Are your energy levels low? Try this…
If you’re like me, you have a lot of things you want to do, but often feel too worn out to get things done. I wrote this article a few years ago, but the lessons are tried and trusted and each one contains an actionable tip to give yourself more energy.
This is all about how your lifestyle and how your ways of working can influence how much you can get done. It’s all about our personal energy levels, how we can improve and preserve them, as this contributes to our ability to get things done efficiently.
For now, lets just look at a whole bunch of ideas that you may find useful — don’t feel you have to try them all, individually each one of these ideas will have some positive effect and they can be introduced independently of each other. Go on, try a few; if they work, stick with them, if they don’t give you much benefit move on and try something else!
First up, lifestyle factors…
Don’t drink too much booze
Nothing makes us feel more lacking in energy than the effects of alcohol. Compare the feeling you have when you’ve not had a drink for a couple of days with how you feel when had a drink the night before. If you drink anything at lunchtime, it is likely to degrade your entire afternoon’s activities, so unless, all you have planned is a nap, give the lunchtime pint a miss. If you go to bed drunk, you will not sleep as well as if you’ve gone to bed sober so you won’t feel as energised the next day.
Make sure you’ve had enough sleep
Making sure that you get enough sleep is one of the most fundamental ways in which you can ensure that you remain energised. We all need varying amounts of sleep, some more and some less; you need to understand how much sleep your body needs and then budget your time to ensure that you get enough! The average adult needs about seven hours sleep, but the amount we need can vary from about four hours (as Margaret Thatcher said she needed) through to the clear twelve to fourteen hours my wife claims she needs! There are some interesting articles on whether humans need an uninterrupted block of sleep or whether it is more natural to sleep in four hour blocks, however I’ll leave you to understand your own requirements.
Hydrate and then hydrate again
Dehydration is an insidious thing. Not having enough water on board will slowly affect your energy levels and you probably won’t notice it happening. Start the day with water; we each wake up dehydrated having lost a pint or two during the night through perspiration, then make sure you top up as you go through the day. We all need about eight pints of water a day to remain hydrated. Keep an eye on the colour of your wee as this is the best indicator of your hydration levels.
Eating junk food is temporarily satisfying, but if you eat rubbish all the time, it will eventually catch up on you and deplete your energy levels. Fresh fruit is what you need for an energy boost during the day, not fizzy drinks and chocolate bars. Over time, good nutrition will pay off!
Eating smaller meals more often aligns our bodies to the way in which we evolved as hunter gatherers and ensures that large peaks and troughs in blood sugars are avoided. Remember the old phrase, “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper”, there’s truth in there so try it. For breakfast, try eating eggs, which are protein rich and release their energy slowly. Live culture yoghurts are reputed to be good for your digestion system and given that this is where you get your energy from, it might be work giving them a go.
Like good nutrition, feeling healthy and being healthy will boost your energy levels. This is a genuine virtuous circle where expending energy gives you more energy. If the only exercise you get is mental exercise, you are missing out on one of the key ways to boost your energy. It doesn’t take much exercise to make a difference (some studies suggest only ten minutes a day will have a positive effect). If you’re carrying a bit of extra weight, losing a few pounds will make you feel great and will give you more energy. Try parking a bit further away from your destination and walking for a few minutes, every little helps!
Get out in the morning
Too often our early morning exercise is to walk from our homes to our cars and then from our cars to our desks; that’s not real exercise! If you are able to do something energetic first thing in the morning, it will give you a feeling of well being and achievement for much of the day as well as kickstarting your metabolism into producing more energy during the day. I walk the dog every morning and it’s a great way to start the day.
Get out in the daylight
You may be surprised to hear it, but human beings are not supposed to live in offices! Our bodies need daylight and the outdoors in order to operate most effectively. Getting outdoors and seeing a bit of the day will help your mental frame of mind and will give you a much needed energy boost. Taking a small break, even if it’s a short walk outside the office, will do you the world of good.
Smoking doesn’t help
Ex-smokers report that they have more energy than when they smoked. Nicotine upsets your sleep being one helluva stimulant
Get to know your body clock
Your body clock works according to your waking time and energy levels. If you are constantly changing the times when you expect your body to perform, you confuse it and end up with fluctuating energy levels. If you are able to wake at same time each day, your body will set its body clock around that time and you will avoid the fatigue that can set in if you vary your start time a lot. Adjusting your body clock is best done gradually, so if you are constantly awake to late and sleep in the mornings and want to change this, simply try adjusting your timing fifteen minutes at a time; this should allow you to avoid fluctuating energy levels caused by too sudden a change.
