Wednesday, September 23, 2015

PMPM Execution -- Energy Part One: Diagnosing the Problem

So, you have a project, but despite knowing what you need to do, you're just not getting it done. One of the most common excuses for not doing things we should be doing is that we don't have enough time. I've used this excuse myself a number of times. But it's almost always bullshit.

Everyone has the exact same amount of time in their day, week, and month. Exactly the same number of seconds. No one gets any more time than anyone else. Sure, some of us end up with more days and weeks and months before we kick off to whatever's next. But for each day we're alive, we all get the same impressive 1440 minutes (or an astonishing 86400 seconds).

I really want a clock like this

So it's not that you don't have enough time, it's either that:
  • You have too much to do
  • You're prioritizing what you're doing wrong
  • You don't have enough energy
In rare cases, you find people who really do just have too much to do. I remember a period right after the kid was born. I was back at work full time, doing the edits on my book, working on a rush tech writing project for my previous employer (they made me an offer I couldn't refuse), dealing with a proposal inquiry for another writing project, and -- oh yeah -- dealing with a newborn who NEVER SLEPT. While I didn't necessarily have to do all those things, they were all priorities in my life (making a living, writing, and taking care of the little sleepless one).

My point is just that sometimes people have too much really important stuff on their plates for anything else. If this is you, you need to see how to extricate yourself from some things before taking on new projects. Because that kind of "too much" isn't sustainable.

Sometimes, people say they don't have enough time but are actually spending huge chunks of time on things that neither help nor nourishing them. Stuff that isn't relaxing, but also isn't getting them anywhere. This isn't a time issue, but a priority issue. We'll come back to that one later, I suspect.

Finally, you have the case of people who don't think they have enough time but who are actually suffering from not having enough energy.

By the way, I'm not talking about some woo-woo magical force here. We will not be getting into auras or discussing vibrations. Not because those things aren't interesting, but because they aren't practical enough for our purposes. Energy here is literal mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual stockpiles that you can use to accomplish your goals.

In talking about energy, I'm going to be relying on two metaphors. Neither is completely accurate, but together they form a useful way of thinking about the subject.
  • First, energy is like a muscle. You have to apply energy in order to strengthen your ability to manage and harness it. This increases your energy capacity. But if you do too much too fast, you can injure your energy muscles making you less able to work with the energy you have. The most recent place this idea has surfaced is in recent research on willpower. It takes energy to exert willpower, to avoid temptation and do what you need to, but eventually you run out. Your willpower muscles get weak and you find yourself eating a pint of ice cream for dinner (don't judge me!).
  • Second, energy is like a lithium-ion battery. You have a certain amount you can discharge before you need to recharge it again. And it's important to charge all the way, or you can reduce your capacity. And it's not necessarily the big intermittent things that really get you, it's the multiple small trickle charges that drain you even when you aren't doing anything.
Now, you can easily google "how to have more energy" and come up with hundreds of lists of things to try. Some of the suggestions are going to be obvious and universal while others will vary and even contradict one another (have a coffee in the afternoon versus never have coffee in the afternoon). Some advice only seems to apply under certain circumstances ("get more sleep" is great if you aren't getting enough sleep, but not so good if you are depressed and have been sleeping 14 hours a day).

I think the way to deal with this confusion is to have a two pronged method for diagnosing your energy problem so that you can customize a fix.

Get it? Get it?
First, identify the type of energy you lack. What you do to improve your energy is going to depend on whether you are primarily suffering from a lack of physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual energy. So your first task is to figure out which one is the problem.
Surprised at how well this fits the metaphor...

