You probably think about your physical energy every day.
Maybe you work out in the morning to get things flowing.
You might be careful about your choices at lunch, trying to avoid the early afternoon energy slump.
Perhaps you try to get to bed early, at least a few nights per week.
Those are all excellent strategies that are pretty much guaranteed to improve your physical energy levels. Which is important to getting work done and to having an enjoyable day.
Now, think about your mental energy levels.
What if you managed those in a similar fashion? Would there be similar benefits?
Because if you act in a similar way you will get similar results. Mental energy can be managed just like physical energy. And it should.
Think about it.
What’s Floating Around in Your Noggin?
You are probably busy thinking about lots of tasks every day.
And other things that you need to tackle this week and this month.
Then there’s the stuff you have been pondering long-term. Some of which must now be addressed soon. (It’s funny how that long-term stuff eventually creeps up on you…)
And then there are the other things that you are planning for the future. Not for right away, but things you have got to start thinking about now.
All of this is floating around in your noggin. Different things pop up here and there that each prompt a little (or a lot) of anxiety in their own special little way.
And there’s not really any separation between work stuff, personal stuff, and other stuff. It’s all up to you in the end.
Triage the Mish-Mash
Just like physical energy impacts almost everything that you do, so does your mental energy.
Actually, in today’s world of work, your mental energy may be even more important. You are a knowledge worker, paid to think.
We need you to be sharp. To think deeply about problems. To develop creative solutions. To generate new ideas. To pay attention to details and nuances. To play your game at the highest level.
That takes mental energy.
So, how can you clear through some of the mishmash and make sure that the most important things get the right amount of attention?
First, you must believe that mental energy can be managed. And now you can. Because you know this is true if you just reflect for a few moments on any recent day or week of yours.
You know when you were distracted. You probably forgot some stuff. Maybe you wish you had spent more time on that important thing. You almost certainly felt mentally exhausted at one point.
You can imagine what it would be like to give some important things their due consideration. And you have a sense of how much that would improve the quality of your work (and how you experience work).
Now you can decide that important things merit more mental energy than unimportant things.
Decide on the Big Stuff
You might want to triage the big stuff first.
You probably already have a sense of the most important things you should be working on. That’s where the bulk of your mental energy should be focused.
And that’s why you shouldn’t work on many important things at any one time.
The more balls you are trying to keep up in the air, the less attention each one can get.
Better to set some aside right now and pay full attention to THE most important thing. Because only ONE thing can be the MOST important thing.
That’s the thing to focus on. And to give it your full attention.
Pick that thing and then book a meeting with yourself to work on it. Undistracted. Uninterrupted. Until you get it done (or make good progress for the day).
Focusing on one really important thing at a time is how you can make progress. It’s how you can build momentum.
And it feels good to make progress on something important. That gives you one less thing to worry about for a little while. Which restores some capacity of mental energy.
But Small Stuff May Be the Real Issue
But even more important than the important stuff, might be the small stuff. At least in terms of mental energy.
You might thing this sounds counter-intuitive. Because it does.
And that’s exactly where I’ve found most of the best answers to important problems. Right out in the open. Where nobody else seems to be looking.
Do you know why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same thing every day?
Do you know why Seth Godin eats the exact same thing for breakfast every day?
Because it’s one less decision they have to make.
They don’t expend mental energy on things that are unimportant. This gives them more capacity for the things that deserve their time, attention, and energy.
And that’s what you should do too. Because it makes a big difference.
All those little things require attention. As you are deciding which articles of clothing match or what you should grab for breakfast, you deplete resources.
As you worry and fret and fuss over the small stuff, energy dissipates. That’s why it’s important to work on important things first. The earlier in the day you tackle those, the more energy you have to dedicate to them.
But you should also eliminate as much small stuff throughout the day as possible. It’s literally not worth the energy.
One way to do this is simply to decide in advance. That’s where repeating the same patterns helps. Doing the same thing requires no thought. Eventually it becomes a habit. And habits are automatic. Energy use = zero.
The next best thing is to think and decide in advance. If you need to go to the dry cleaners tomorrow, decide tonight if you should do that before work or after work. Decide where you are going to have lunch tomorrow. Lay out the clothes you are going to wear.
Sure, when you make decisions late in the day, they will suffer from the same decision fatigue we are talking about. But these are all LOW STAKES choices. Doing this at the end of the day has no risk but tons of benefit.
Mental Energy Management
Now you have the tools to manage mental energy a little better. You know that it is real. You know that it is important. You know that it is real important.
Do a little triage. Put the bulk of energy into the big stuff. Minimize energy that goes into the trivial.
Act on this information and you will become more effective. You will become more efficient. You will become a little (or a lot) less stressed. Because mental energy is more powerful than you might have thought. Just like wasting it is more draining than you might have thought.
Do what Mark Zuckerberg, Seth Godin, and many other successful people do. Use your mental energy wisely. We’d like to see more of what you can really do.