.
Lastly, how much physical activity we do each day will affect our energy levels. Regular exercise can be energising in itself, but it can also improve sleep quality.
So that’s physical energy. In a nutshell: get enough sleep, but not too much, eat enough healthy food, but not too much and do enough exercise but not too much.
If you’re not sure what you should be eating or how much exercise, that’s where your GP can help. And of course, it’s always a good idea while you’re there to get a general check-up to make sure there’s no medical reason that you have low energy levels.
The next area of energy management to look at is emotional energy.
Managing Emotional Energy
How we feel emotionally affects our body. Feelings aren’t just thoughts in our head, they are chemical and hormonal and physical reactions in our body as well.
Stress causes the fight or flight response which is a whole cascade of physical and chemical reactions in our body that we then have to recover from.
And so strong emotions can take their toll energy-wise. This includes positive and negative emotions by the way – excitement can be just as draining as anger or fear.
Now, what I’m not talking about is trauma or anxiety or depression – for those types of things you should always seek the help of a professional.
But for everyday emotional wear and tear – dealing with an angry customer, a rude client, a demanding boss, a tantruming child, a cranky spouse, there are things we can do to conserve emotional energy.
One super simple but powerful technique is a deep breathing exercise, and there’s there is a growing body of science that shows using deep breathing exercises lowers the stress hormone cortisol and relaxes our body.
One deep-breathing exercise is to take a deep breath in through your nose so that you feel your belly expand. You can put a hand on your belly if it helps. Hold your breath for a second or two and then exhale through your mouth slowly until all the air is gone. As you breathe out, drop your shoulders, relax your jaw and feel the muscles in your neck, chest, arms and hands legs go heavy and relax.
If you practice this every day for just a few seconds, it helps it develop into a habit so you remember to use it when you’re strung out.
A second ritual to try a bucket-filling ritual – something you do each day that fills you up and makes you feel better.
Talking to a friend or family member is a good one. Venting can good. We all need a couple of friends who will listen to us vent every now and then.
It’s just important to share the love and listen when it’s your friends turn to vent. Empathising with someone else’s problems can help take your mind off your own problems but filling someone else’s bucket also fills our own.
Or you could just get together with someone for a catch-up and some fun to get your mind off things and de-stress.
Oher ideas might be reading a good book, which science says is the quickest way to de-stress. Or listening to music, or having a warm bath or doing some other ritual of self-care that makes you feel good. The idea is to pick something that makes you feel nurtured.
A third strategy is a mindfulness ritual. A mindfulness ritual is like mediation without sitting still and quiet. Some people, myself included, find it hard to get into meditation. But a hobby can also be meditative and it can calm and replenish us when we’re stressed. There’s a lot of information on the how and the why in the book the Neuroscience of mindfulness if you want to get into the science of it, but research shows that a hobby can help get into a meditative type state.
Any hobby will do, but it should be something you can already do well so you can get into a flow state without having to concentrate on learning. Ideally, it will be repetitive in nature, like knitting or playing an instrument or doing Thai Chi or colouring-in and require some control and focus like getting the tension right or hitting the notes right or colouring within the lines.
And doing mindfulness ritual, focusing on a hobby you love, even if it’s just for five minutes, can be a great way to calm your mind and restore some emotional energy.
The third energy type is mental energy.
Mental energy refers to the ability to concentrate on a task. It’s the energy we need when we’re working or learning.
Obviously, just thinking will use up mental energy, which is definitely not a bad thing. But there are four things that make our mental energy less efficient.
- Being super busy. This is the mental load I referred to in the intro.
- Distractions, especially digital distractions; and
- Not honouring our natural rhythm of focus and rest
There are two approaches to take to being super busy. The first is to simplify and delegate as much as possible so that you don’t have so much on your plate. To prioritise and let less important things slide. This can be easier said than done until we burn out, and then we don’t have a choice.
The second approach is where time management strategies come in.