Low physical energy:
  • Normal (for you) physical exertion has you out of breath, dizzy, weak. 
  • You are generally sore, achy, headachy, or chilly. 
  • Your immune system is depressed and you catch every minor cold or illness that comes along. 
  • You are "bone" tired, regardless of how much you sleep. 
  • Crap food cravings (for me it's sugar).
Low emotional energy:
  • You are feeling depressed.
  • You sleep too much but it doesn't make you feel better.
  • You are weepy and over-sensitive.
  • You have a hard time feeling anything much at all.
  • Crap food cravings (for me it's fat). 
Low mental energy:
  • You are increasingly forgetful and you find yourself seeking out mind-numbing distractions.
  • You can't cope with your task list (calls, scheduling, logistics).
  • You can't control your thoughts; your brain is spinning like a hamster on a wheel
  • You are exhausted but you can't sleep or aren't sleeping restfully.
  • Give me some coffee already!
Low spiritual energy:
  • Your normal connections to the otherworld (divine, spirits, ancestors, etc.) feel clogged, blocked, or weak.
  • You can't sense patterns or register symbols around you; lack of synchronicity and omens.
  • Your dreams are disturbing or nightmarish.
  • Divination gives you weak or confused information.
  • You have a hard time regulating non-material sensory input (depending on your particular talents) -- signals come in either weak/not at all or constantly and at uncontrolled volume.
  • Excess appetite of all kinds.
Now clearly your energy systems are tied together. Degradation in one area leads to problems with the other area. This is why much of the same advice appears over and over. However the goal is to figure out the source of the problem. The benefit here is that if you treat the primary source of the problem, this connectivity can help with all the other areas as well.

For example, I've been dealing with energy issues for the past half year or so. I already wrote about being crossed. Clearly I was suffering from low spiritual energy. As the summer wore on I also began feeling physically run down. However, in thinking about cause and effect, I realized that the physical lack of energy was simply because I'd done a lot of travel in a close space of time and more time (and a week at a beach house) would naturally replenish me. And the spiritual lack of energy was actually a secondary effect from my primary issue: low emotional energy. I was emotionally depleted from an extremely emotionally trying period in our family and as that began to end, the effects began crashing down on me. In June, I was OK but by August I was at 1% and ready to just shut down.

Maybe this will become clear to you after some reflection as well. But it can get pretty intertwined and difficult when you are feeling like stale end of a loaf of old bread, to sort this stuff out. This is where the second mode of diagnosis comes in.

In the simplest terms, a lack of energy is due either to do much draw or too little charge -- or both. If you can identify primary draws on your energy and places where you aren't doing a good job of recharging, you can diagnose the key areas to focus on.
It's amusing how applicable generic business clip art is to the PMPM stuff
Now, we all expend energy all the time. In the normal course of things our regular outgo would be easily replenished by regular recharging. Like plugging your smartphone in every night with about 20% charge on it. In a perfect world you'd have a pretty regular run rate on both a micro (weekends balancing work weeks) and macro (vacations balancing rush times) level.

I don't know where that perfect world is, but if you find it let me know, OK? Because in real life there are times when you are asked to expend huge amounts of energy, far beyond what typical recharging can deal with. Like using your smartphone's navigation while having a phone conversation and downloading a update... your phone's not making it to bedtime. At the same time, the daily grind can make regular recharging (also known as 'self care') really challenging. You're in a rush, so you don't eat right, don't get enough sleep, can't have a break. Like an older airport with no outlets, you can't get a charge. And in times of crisis? It gets even harder to replenish.

So answer these questions?
  1. What things in your life are drawing on your energy: physically? mentally? emotionally? spiritually?
  2. What things are you doing to recharge on each of those levels? Is it enough? Is it working?
As you ponder this, I want to warn you not to forget about the insidious trickle charge. For example, I knew my summer would be really busy and stressful. I could see the meetings on the calendar. But I also knew it was coming and knew it was going to be over at some point. But the emotional drain wasn't like that. It was this slow trickle, like a background process on your phone that you can't find without digging into the settings. This is the stuff that can really drag you down, because you don't even know about it. And even if you do know about it, it can seem like too much effort or upheaval to do anything about it. Like a relationship that drains you and just wears you out.

In terms of recharging, it's not enough to ask what you're doing, you also have to honestly evaluate whether it's doing you any good. We all know people who get more stressed out about their hobbies than any benefit they might gain from them. And we know people who think that a day of facebook and reality TV in their jammies will cure what ails 'em... but it don't.

Well, this is plenty long. I'll come back with a part two on energy with ideas for solutions. Until then, even thinking about the things that wear you out can often suggest changes you might make.

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