Do you ever come home from a long day of school, work, bicycling around, hanging with your friends, or you know, generally doing interesting and tiring things, and feel really burnt out but still feel the need to immerse yourself in the internet or otherwise generally waste time? And do you later realize that the time wasting made you feel more tired? It’s because when you waste time by watching TV, poking around the internet, or getting sucked into some other form of entertainment, you’re burning up limited cognitive resources. You’re burning the candle at both ends, friend, and it’s probably why you feel so tired all the time.
Energy is a limited resource. What’s the point of working an 8+ hour day, getting to and from work, if you get home just to watch TV, end up exhausted, and not have enough energy to cook dinner, see friends, or do things that you really enjoy? I think there’s very little point. Then you’re living only for the weekend and 5/7 of your life is lived in an information clogged stupor.
So how do you avoid it? Realize that you have a limited supply of cognitive resources. When you spend several hours surfing blogs, checking Facebook, Googling endlessly, you’re burning up your energy supply which means that later you won’t have as much energy to see friends, exercise, cook dinner, or generally do healthy and fulfilling things. If you realize that your energy is limited, you will begin to understand that spending your time in certain ways prevents you from spending your time in other ways.
Prioritize. Set limits for yourself. I personally installed an app to Google Chrome called StayFocusd. You can mark certain sites as ‘blocked’ and allot yourself only a certain amount of time for each of them. I get 25 minutes per day for Facebook, Twitter, and the Mr. Money Mustache Forum (what can I say? I’m a frugality nerd). When I began this, my mind fought against it wanting to waste time and goof around. The longer I’ve had it (I even cut down from 30 minutes), the less I feel the need to go on those time-suck websites since every time I’m on there I constantly remember that I shouldn’t be. I also decided to make my bedroom a computer-free zone. This means that my computer now lives in the living room and is much less available for casual time-wasting, especially since its battery life is terrible.
Energy management is also very important in work settings. When you interrupt yourself to visit various websites or check your phone, you’re burning up resources that otherwise could have been spent finishing tasks more quickly. If you’re feeling burnt out at work, do you really think that reading something online is going to make you feel refreshed? When I’m feeling burnt out at work I do a couple of things, depending on where I am and how much time I have. If I have a little time I like to take a walk, or go to a private area and do 10-15 minutes of yoga. If I don’t have much time, I’ll simply sit still and meditate on my breath for a couple of minutes to focus myself, and then return to the task at hand refreshed.
Mindfulness practice can help you refresh your energy and make better energy decisions. Since I’ve started monitoring how my energy is spent, I sometimes can really see the forces at work in my body. Recently I came home from a busy day and felt very strongly that I wanted to go read some blogs and watch a couple TV shows on my computer. I thought, “Man, I’m tired, I want to waste time.” I actually thought that! I was able to catch myself then and say, “Okay, I’m tired. Wasting time probably won’t make me feel better. Maybe I’ll take a nap!” And nap I did and it was wonderful. I woke up refreshed and able to have a great evening with friends.
I now tend to generally plan out my free time a little. I think about the day and schedule in bicycling, yoga, cooking, and friend time. It doesn’t give me a lot of left over time to spend on the computer and I feel much better about how I’m spending my time. I certainly feel like it’s a journey, and no effort is too small. Once you start focusing more in one area of your life, it will become easier to keep the ball rolling in other areas. Certainly a regular mindfulness or meditation practice helps, as it trains the mind to become calmer and more centered, but any small effort to make your mind less tumultuous will bring you more peace and energy.