I used to manage a team of shift-workers who regularly moved from night to day shifts. Having seen them wandering around like grumpy zombies, I wouldn’t recommend this lifestyle to anyone!
Choose your best time to work
We all have different energy levels that rise and fall over the course of the day and the working week. We all know instinctively when we are at our sharpest, some of us are morning people whilst others feel we do our best later in the day.
Go for proteins and complex carbohydrates
Proteins (meats and fish, for example) and complex carbohydrates (such as wholegrain foods) are tougher for your body to turn into energy. As a result, if you eat these foods, the energy from them is released into your bloodstream over a longer period, helping you to avoid “sugar crashes” and maintaining consistent energy levels. If you need sugars, try a banana; there’s a reason that tennis professionals are often seen eating one during match breaks.
Make sure your vitamins are topped up
If your body is malfunctioning, you will notice a degradation in your energy levels. Eating healthily ensures that you get the appropriate vitamin levels, which help to regulate how your body functions. Most importantly from an energy level perspective, is Vitamin B which is associated with converting food into blood sugar and can be found in poultry, pork, fish, cereals, vegetables, fruit and eggs. Don’t feel you need to pop vitamin pills if your diet will suffice, over consuming vitamins just gives you more expensive urine when your body flushes them out!
Don’t switch your brain off in from of the TV
Energy levels are stimulated by doing things. If you come home from work, sit in front of the TV and switch your brain off for the evening, your body will see that as a trigger to go easy on your energy levels and you will find it hard to motivate yourself. Try to occupy yourself with projects that require active though or activity to plug into a virtuous circle where activity gives you energy that can be used to achieve more. Trouble getting motivated? Remind yourself that sitting in front of crap TV is a terrible waste of life!
Do something that relaxes you
No sniggering at the back there! Seriously, if you are doing something you enjoy, you will have more energy to devote to it because you are motivated. Make sure you break up the routines of life with segments of things that you love to do and feel the energy benefits these activities give to you.
Positive Mental Attitude
There’s a Monty Python song about this, all together now… But on a serious point, if you think negatively about something, you will find it hard to be motivated and you will feel tired and depressed about that thing. Try to find a “bright side” to whatever you have to do and you will find that you will have more energy for dealing with them.
Next up, environmental factors…
Work somewhere light and airy
You will feel more energised if you have a bright environment to work in. A bit of daylight, or better still sunshine, stimulates your body and gets you moving. If you have no access to daylight, try one of those daylight lightbulbs and see if it helps.
Choose your work environment carefully
We are all, whether we like it or not, affected by our working environment. If you are working in a pleasant environment, you will feel more motivated and energised than if you are working somewhere you hate. I have never felt less motivated than when I was moved to a desk in the corridor outside the toilets!
Related to the working environment point above, is personal comfort. Wherever possible, you should look after your basic comfort as this will affect your ability to work well. You should dress comfortably, maintain a pleasant temperature, ensure that you aren’t hungry and make sure you don’t need the toilet as any one of those factors can easily distract you and detract from the energy levels you bring to the task.
Surround yourself with vibrant colours
The environment we live in really does affect the way we feel. Bright colours stimulate your mind and can give you an energy boost. The nice thing is that vibrant colours also affect those around you, so you all feel more energised.
Take a Shower
If you are feeling tired, a shower will revive you and get you going again. Clean clothes will also give you a feeling of freshness that will help your energy levels. Anyone who’s ever pulled an all-night stint knows that a shower will temporarily shake away the feeling of grogginess that sleep deprivation will give you. If you can’t get a shower, douse your face and dampen your neck with water, it will help to a lesser extent but doesn’t require you to get naked!
Take a day or afternoon off
Sometimes we just need a moment to recharge and, too often, when we take time off, it’s to do something for someone else. Every now and then, give yourself some time to yourself to do something that you want to do; you will be able to look back on the time fondly and will find you have a new lease of energy at the end of it. Especially if you are able to achieve something fun that you can tangibly say “Yes, I did that!”
Try herbal teas instead of caffeinated drinks
Take a break from tea and coffee with a herbal drink. Caffeinated drinks give you a temporary lift but come with a “crash” on the other side. Ginseng drinks are supposed to give you an energy boost whilst citrus drinks can “zing” you awake.
Drink something different
If you are always drinking coffee or tea and are feeling jaded in the afternoon, a simple switch to something different can be enough to give you a burst of energy. A herbal drink or a pint of squash or cordial can be just the thing to give you a new taste on your palate which can give you a fresh “ready for anything feeling. Giving your teeth a brush can have similar results.
