How to protect your energy in a chaotic world

Caeleigh MacNeil bijdrager fotoCaeleigh MacNeil25 juli 20227 min. leestijd
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Summary

There’s a lot going on in the world, but you can still take steps to safeguard your energy and your time. Try these research-backed strategies to cut out the clutter and focus on what really matters.

Research suggests that we all have a finite amount of mental energy. Every time we use our brainpower to focus and make decisions, we deplete our daily mental reserves a bit more—making it harder to exercise self-control later on. That means if you waste energy on less important decisions and tasks, it can be hard to double down on what’s really important. 

Protecting your energy is about preserving those valuable mental resources—cutting out the clutter so you can stay focused on what really matters. 

What does it mean to protect your energy? 

Protecting your energy is the practice of working sustainably and removing negativity and distractions from your life. It’s a way to safeguard your mental and emotional reserves in the long run, so you can pace yourself and stay motivated over time. 

Why is it important to protect your energy? 

Forty percent of all workers think burnout is an inevitable part of success. But we’re human beings, not robots. Nobody can keep grinding 24/7—eventually, we all need breaks or we’ll crash and burn. 

Taking proactive steps to protect your energy helps you work in a more sustainable way, which actually helps you accomplish more over time. Instead of falling into a cycle of overwork (and dreading coming to work each day), it’s better to pace yourself and stay excited about the projects and initiatives you’re responsible for. Or in other words: work is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Read: Toxic productivity is no good—here’s how to stop it

9 research-backed ways to protect your energy

Feeling drained, down, or unmotivated? Try these strategies to preserve your energy and focus on what’s really important. 

1. Limit distractions

The modern workplace is filled with distractions. Notifications from our phones and computers rule the day, with 80% of knowledge workers working with their inbox or other communication apps open. We’re trying to focus on tasks, keep an eye on notification banners, and make sure we respond instantly to messages—all at the same time. With all that noise, it’s nearly impossible to get things done. Plus, when you check notifications it can take upwards of 20 minutes to regain momentum. 

Distractions are a huge drain on our mental energy, but they don’t have to be. Here’s how to rein in the noise: 

  • Turn off notifications for apps like email, Slack, social media, or project management software

  • Close browser tabs, windows, or applications you’re not using for the work at hand. 

  • Put your phone in “do not disturb” mode. Better yet, put it in a drawer or out of sight—research suggests that just seeing your phone nearby can be a distraction, even if it’s turned off.

  • Block off time on your calendar to focus on a single task at a time. Set a status (like “do not disturb” or “in a focus block”) to let your coworkers know you’re in heads-down mode. 

2. Take breaks

Taking breaks is one of the best ways to avoid burnout and protect your energy over time. When you’re really busy, it’s common to feel like breaks are a waste of time—but they actually boost productivity in the long run by helping you focus and think more creatively. 

Instead of trying to push through and conquer task after task, build breaks into your schedule. To do this, cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Sahar Yousef recommends the 3M framework, which divides breaks into three categories: 

  • Micro breaks: A few minutes multiple times per day—like time to stretch, meditate, or go for a short walk.

  • Meso breaks: 1–2 hours per week—like an art lesson, sports practice, or long walk.

  • Macro breaks: A half or full day every month—like a day trip or family visit.

To get the most out of this framework, you have to disconnect from work entirely during breaks. That means no checking messages, composing emails in your head, or running through your to-do list for the next day. Disconnecting helps tell your brain that you’re doing fine and work isn’t everything—no matter what chaos is going on. 

Read: What is a mental health day? Plus, when—and how—to take one

3. Set boundaries

To protect your energy, it’s important to set boundaries and decide what you will—and won’t—do. Studies show that job stress is by far the leading source of anxiety for American adults, and one of the biggest reasons is that technology keeps us connected to work around the clock. Boundaries help you stand up for yourself, reclaim your free time, and prevent overwork—rather than just saying “yes” to every request. 

Here’s how to set clear boundaries: 

  • Practice saying no.Saying no at work is hard, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Instead of defaulting to “yes” for every request, pause and seriously consider if you have enough bandwidth and energy to do a good job.

  • Set clear start and finish times for your work day. Instead of working around the clock, pick a consistent time to wrap up tasks and sign off for the evening. It may seem counterintuitive, but clear start and finish times actually help you get more done because they help you avoid Parkinson’s Law—the idea that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. 

  • Avoid sending and responding to messages outside work hours. Set the precedent that when you’re offline, you’re really offline. In most cases, messages can wait until you log on the next day. 

  • Normalize longer response times.Fifty percent of managers and 42% of individual contributors feel like they have to respond to notifications right away. Instead, set more realistic expectations around response times—let your team know that if you don’t respond right away, that just means you’re focusing on something else. 

4. Take control of your calendar

It’s hard to protect your energy when your schedule is peppered with meetings—with only 15 or 30 minutes between syncs to actually get things done. Sometimes dubbed a “swiss cheese schedule,” this type of fragmented workday can quickly drain your energy and focus.

