Energy management to avoid burnout
31 Aug 2022

Energy management to avoid burnout

Written by: James B.

Better managing your energy

We know we have a finite amount of hours in the day but it’s about making those hours go further – the more energy we have, the more productive we will feel and the more we can get done in the hours we have. We all know what it’s like working through feeling really tired or low in energy. It’s like wading through treacle. Our concentration suffers and it takes us much longer to complete a task. 

So let’s look at the different things that might drain our energy.

This can come from any of the following:

  • A lack of sleep
  • Over-working
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Poor nutrition
  • Physical inactivity
  • And a lack of motivation

We can think of our energy like a glass that we need to keep full. If we take too much liquid out of the cup, we will be lacking in energy. When the cup starts to get empty, we really feel the effects of this, physically and mentally.  

We need to continue to add to the cup, as we take energy out for activities. For example if we have a very energy-draining day at work, what can we do after work to top the cup back up? Sometimes a night of Netflix is what we need, but sometimes a yoga class, a walk, or taking a bath might be better to boost our energy levels. 

So I want you to think about:

What behaviours / situations deplete your energy levels?

What contributes to your energy levels / makes you feel energised?

Are there any immediate changes could you make to improve your energy levels?

A couple of key things to remember to better manage your energy and avoid burnout. Sleep, nutrition and physical exercise will all play a major role in your energy levels. Either under or overeating can make us feel low in energy, so be sure to keep some healthy, nutritious snacks to hand. Try to ensure you’re getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night. Lastly try and get plenty of physical movement into your day as this will boost your energy levels. 

Combating mental tiredness

In this vein, I wanted to share an interesting insight from a professional sports person we all may know. The tennis player Andy Murray was interviewed recently and was asked the question – ’why are the longer tennis matches so tough?’ That may sound like an obvious question as playing tennis for 5 hours is obviously going to be grueling. But what he said was it’s not the physical tiredness that has the biggest impact (they train for that and can prepare for it) – it’s the mental tiredness that is so difficult which comes from making thousands upon thousands of decisions, constantly for that time period.  

At a certain point the quality of our decision making starts to suffer. 

Although we may not be professional athletes, we are no different in that aspect – our working days are a series of constant decision making – what wording to write in this document, how to answer this email, how to best communicate an outcome. It’s endless. And so many of these decisions happen subconsciously. It’s a lot of work for our brains to do so naturally we will also experience this mental fatigue and we’ll get to a point where it’s counterproductive to keep on working. 

To demonstrate this, John Pencavel, a social scientist and economist, from Stanford University, carried out a comprehensive study of long working hours in 2014. He compared data from thousands of workers, comparing hours worked with output and success.  His findings were definitive: Workers who clocked up 70 hours a week achieved no more than those who had worked 55 hours. 

From the early studies on companies and countries who have embraced shorter working weeks (i.e. the four-day work week) productivity is yet to go down - people are achieving the same amount or more than they did when they worked longer working hours.  So we know our brains have a capacity. 

Think about the impact on our health both mental and physical of overworking. Our energy dips, we lose focus, it has an impact on our immune system, and our bodies release too much cortisol. We need to use our working hours more wisely, not add on more hours. Be strict with yourself on your working hours. The studies are definitive here – beyond 50 hours a week, you are not getting any more done, even if it looks that way.

The importance of breaks

In order to keep our energy levels up throughout the day, we also need to understand the importance of breaks.  I’d like to share another fascinating study with you. It was a study involving the judicial system in Israel. This study was done by looking at the decisions judges made on whether to grant a prisoner parole or not. Now we’d think that these decisions were made based on the facts of the case and the behaviour of the prisoner, but there was something else at play here. 

The study found that judges gave more lenient decisions at the start of the day and immediately after a scheduled lunch break in court proceedings. So if you were being seen first thing your chances of being granted parole were pretty good, but if you’re seen at the end of the day or just before lunch you’ve got almost no chance. 

The scientists looked at more than 1,000 rulings made in 2009 by eight different judges. They found that the likelihood of a favourable ruling peaked at the beginning of the day, steadily declining over time from a probability of about 65% to nearly zero, before spiking back up to about 65% after a break for a meal or snack.

What does this tell us? Breaks are incredibly important as our decision making ability suffers greatly when we start to get mentally fatigued. You can imagine the effect this is having on the quality of our work and our productivity levels.

To optimize your breaks:

Firstly we want to schedule them in to make sure they happen. Try and get moving in your breaks if you can and if you can get outdoors, even better. This will really help refresh the mind. Lastly, if you can take your breaks away from devices, this will be really beneficial for our productivity levels. Remember how we spoke about the amount of information we take in every day? – If we can give ourselves a break from this, even just for ten minutes, it can make a real difference to how mentally fatigued we feel. So rather than sitting in the break out area looking at social media on your break, can you go outside for a quick 5-10 minute walk around the block?