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Stop time management, start energy management…

It’s mental health awareness week in the UK, so let’s talk about that. Because it’s actually OK to talk about mental health you know, even especially when there’s not a problem upstairs at the moment.

If we only ever do this in the context of a problem it can add to the stigma associated with it. To think of better mental health as something to fix an illness is not the full picture. We need to get used to talking about it as freely as we talk about our physical fitness. After all it’s just another part of our overall self. Everything’s connected, so lets talk about everything openly.

I heard something really lovely the other day in a talk by Andy Gibson (founder of Mindapples, and author of A Mind for Business). He said

“It’s a shame we’re so obsessed with it, because time management is massively overrated – energy management is where we should focus.”

Some internet digging into a few research studies later, I can confirm that energy management is a thing!  And it’s growing, and it’s important in the context of mental health too.

This image is from a study of energy management training by Johnson & Johnson, who found that:

by training to expand and manage energy levels both personally and professionally, individuals can achieve high performance and well-being in work and life.

The mental part of the pyramid consists of focus, judgement, awareness, mindfulness and having effective stories about yourself and your life. Good news is that one of the largest and longest lasting improvements following the training were seen in mental health, with participants experiencing meaningful improvements in their emotional lives and well-being.

In the interest of encouraging you to do something with this new information, here’s a couple of examples to ponder over….

What does your typical morning look like? Do you scramble around after snoozing the alarm clock, wondering what to wear, what to eat, what to pack in your bag? How much mental energy could you save if you had selected your clothes, decided what breakfast you’re going to have and packed your bag the night before? Can you make this even easier, by having the same breakfast and getting up at the same time every day?

When in meetings at work, do you take your phone into the room? Do you check it multiple times? Do you think the context switching and distraction might use more or less mental energy, than remaining present in the room?

Do you take breaks often to allow the brain to slow down and recover some energy following complex tasks, like you would after intense physical exercise?

Do you block out ‘Thinking time’ in your diaries, where you can get away from the desk and sit and just ponder over issues, questions and demands at work?

Do you think that if you have back to back meetings for several hours that you are going to maintain mental energy levels throughout?

Again – this is not about managing time. It’s about managing energy. It’s about finding balance. About giving ourselves a platform to be more productive and perform at a higher level. Rather than trying to fix an issue with our state of mind when a problem is there, this is about reducing or avoiding the probability of it happening in the first place.

Over the course of the next few days try to observe and notice where and how you’re spending your mental energy. What is making you mentally tired? When do you feel most mentally fresh?

Once you build this picture, you can then begin to target areas to reduce wasted thought, and optimise mental energy use.


I’ve previously written about some other strategies for improving well being and mental health. In case you missed that one here’s the link.

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