Meet with friends
A bit of time spent with friends, even if it’s just a brief conversation on the phone, will give you a new lease of life. We are social creatures and are designed to make friends and maintain relationships, our bodies reward this behaviour with serotonin and other well being chemicals.
Next up, about your tasks and work…
This is easier said than done, but if you are stressed about a task, you are likely to suffer from trepidation rather than enthusiasm when approaching it. The good news is that stress is often self-inflicted and a bit of perspective will often work wonders. You could try to think about how the stress will disappear once the task is completed. You could ask for an extension to have more time to get the task done. You could imagine that you are a year down the line and examine how you feel about the task now; probably it’s not so important from that perspective!
The key is to understand that stress is your body’s “flight or fight” response going into overdrive in a situation where you can do neither, and that this manifests as stress. Either way, stress saps your energy.
Believe in the task
Nothing gives you more energy when approaching a task than feeling positive about what you are trying to achieve. If you believe in a task, you will feel more motivated and are likely to give the task more thought and enthusiasm. I accept that there are many tasks in life where it is difficult to muster a positive mental attitude, but motivation comes in all shapes and forms.
If you have a repetitive and boring task, you can set yourself small goals to achieve (how fast can I wrap the next ten items) or you can race someone else. This was a trick used in the Royal Navy when re-coaling ships in the Firts World War; each ship would race the other and it became a competition.
You can take a pride in getting everything right first time. As a last resort, if there’s nothing else to motivate you, you can simply look forward to the end of the task, which will come so much faster if you are motivated to get the task off your to do list!
Focus on the job
If you focus on the task in hand and become mentally absorbed, you will find that you will forget if you are tired or jaded as you get distracted from thinking about those things. Lock yourself away and set yourself an alarm clock saying to yourself that you will not look up from the task until it is done or the alarm clock has rung. By setting an external timer, you can discipline yourself not to look at the clock or to allow other distractions to enter into your mind. This is known as the pomodoro timeboxing technique and it really works!
If you get yourself organised, you will spend a lot less nervous energy dealing with the chaos! If you find yourself dealing with a crisis, think about how it can be avoided next time; better still try to anticipate problem areas and avoid the crisis in the first place. Dealing with crises is exhausting and burns energy that would be better to to other purposes. Try using an Eisenhower matrix to try and reduce the amount of crisis you face.
Tick things off your list
You get a sense of achievement and reward whenever you tick an item on your to do list. Each item ticked off gives you a bit of extra momentum and energy to achieve more.
Surround yourself with energetic people
The people you interact with really do affect the way you behave. If you are surrounded by people exuding enthusiasm then you will get caught up in the enthusiasm too; this is why start-up environments, where you typically have a small enthusiastic team working on a goal can be so motivational. Similarly, if you are surrounded with dour dreary people, guess how it’s going to make you feel? Children are great for this as they simply do not have the ability to tone down their energy levels, they simply use it until they fall asleep!
Work in small teams
In a small team, everyone’s role is visible and personal relationships tend to drive everyone forward together. You might argue that on a smaller team it’s easy to see if everyone is pulling their weight and social pressure to perform becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it rarely works like that; small teams really do have a certain magic. There’s a reason that the world’s elite forces tend towards smaller cells structures, for example, the SAS tend to work in teams of four. If you are able to work in small teams, do so and you will appreciate the difference!
Next up, taking a break can revive your energy levels…
Listen to a great song
A song you love, especially if it’s an upbeat number and is played loud, will give you a burst of energy. Make it a familiar song and concentrate on it so that, when you are listening, you are absorbed in the song and have a moment to forget about everything. Three and a half minutes later you will emerge with a new dose of energy.
Get up and walk
A walk away from your desk will get you blood flowing and will raise your heartbeat; it’s also very hard to fall asleep whilst you’re walking! Give it a try and feel the energy returning. This reaction goes way back to our origins where your body will send you to sleep if you are safe and undisturbed but will wake you if it feels the tribe is on the move!
Have a stretch
Stretching helps you to feel refreshed and stimulates blood flow whilst relieving aching and stiff muscles. Try the exercises that airlines recommenced to help against deep-vein thrombosis for simple stretches and exercises that can be done quickly and in a work environment.
Simply inhaling and exhaling to the greatest extent possible will help as you will get a boost from the extra oxygen. As a happy side effect, deep breathing is also great for relaxing and combating feelings of stress that tend to manifest as feelings of having a tight chest.
Laughing and giggling are great for your energy levels
Laughter is often referred to as the best medicine, and it can be a great energy booster too. Laughter has a beneficial effect on the chemical make up of your brain which can give you an energy boost. Engage in some light-hearted banter, look for something absurd, or find something funny on YouYube to tickle your funny bone; just don’t get sucked in!