But time management is the last priority, not the first.
Because we all have more time than energy. And because there is only so much we can jam into the time and energy quota we have for each day. Using time management strategies to become more efficient if we are currently inefficient is smart.
But trying to maximise every minute of the day without allowing for all the things that replenish your energy will lead to poorer performance and burn out.
Often doing less and taking the time to rest increases productivity because we all work more effectively when we’re healthy and not tired.
One of the most powerful time management strategies is to spend time in the morning or the evening before planning out your day and prioritising just three things that you need to get done and focus on those three things only.
To-do lists that are longer than three things cause stress and a sense of failure when you inevitably don’t cross every item off.
The second drain on mental energy is trying to do too many things at once. Our brains are pretty darn amazing, but they actually can’t multi-task. Instead, they constantly switch focus between tasks and this ends up being less efficient for your brain and more work for it.
Mono-tasking, on the other hand- focusing on just one task at a time, takes less mental energy.
The only time multi-tasking works is with tasks that are so habitual that they don’t need a lot of concentration.
The third mental energy drain is a biggie and it’s distractions. Distractions can be in the form of clutter around the home. Studies show that a messy house increases stress, particularly for women. They can be in the form of interruptions by colleagues at work.
But the biggest distraction of our time is digital media. Every ding, every notification, every message pulls you away from what you were focusing on. And it takes a lot of time for the brain to get back into the flow.
Not to mention constant media is just more information, often unnecessary information, for our brains to process. And depending on what you’re watching or reading, it can cause emotional stress as well.
So giving yourself guidelines about media and distractions, turning off notifications and limiting how much you watch can conserve energy for more important things.
Finally, there’s our natural focus rhythm which is about 90 to 120 minutes long. After that time, our mind can’t focus as well anymore. We get distracted more easily, we start yawning and feeling restless.
It’s good to be aware of this and rather than push through it, take a quick break and recharge. The length of the break is less important than the quality of the break – a good rest break includes getting away from digital media, doing a bit of stretching if you have a desk job, getting five minutes of alone time if you work with people.
So that’s mental energy – the final area of energy management is spiritual or mindful energy.
Spiritual energy includes re-energising by connecting with your passions and getting into a flow state where you become absorbed in something you love and have a passion for.
Too often, this is the area of our lives that gets neglected the most. How often do we spend time doing the things we love? How often do we not pick up our hobby or passion because we’re too tired or too busy?
But it can be surprising just how energising it is to do something you’re really passionate about.
Spiritual energy also includes connecting with a higher purpose in life and living by your core values, which is something I talked about in episode #3.
I won’t go to a lot of detail here you can check out more by listening to episode 3 but it can be as simple as spending quality time with your family if ‘family’ is one of your core values. Or volunteering with a group that supports what you believe in.
Living in opposition with your core values can take it’s toll while doing things each day that are in alignment with what you value can be energising.
So those are the four areas of energy management physical energy emotional energy mental energy and spiritual energy.
To develop energy rituals we need to work on them consciously and intentionally for a little while before they become habits so check out the worksheet on creating energy rituals.
I hope you’ve found the episode useful, if you have, it would be great if you would leave a review. Also, don’t forget to subscribe in your favourite podcasting app to stay up to date with the latest episodes.
Thanks for listening and all the best on your journey to being frugal and thriving.
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
- The Power of Engagement: Managing Your Energy, Not Your Time is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal By Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
- The Neuroscience of Mindfulness: The Astonishing Science Behind Behind How Everyday Hobbies Help You Relax by Dr Stan Rodski
- Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves
- The Circadian Code: Lose weight, supercharge your energy and sleep well every night by Satchidananda Panda
- Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology by Cal Newport
- Dehydration May Muddle Your Thinking
- The Hidden Risks of Poor Sleep In Women
- Your High-Intensity Feelings Maybe Tiring You Out
- The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults (one example)
- Episode 3: The Fundamentals of the Good Life
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Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.