We’ve all had those days. You have a mountain of work in front of you that you genuinely want to get done, but you find yourself procrastinating. Struggling to focus. Failing to get tasks completed.
What’s the problem? It’s probably not that your time management system has failed. It’s probably not that there “just aren’t enough hours in the day.” Instead, you’re far more likely to be suffering from a crisis of energy. You may have drained all your energy by running yourself too fast and too hard for too long, and you’re long overdue for replenishment.
The good news? It’s fixable.
Here are 7 ways to recover your energy and your productivity—and accomplish more by DOING LESS.
1. Recognize the powerful connection between energy and productivity.
If you want greater productivity, you must consistently give your body and your mind opportunities to generate more energy.
Jim Loehr and Tim Schwartz are the authors of the New York Times bestselling book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. Loehr and Schwartz are emphatic on this one point: the main way to accomplish this goal is to allow yourself more frequent rest breaks.
2. Take regularly scheduled rest breaks before you get tired.
According to Loehr and Schwartz, it’s not enough to stop and rest when you’re tired. The key is to stop and rest before you get tired. Give your body a chance to replenish your energy reserves before those reserves get so low that you just can’t move forward.
3. My #1 recommendation: Use the “Pomodoro Method.”
The secret to the highest level of productivity is to alternate intense hard work with rigidly scheduled rest times.
In the 1980’s, university student Francesco Cirillo came up with a brilliant method for doing this that he called the “Pomodoro Method.” He took a kitchen timer shaped like a pomodoro tomato, set it for a certain number of minutes, and forced himself to work intensely and in a highly focused manner for just that period of time. Then, when the timer rang, he forced himself to stop and take a break.
You don’t need a tomato-shaped timer for this. Just use the timer on your phone. Set it for 50 minutes. Work intensely and with great focus for that entire time. Put your phone on “do not disturb.” Allow no distractions. When the timer rings, set the timer for a restorative 10 minute break. Repeat until it’s time for lunch or dinner.
You’ll get more work completed in less time, and have more energy left after you finish.
4. Think like a sprinter.
“You can cover a lot ground in a quick burst, but you can’t keep up that pace all day,” Loehr and Schartz say. “With some genuine restorative rest between bursts, though, you can sprint over and over again.”
5. Value—don’t feel guilty about—rest and relaxation.
The sprinter image above is a good one. Loehr and Schwartz say that, “…instead of believing the lie that resting and relaxing is for sissies and laggards, we ought to be thinking of ourselves as elite athletes—athletes who can achieve peak productivity only by alternating between pushing hard, to the limits of capacity, and then resting and recuperating afterward. We need to learn to value the rest and relaxation activities that replenish our energy (rather than bemoaning and feeling guilty about our need for them).”
I wholeheartedly agree.
6. Take additional smart, strategic steps to keep your energy levels high.
You can also increase energy levels by making room in each day for sleep, for eating healthful energy-producing foods, for drinking volumes of clear water, for vigorous exercise, for spiritual renewal, and for relaxed connecting with friends and family. If we’ll do this we’ll find ourselves “regularly refueled, replenished, and ready for the next round of intense work ahead.”
7. Lay down boundaries and rules for yourself that protect your energy and productivity.
I write this post mainly for parents who I want to have plenty of energy for strategizing about how to get their kids through college debt free—but everything I’ve just said also applies to college students as well.
Resting, relaxing, and having fun in college are important.
No student should go to class and study 18 hours a day.
A successful college student might create a time boundary that says: “I plan to stop working at 8:00 p.m. each day, and reserve the rest of my evening for resting, relaxing, and doing things that replenish me. If my schoolwork’s going to get done, it’s going to have to get done earlier in the day.”
This student might also say: “I plan to take one hour dinner breaks every day. I plan to never study for more than 50 minutes without getting up and taking a break. I plan to attend church every Sunday morning. I plan to reserve all Friday and Saturday evenings for doing things with my friends. I’ve laid down strict boundaries about this. It’s my policy that I do not study or think about school at all during these ‘off’ times, because this is how I’m going to replenish my energy.”
8. Revel in how good this rhythm feels.
Once you try this work/rest rhythm and grasp how good it feels, you’ll likely find yourself refusing every slower option in between. These are excellent words for college students:
“Why should you put in eight straight hours half-heartedly rereading lecture notes, chatting with people who stop by to interrupt you, and scrolling through Facebook all at the same time, when you could concentrate, focus, and work intensely for a far shorter time that includes breaks, and then be free to go and do something fun that truly replenishes you?”
Students who create time boundaries in this way prevent work-related responsibilities from oozing over and polluting their rest, relaxation, and fun.
Parents can reap the same benefits if they’ll do it too.
9. There’s more to learn on this subject. Have your child take a top-rated, intensive study skills class as early as possible.
Sign up for my free Monday morning email updates on this website, and you’ll find out when I’m next teaching my one-evening class for students entitled THE STRATEGIC COLLEGE STUDENT: How to Get Higher Grades By Studying Less Than Most Other People. You can see parents and students raving about this class by clicking here.
There’s no part of parenting more important than setting your kid up for successful college and career life.
For clear, step-by-step help getting your kids through college debt-free and into careers they love afterward, get your copy of my book:
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Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1–3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it.
And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it—especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.
Take a step on this right now. Get regular, inspiring help from me—every Monday morning.
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Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, podcast host, and sought-after speaker for students ages 12–26, their parents, and the professionals who serve them. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free, ready to jump directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, Parents Magazine, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.
This article was originally published on this blog on May 13th, 2015. It was most recently updated on September 18th, 2019.