And now some more power tips
Eat a small bit of chocolate
Eating chocolate releases pleasure endorphins in your brain that, in addition to the sugar you absorb, will give you an energy boost. Of course, if you eat more than one or two chunks, you are opening yourself up to an inevitable sugar slump, so try to be good! The trick to avoid a binge is to tell yourself how much you’ll be eating before you open the wrapper; you can tell your future self to behave.
If you feel your energy levels dropping and think you need something to eat, try to go for mixed nuts, yoghurt, fruit and other slow energy release snacks rather than chocolate or crisps. You’ll get an energy pay off immediately from the easy to process bits of the food, but will appreciate a longer release of energy, avoiding counter-productive energy fluctuations.
Eating berries, that are naturally rich in antioxidants, helps you by combating illness and disease, and there’s nothing that saps your energy more than an illness. They’re also chock full of sugars that will give you more energy.
If you are really flagging and you can (i.e. not when you are driving or in a lecture), see if you can close your eyes for ten minutes. Go somewhere quiet and doze for ten to fifteen minutes and you really will wake up with more energy. Be careful not to sleep for more that fifteen to twenty minutes though as you will start to move into deeper sleep, which will make it harder to wake up and get going again.
If you are feeling fatigued, try visualising yourself with more energy. This can sometime trick your mind into feeling more energetic than perhaps it is at that moment in time. Visualisation is a powerful technique that can be used to stimulate you to achieve all sorts of goals.
Actually finish something
If you are feeling jaded and lethargic there’s nothing like actually getting something done to re-motivate yourself. Pick a simple small task and get it done with a burst of effort. The feeling of achievement when you see the completed task will help to re-motivate you for your other tasks.
Stand up and rock back and forth on your toes
This stimulates your circulation, after all, your feet are the furthest point from your heart and has the effect of increasing circulation in all parts of your body, delivering blood sugars and oxygen throughout your body.
Stand on your head
If your struggling with a task and can’t work out what to do, try standing on your head or simply lying down with your head lower than your body to send a rush of blood to your head. Who knows, it might give you brain more oxygen and free up your thoughts, as a very minimum, you’ll get a new perspective on things and will have taken a break that might give you new way of thinking!
Get some inspiration
Often we deal with our little battles on our own and this can de-energise us, but remember, many people have gone before us. Think about someone you admire and how they would handle a situation or how they would motivate themselves. The internet is littered with quotations that can inspire you, try printing one that means something to you out and sticking it where you can look at it when you need a bit of inspiration.
Do something nice for someone
As I said earlier, we are social creatures and giving to others releases pleasure endorphins and therefore energy into our brains. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, perhaps get someone a drink, help them with a task, give them a piece of chocolate or simply say something nice. All of these things will make someone else feel great and will help you too. Who knows, they may do something in return for you at some stage down the line which, in turn, will make you feel great. Another virtuous circle!
Cool yourself down
If you are in a stuffy environment or too hot, you will often feel sleepy. A quick tip for cooling yourself down is to run your wrists under a tap. By running cold water over your arterial veins, you actively lower your blood temperature and will feel cooler immediately, which will wake you up and make you feel more energetic.
Now let’s talk about stimulants
The things we smell around us can affect our feelings of wellbeing. Smells of Lavender and Citrus are supposed to make you feel more energetic. Try popping a few drops of an essential oil containing these scents onto a handkerchief and having a sniff when you are feeling tired.
Be careful with caffeine, whilst it will give you a short term jolt, it is easy to become awash with the stuff and move from using it occasionally to get an energy boost to becoming dependent on it and requiring ten cups of strong coffee every day. Remember, tea and coffee tend to have similar amounts of caffeine in them, despite coffee’s reputation for having more.
Energy drinks deliver a cocktail of sugars, caffeine and god knows what other stimulants into your blood stream. As with caffeine drinks, be aware of the short term effects of these drinks and the negative “slump” effects they can have when the initial buzz wears off.
Smoking acts as a stimulant as the Nicotine really does kickstart your brain and deliver a dose of endorphins, which is why it’s so addictive. Like all stimulants, they work in the short term, but come with a payload of negative effects that can negate the steady increase of energy that we all yearn for.
If I had to pick one thing that will give you more energy, I would go with believing in what you’re doing, if you can get that sorted out then so much will follow. If that’s not something that’s not immediately available to you, I will simply suggest that you start by trying a single tip from the list above and seeing if it helps you to feel more energised. Good luck!