A common phrase in our working mother rants is “we just can’t keep doing this”, “it’s not sustainable”. As a working mother, I feel like I am always at full alert – working long hours, rushing home, getting the girls sorted for bedtime, getting them to bed, getting through everything else we need to do for the next day.
There is always more to do. And when there is more to do – we work more. But there is only so much time in a day. Time is finite, and I’m at my limits.
There is always more work to do. But when I work more – something else gives. And it’s me. I will still beat myself up to meet my work requirements, no matter how unrealistic they are. I will still prioritize the girls and try to be there for them. So it is “me” that gets missed. A missed lunch break. Missed exercise. Yoga. Missed ‘my’ time. My diet. My health.
This fast-paced, demanding and stressful lifestyle leaves us feeling tired, wound up and low in energy. This is not sustainable – this is merely survival.
And this shows the core problem with “time management” – there is only so much time in a day. However, that is not the case with energy. Managing my energy helps me to stay in control and to stay motivated.
Consider this example: This week I’ve been on the road, away from home running training sessions. I’ve driven 930 km (by myself, through the rain, on strange roads, in a strange car, and at night), taken multiple flights, and sat in airports for hours. And every day I run a three-hour training session – talking about tax law. I can manage my time, but I cannot succeed in that presentation without energy. I need energy to keep my audience engaged. It is critical to managing my energy, no matter how tired I feel or how tempting it is to eat junk food and live on energy drinks.
There are four ways to manage energy – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. In each category, energy can be expanded and renewed by managing your energy “inputs”.
Physical energy is derived from nutrition, sleep, exercise and rest. Not getting enough of these is associated with poor nutrition and physical fatigue. It has a direct effect on our ability to perceive our surroundings, manage our emotions and make sound decisions.
Emotional energy is our ability to manage our responses to troubling situations and difficult people. The pressures and stresses of work and life situations may cause us to react negatively and to become agitated and irritable. We react emotionally.
Mental energy is the ability to focus, to consider options carefully, to be creative and make good decisions consistently. A mentally strong person can do this even in highly stressful situations.
Spiritual energy is about finding meaning and purpose in what we do.
I have chosen to concentrate on what I can control – physical energy.
- I’ve set an earlier bedtime and established a bedtime routine that helps me sleep (see my ten healthy ways to deal with stress).
- I’ve committed to exercising three times a week (staying still, how I find my balance).
- I discussed my commitment with my loved ones. With my husband’s support, I can prioritize exercise. I can get out of the house and get fresh air and keep fit.
- When I’m away with work I try to go for a run regularly. If I don’t feel safe on my own I use the hotel gym.
- I’ve committed to eating better. When I’m away it’s tempting to order fries for dinner or grab a takeaway burger to eat while driving, and to live on coffee and energy drinks. But I know I need to make better food choices. I need to choose high energy, whole foods that will provide me with sustained energy levels over a longer term. Foods high in sugar, refined carbohydrates or caffeine will give me an energy hit, or a “high”, but the high is inevitably followed with the corresponding “low”. So what does this look like when I’m travelling?
- Cereal (granola) for breakfast with fruit. I don’t order a cooked breakfast. I do still enjoy my coffee (my treat, once a day).
- Try not to buy fried food. Sometimes this is inevitable (small towns, late nights, not too many choices), but generally, I try to order salads, steak and vegetables, fish etc.
- High energy whole food snacks. I bring a bag of nuts as well as muesli bars (granola bars) from home, these ones are full of chia seeds, nuts and seeds (think Paleo).
- I bring my vitamins and minerals with me.
- Minimise the alcohol (or don’t drink at all).
- No dessert. This took a while to get my head around – but it’s a tip I picked up from seasoned travellers. It would be extremely easy to put on a lot of weight travelling all the time, eating in restaurants, drinking alcohol, and indulging in amazing deserts every night. Definitely much better for me to skip dessert.
Managing my energy inputs helps me to stay myself, and to avoid the other version of me – a stressed out ranting mother who yells at her kids. Managing my energy helps me to concentrate on the good things, and to ignore the ‘noise’. It helps me to keep going, and to be happy.