When is the best time to push yourself harder, make difficult decisions and do the difficult work? How can you reduce energy drain and promote energy gain?
Energy is the main currency of life. The feeling of renewed energy is great, whether it’s energy for your partner, children, dog, or work. The executive function of our brains, (pre-frontal cortex), is extremely energy-hungry. Brain activity consumes up to 20% of the body’s energy – more than any other single organ. Breathing techniques, exercise, sleep and diet are critical factors in having enough energy.
Energy is generated by hundreds of mitochondria that create and release energy, like mini rechargeable batteries in our cells. The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences showed that a combination of endurance and strength training increases mitochondria biogenesis, enabling muscles to produce more energy. However, after long periods of overdrive, numbers decrease.
Life is a balancing act of effort and recovery. After pushing ourselves, we should recover stronger and smarter than we were before, with more energy as we apply effort again.
While pushing yourself (within reason) may make you stronger, a word of caution if you drive yourself too hard for too long. Mitochondria and glial cells that tidy up the brain need time to do that housekeeping, which they get when we work on easy vs. difficult tasks. Give your brain recovery time.
Physical exercise is important because it helps your brain grow. Pay attention to sleep quantity and quality – it helps the brain recover and is essential for full waking brain power.
Why the ‘f*ck it diet’ is the wellness trend we’ve been waiting for
Even when we are well-rested and have plenty of energy, after two hours of thinking about complex things, neural connections degrade. Therefore, we should do difficult thinking when the brain is fresh. Many of us do the reverse, taking care of easy admin (e.g., answering emails) first thing in the morning.
We suggest a different plan:
1. Make your pre-work routine as decision-free as possible. Put out clothes and plan key tasks the evening before, so that you know before you wake up what your focus will be.
2. If you work with people in different time zones or who send emails in the evening, do a quick sweep of your inbox first thing. Address any ‘fires’ that have cropped up, manage expectations, sigh with relief, then put on your ‘Out of Office’ or ‘Do Not Disturb’. Beware: Switching between analytical or creative thinking and interruptions is less efficient for your brain. With those unscheduled breaks, it takes a while to get back to the same quality of thinking, and you lose deeper thought connections. Focus creates pace.
3. Dedicate those precious first two hours to the “tough stuff” you prioritised. Maximise your brain’s energy – make complex decisions.
4. Train yourself to not constantly check email.
5. If small tasks come to mind in those first two hours, put them on a list and forget them for now.
6. After the first two hours, get up every 45-60 minutes to stretch and drink water; rest your brain for two minutes, then dive back in.
7. If you tend to get scheduled back to back, take charge of your diary, block out time, be discerning. Don’t allow your calendar to fill with meetings that allow no time for lunch, breaks or doing priority work.
8. If you sometimes work after hours and crave sweets or can only face that work with a glass of wine, your brain batteries (mitochondria) are probably running low. If you must work, use your breath to release energy instead of sugar or wine. Reward yourself afterwards with a hot bath or savour that glass of wine.
9. Wind-down before sleep to reduce your adrenalin and cortisol levels.
I spent a week at the elusive detox centre that *every* celebrity swears by, here’s what really happens…
Some people have different cycles, perking up late morning, late afternoon or late evening. Identify your optimal two-hour slot, apply the same principles as above and tackle the tough stuff when you are at your best.