Though we’ve passed the winter solstice, and the mornings are slowly getting lighter, January can still be a time of low energy for many. You might be motivated by your New Year’s resolutions, but you may also be trying to catch up on work missed over the holidays or recovering from the exhaustion of a busy December social calendar.
It’s tempting to rush back into your pre-Christmas routines, to go at as fast a pace as possible to get through all you need to do. Resist. You do not need to burn out to prove yourself. Instead, make a commitment to finding a better work/life balance with these top tips for pacing yourself in January and beyond.
Start noticing your energy levels
You might not usually think about your day-to-day energy levels. If you’re overwhelmed or stressed, you might even push thoughts about how exhausted you are out of your mind and ignore the signs that your body needs rest. But to find a pace of life that is healthy now and sustainable long-term, you’ll need to first be able to identify your own feelings of energy.
I think of my energy in three types: emotional, mental and physical. I see these ways of using energy across my day, in activities at work, home and leisure. My day job uses a lot of mental energy, but it can also be emotionally demanding depending on the task. Commuting, shopping, walking the dog all take physical energy.
To start noticing your own feelings of energy, you might try making notes in your diary about how energetic or tired you are at different times of day. Do you always feel drained after a long meeting? Does your morning coffee give you a boost, or is there a correlation between your caffeine intake and an afternoon slump?
Look at the energy demands of your schedule
As you begin to identify your feelings of energy on a more regular basis, you’ll see patterns in your activities and levels of exhaustion. Certain days may be more fatiguing, or particular tasks taking more energy than others.
When assessing the demands of your schedule, think about the three types of energy. Do you have days that take up all your mental energy and then some? Do you do all your physical activity on the weekend, only to end up drained by Monday morning? Instead, you might try spreading out activities that have similar energy demands to reduce the risk of complete exhaustion.
If you notice an activity demands a lot of your energy but offers very little in return – whether financially, for your health or happiness – it may be time to consider whether it belongs in your schedule at all. If it can’t be avoided, try to think of how you might lessen the energy it requires.
Find rest activities that are rejuvenating and enjoyable
Rest is essential to a more balanced pace of life. But you need to form a positive relationship with rest for it to have a truly beneficial effect: if you spend all your downtime stressed and anxious, you’re using up emotional energy.
Rest doesn’t always mean ‘inactivity’. When deciding how to rest, think about the type of energy you’ve exhausted and choose an activity that will allow you to stop this particular energy expenditure. For example, if you’re mentally exhausted, you might opt for an activity that allows your brain to ‘switch-off’, like a warm bath, easy-to-watch film, or craft and creativity. Sometimes, you’ll use one type of energy while you rest from another.
Don’t try to change everything all at once
‘New Year, new me’ is all over social media, but trying to take on too many new habits or rewrite long-standing routines will just put further pressure on yourself at a time when you’re already stressed and exhausted. Instead, focus on one or two changes at a time.
Our motivation is linked with our energy levels. When we’re motivated, we’re energised and keen to exert this energy on the task at hand. But motivation can quickly disappear, taking with it that desire to put in lots of effort. So, when choosing any new habits, make them initially as small and easy to achieve as possible. Low motivation will put you off doing a 5k run after work, but you might be convinced to do 5 minutes jogging on the spot. Then, once you’re into a habit, it’s much easier to increase the amount of activity.
Don’t berate yourself if you do fall back into an old habit, or fail to reach a goal you’ve set yourself in an almost impossible time frame. Behavioural changes can be difficult to make, especially if they’re dramatically different from what you’ve been used to doing all your adult life!