  • Host a meeting doomsday. This is more than a simple meeting audit. During a meeting doomsday, team members delete all recurring meetings from their calendars for 48 hours—and then reschedule syncs from scratch. In fact, when we conducted a meeting doomsday at Asana, participants saved an average of 11 hours per month. 

  • Keep meetings short (especially virtual ones). Not all syncs need to be 30 or 60 minutes long. Let your agenda determine the required meeting length instead of just picking a standard time block. Shorter meetings are almost always better, because the longer the meeting, the harder it is for everyone to stay focused and engaged. This is especially true for remote teams, since video fatigue sets in around the 30-minute mark

  • Try meeting management. Meeting management is the process of coordinating and running a meeting in order to get the most value out of your time. When you manage your meetings well, you need fewer meetings to get things done. 

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5. Pay attention to your emotions

Your emotions are valid, and they matter. As human beings, we can’t just flip a switch and ignore negative feelings, no matter how much we might want to. Instead, it’s important to acknowledge and address how we’re feeling, especially if those feelings are draining our energy and interfering with our daily life. 

Here are some ways to acknowledge how you’re feeling and protect your energy when negative emotions strike: 

  • Practice emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence helps you understand your own emotions and recognize the emotions of other people. Brushing up on your emotional intelligence skills can help you practice self love and recognize when negative emotions are draining your energy.

  • Take action when you feel overwhelmed at work. When you feel overwhelmed, it’s a sign that something isn’t working. Instead of ignoring the problem or just trying to push through, take steps to address your emotions, talk to someone, and ask for help if you need it. 

  • Learn to cope with work anxiety. A bit of anxiety about work is normal, but it’s a problem when that anxiety happens chronically over a long period of time. If that’s the case, take steps to uncover and cope with the underlying reason for your anxiety. For example, common causes for anxiety include poor work-life balance, unrealistic deadlines, and unclear goals or expectations. While it’s not always possible to completely eliminate the source of your anxiety, you can still take steps to get perspective and prioritize your own wellness. 

  • Try meditation. When life feels hectic, it’s hard to practice self care and focus on what’s going on inside your head. Meditation is a powerful way to turn your focus inward—whether that just involves taking a few deep breaths, listening to a guided meditation, or practicing visualization techniques. 

Read: What are the Sunday Scaries? 12 ways to fight off your pre-week dread

6. Understand what drains your energy

A big part of protecting your energy is understanding what drains it. Everyone is different—for example, someone who’s more introverted might feel mentally exhausted after meeting lots of new people, while someone extroverted might feel drained after spending the day alone. Regardless, understanding what drains your energy can help you take the time you need to reset and recharge. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything that feels draining—it just helps to pace yourself and rest when you need it. 

For example, imagine you’re worried about a big presentation. Instead of planning to work on a complex project right after the presentation is over, take some time to enjoy lunch, go for a walk, or do something relaxing. 

7. Declutter your space

Our physical environments influence how we feel and behave. Research shows that cluttered spaces negatively affect our stress and anxiety levels—along with our ability to focus. In fact, one study from Princeton demonstrated that participants who cleared clutter from their work environment could focus and process information better. 

Don’t let clutter and mess overwhelm you with negative energy. Instead, check out these resources for some inspiration on how to organize your work space:

8. Don’t aim for perfection

It’s normal to want perfection, but in reality perfection just isn’t realistic. In fact, constantly trying to be perfect drains a lot of energy over time. Perfectionism makes it hard to get things done, especially if you feel the need to do everything yourself or constantly double-check your work. Plus, studies suggest that extreme perfectionism is bad for your mental health, putting you at a higher risk for burnout, job dissatisfaction, and depression.

Our imperfections are what make us interesting, and making mistakes at work is how we learn and become more capable over time. Instead of trying to be perfect, create processes that let you iterate on work over time—like asking for feedback on an initial draft or building a review stage into your product development process

9. Practice gratitude

If you’re like most people, it’s much easier to focus on what you want instead of considering what you already have. That doesn’t mean we’re negative people by nature—it’s just how humans evolved over time. We had to focus on the things we needed—like food, water, and shelter—in order to survive. 

But in the modern world, this tendency can actually harm your well-being by prompting you to ignore all the good things in your life. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, try listing everything you’re grateful for—like your loved ones and family members, your health, or even the water from your tap and the roof over your head. By practicing gratitude, you can create positive energy instead of focusing on the negative. 

Energy is important

Protecting your energy isn’t about good vibes, balancing your chakra, buying tourmaline crystals, or visualizing your energy field. Instead, it involves using research-backed strategies to work sustainably and save your brainpower for what’s really important—so you can stop feeling overwhelmed and overworked at the end of each day.

Don’t let “work about work” drain your energy

If you’re feeling stretched thin, Asana can help you do more with less. Instead of wasting time on “work about work”—tasks like searching for information, communicating about work, and switching between apps—try consolidating everything in one central tool. That way, you can cut out the clutter and focus on what really matters. 

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