Feature Article: Maintaining the Energy You Need to Be Productive
You can know all the productivity tips in the world, but nothing will work if you don’t have the energy to give 100 percent. Personal energy is a measure of how strong, invigorated, or up to a task you may feel at any moment. Nobody has an unlimited supply of personal energy. If you feel down, your zest ebbs, and you tend to produce mediocre work. In periods of low energy, your productivity sinks, because you feel like you’re slogging through a field of waist-high mud. 

Match the task to the energy. Know your own rhythms and plan your work around them. If you tend to have a lot of energy first thing in the morning, do your most challenging work then. High energy gives you the ability to concentrate well, make critical decisions, perform complex analysis, or do any task requiring creativity or problem solving. When your energy is low, however, these tasks become more difficult, take longer, and often have poor results. 

If you’re like me, afternoons are hard, and sometimes you get in a plain bad mood. I know this about myself, so I prepare for and honor it. Some of the things we do for ourselves to counter low energy may not be healthy. Some bad habits like smoking and overeating are actually attempts to moderate low energy or a bad mood. If you didn’t get much sleep last night, for example, you might reach for a third cup of coffee, and the extra caffeine will actually give you the jitters later in the day. Instead, choose a healthy way of dealing with low-energy periods, one that might actually bring you back to a state of alert productivity. When you feel like you simply cannot start a new task, take a break:
• Go for a brisk walk. 
• Listen to upbeat music.
• Call a friend.
• Take a hot bath.
• Stand up, stretch, and move your body.

Increase your metabolic rate. Different people have different energy levels. Some people have the energy to work all day then run around and clean the house in the evening. Others drag themselves onto the sofa and watch television all night. While it’s true that some people have higher natural energy levels, those with lower energy can use personal energy management techniques to make up the difference. The good news is you can impact your energy level and mood. You don’t have to suffer from low energy!

One way to improve your energy level is to keep it from crashing in the first place. Just like an Eveready battery, you want to keep going and going and going all day long. To achieve that goal, you have to supercharge your metabolism and keep it high. Your body runs on blood sugar, and it needs a steady supply. If you typically have a muffin or donut in the morning or skip breakfast entirely, then grab fast food at lunch, you will be ravenous by 4:00 and munching on whatever snacks are sitting around the house. Instead, start out with a healthy breakfast and eat every 3-4 hours throughout the day, making sure to include protein and complex carbohydrates for prolonged periods of energy. 

Keep your blood sugar steady. The right amount energizes you, while too much or too little makes your energy plummet. If you go a long period of time without eating, your body starts to shut down to conserve energy, your blood sugar drops, and your metabolism goes in the basement. If you eat refined carbohydrates when hungry—white flour, sugar, processed junk—you will get a brief surge of insulin, prompting an even bigger drop in blood sugar, leaving you edgy, irritable, and hungry, which increases your appetite and drives you to eat the whole bag of cookies instead of just one. It’s a vicious cycle that can really disrupt your entire day.

Instead, focus on eating a diet that includes whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, and whole wheat bread; colorful fruits and vegetables like berries, melons, leafy greens, and red peppers; proteins such as chicken, fish, cottage cheese, eggs, or tofu; and heart-healthy fats, such as nuts, olive oil, and avocado. And don’t forget to drink six to eight glasses of water each day as well!

Use energy boosters. If you haven’t taken great care of your metabolism during the day, emergency measures are often required to counter low energy. Once you’ve become aware of a low-energy period or bad mood, make a conscious choice to change it. Instead of walking to the vending machine for a candy bar, try one of these healthy energy boosters as an alternative:

• Drink green tea. Green tea edges out coffee as an energy-boosting beverage. It has enough caffeine to pep you up but not enough to give you the jitters. Plus, it may aid in regulating your blood sugar from the Theophylline it contains, which dilates bronchial passages, thus improving the flow of oxygen in your body.
• Take your vitamins. Use Vitamin C & Vitamin E (two good antioxidants), plus Folic acid, B-complex (known to boost energy in women), a good multi-vitamin along with 1000-1500 mg calcium, with Vitamin D and Magnesium for absorption. I like Emergen-C drink mix when I need a big shot of energy before an important presentation.
• Down a protein shake. These are definitely helpful if you can’t get a meal on the run and need to supplement rather than miss a meal completely. Much better for you than a sugary soft drink or afternoon cup of coffee. EAS makes a delicious ready-made chocolate protein shake in a box that doesn’t require refrigeration.
• Take a whiff of peppermint. Inhaling this essential oil through the day or eating peppermint candy can clear your thinking and boost productivity. Other revitalizing oils include lemon, eucalyptus, juniper, orange, and spearmint. Keep a bottle on your counter, uncap, and sniff as needed. To sustain energy after work, place a few drops on the vents and turn on the fan.
• Rub your ears. Your ears are particularly dense with pressure points; stimulating them can increase blood circulation and energy. Using your fingers, vigorously rub your ears all over for about one minute. When your ears start to feel hot, you should feel more alert.
• Splash on cold water. Your face, neck, and throat are quite sensitive. Wetting those areas with cold water provides a jolt that temporarily diverts blood to your brain, simulating the “fight or flight” reaction. Also gargle with something ice-cold.

Truly, the difference between an energetic and an unenergetic person is often that the former pays attention to his or her fuel gauge and takes action before it reads empty. Energy management allows you to detect and control any factors that might deplete your energy. Here’s to eliminating outages!

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2005 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. 

This article may be reprinted provided the following credit line is present: "Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity Pro"® and the author of Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or www.TheProductivityPro.com."