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Activities that drain your energy

In the last blog article I discussed energy sources, and this article, drawing on information from my eBook, Manage your personal energy, published by Bookboon.com, indicates how our energy is quickly depleted.

Excessive use of technology.

We seem to be obsessed with the need to stay connected, check email every few minutes, respond immediately to every email and text message we receive, interrupt ourselves from important tasks to answer our smartphones, and continually disrupt family plans and scheduled events.

Getting more things done faster is no longer limited by technology, but by our brain. Our brain has a limited capacity for processing information, and this limit is being approached and frequently passed by the ever-increasing rate at which it is being assaulted by new information.

Absorbing new information burns energy. And it takes more energy to multitask, make decisions and work on demanding tasks. To maximize brain efficiency, we must protect our brain from energy- draining activities encouraged, if not caused, by technology.

Technology was meant to speed up the completion of tasks, not the behavior of people. We must continue to use technology and all that it has to offer in order to improve both our performance and lifestyle. But we must do so in a manner that protects our health – including the health of our brain. This involves judicious use of the Internet, control of technology, and the practice of moderation as opposed to excess.

Multitasking.

In studying how the brain uses energy, scientists have learned that it’s virtually impossible to do two things at once with equal amounts of attention. And attempting to do so consumes energy.

Dr. Amir Allen Towfigh, a neurologist with Weill Cornell Medical Center claims that multitasking can jam up your brain processing. He says our frontal lobes are the main engines directing our attention, and they Whether hiring new employees or deciding to go with a new product, executives sometimes go with their gut feeling rather than plow through all the accumulated information and comparing the pros and cons In business there seems to be a preference for the quick over the right; because there are so many decisions to be made.

Daniel J Levinson, in his book The organized mind, claims that multitasking also disrupts the kind of sustained thought usually required for problem solving and creativity. He also indicated the impact of interruptions when he said the awareness of an email waiting to be answered can reduce our IQ by 10 points.

Interruptions.

Interruptions, which are a form of multitasking, also help to use up your daily supply of energy. The average smartphone user checks his or her device about 150 times a day according to the 2014 book, Thrive, by Arianne at Huffington. And according to a study conducted in 2005, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to a task once interrupted, and people spend only 11 minutes on a project before being pulled away. In addition to self-interruptions are the hundreds of daily distractions resulting from your working environment, including décor, clutter, and other people.

Distractions waste our energy; concentration focuses it. If we have reduced external distractions to a bare minimum by turning off smart phones, engaging voicemail, and working alone in the home office devoid of other people, the bulk of the distractions will still remain. The tendency of our minds to wander or daydream is a function of our reactive brain, which is always on the alert for unusual or sudden motion, sound or sightings.

Disorganization.

One U.S study mentioned in an article by Leah Etchler in The Globe & Mail (April 6, 2013) found that employees lose 76 hours per year as a result of disorganization so you have more than just energy drain to be concerned about if you are disorganized.

Disorganization definitely consumes energy, whether by searching for misplaced materials in your office or scanning dozens of folders left unfiled on your computer desktop. Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, authors of YOU: On a Diet, claim that visual clutter slows down the brain. They say that’s why clusters of road signs double the chances of missing the one you’re looking for. It also explains why website designers aim for simplicity. So clearing clutter from your desk, office and home and leaving more wide open spaces also helps to clear your mind so it will be more productive and consume less energy.

Organizing your office and home not only helps you to find things, it helps you to find purpose in life as well. According to recent research reported in the July/August, 2015 issue of Scientific American Mind, an ordered life lays the groundwork for the pursuit of larger goals, purpose, and significance.

Stress.

Fatigue and information overload tend to weaken executive skills, lower your energy level and make you more susceptible to distractions.

Excess cortisol impairs function in the prefrontal cortex – an emotional learning center that helps regulate the “executive skills,” including working memory. The overproduction of cortisol was found in seniors who were experiencing memory loss. And it is believed by many neurologists that memory loss experienced by seniors is largely a factor of stress, not age. Prolonged exposure to cortisol has been shown to shrink the hippocampus by up to 14%.

In stressful situations, your weakest executive skills fail first and become more pronounced. Fatigue and information overload tend to weaken them further. Avoiding, releasing or being able to manage stress is important.

Avoiding, releasing or being able to manage stress is important. You should re-examine your workload. Simplify if possible. Delegate and outsource. Pace yourself.

Decision-making, problem solving & willpower.

They all consume energy. As far as your brain is concerned, less information frequently results in better decisions. Too many choices and too much information taxes the brain and depletes your mental energy. Researchers have found that coming to a decision often involves listening to two parts of the brain – one that relies on taking advice and the other on experience. The brain considers both views, sometimes conflicting, and makes a decision.

Experiments show that there is a finite amount of mental energy available for exerting self-control, willpower, problem solving and decision-making. Making decision after decision eventually leads to poor decisions. Similarly it has been shown that exerting willpower reduces your energy.

Too much mental exertion without breaks taxes the executive skills. In fact studies described in Scientific American Mind (May/June, 2011) have shown that people who exert themselves mentally, such as resisting the temptation to eat chocolate or whatever, gave up on problems sooner when presented with them immediately afterwards.

In the next blog article I will suggest some ways to conserve your energy.

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Tapping energy sources for peak performance.

Managing your energy is as important as managing your time. The next few blog articles will be discussing personal energy management. Most of the information was excerpted from my book, Manage your personal energy, published by Bookboon.com. Consider taking advantage of the following sources.

Sunlight

Norman Doidge, in his 2015 book, The brain’s way of healing, explains how cytochrome in all our cells converts light energy from the sun (originating 93 million miles away) into energy for our cells to use. Our eyes are not just used for sight. Every morning light-sensitive cells send electrical signals on a pathway separate from the one used for sight to cells in the brain that operate our biological clock. It’s difficult to imagine that sunlight not only warms the surfaces of our body, but is actually transported to our brain – where it sets in progress a sort of “human photosynthesis” that supplies us with energy. Not until about 2005 did researchers prove scientifically what Florence Nightingale had already shown – that natural sunlight can reduce pain, accelerate healing, and even cure some depressions. It’s a “wonder drug,” when it comes to energy.

Exercise

Although you might think exercise would consume more energy than it produces, it actually helps you to sleep better, and you feel more alert and energized as a result. A study from Northwestern University, in Chicago, showed that insomniacs who did about 40 minutes of moderate cardio between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. four times a week got an average of 75 more minutes of sleep a night.

Exercise also helps us to expel negative thoughts, and those who free their mind during exercise have more energy. According to research from California State University at Long Beach, a 10-minute walk can increase your energy for up to two hours.

Nutrition

There is little doubt that the food you eat has a significant bearing on your level of energy. Many years ago eating enough protein was suggested as a key to optimal energy. But according to a lengthy article in Prevention.com magazine, August, 2015, it’s is the good bacteria that aid in digestion and are helping you to retrieve energy from the food you eat. The author of the article, The way to a woman’s energy is through her gut, claims that the bacteria manufacture about 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin, a key hormone for boosting energy – much of which is produced in your gut, not your brain.

Water

To keep yourself energized, drink plenty of water. It will help improve your mood as well as your energy. According to research conducted at the University of East London in the UK, researchers believe that bringing water into an exam room can raise students’ marks. Studies indicated that those who drank water while writing exams out-performed those who didn’t. In one study, the scores averaged 4.8% better. One explanation is that students are in a mild state of dehydration when taking exams, and drinking water corrects this. Perhaps some of us should be drinking less coffee and more water.

Working environment

Your surroundings not only impact your energy level and personal productivity, they can also affect your health, mental attitude and general well-being. For example, studies have shown that the presence of potted plants improves productivity, creativity, performance and learning ability. And researchers have also found that plants act as vacuum cleaners, removing pollution from the air. Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants in both home and offices has been linked to anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue and short and long-term cognitive decline among other afflictions.

Batching consumes less energy and increases efficiency.

Batching refers to scheduling blocks of time in your planner for tasks that are similar in nature and require similar resources. Batching consumes less energy and causes less mental fatigue since you are using the same areas of the brain and not switching back and forth from one task to another or putting demands on your energy supply by having to make frequent and unrelated decisions. It also increases productivity since you are wasting less time locating materials, interrupting yourself or deciding what to do next.

Coffee

Coffee is a “good news – bad news” energy source. Although drinking too much coffee has been associated with anxiety and stress, in moderation it seems to give energy and memory a boost. A brief article in the spring, 2014 issue of Health magazine describes a link between caffeine and memory. Michael Yassa of John Hopkins University asked 60 people to view a series of images of different objects. Then, five minutes later, after receiving either a placebo or 200 milligrams of caffeine, were tested the next day on their ability to recognize images from the day before. More people from the caffeine group recognized that an image was similar to rather than identical with one they had viewed earlier. Separate research published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition also showed that one or two cups of tea a day can boost brain power and athletic performance. This held true for children as well.

Sweets

Consuming glucose when you are given a problem to solve will likely improve your performance. At least that’s what studies indicate. Glucose goes directly to the brain and feeds the neural circuits that are working on the mentally demanding tasks. Unfortunately doing this too often could lead to diabetes and sugar crash – not to mention your waistline. The brain burns glucose like a car burns gasoline, a little extra energy could be useful. But avoid a steady diet of sugary drinks and candy bars. Like most things, moderation is the key.

Building sound relationships

Strong friendships give both your physical and mental health a boost. The February, 2014 issue of Scientific American Mind reported on a quantitative review of numerous studies, concluding that having few friends is the mortality risk equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. People with a close friend at work are more productive and more innovative. Strong social connections are the biggest prediction of happiness in general – and happiness has been linked to do an increase in longevity.