It seems like ages ago now, but I went through a phase in my recovery when I couldn’t read or watch TV. My eyes just wouldn’t permit it. Aside from the headache, my eyes were sore all the time and the doctors hadn’t yet been able to correct my double-vision (we are still working on that actually). That was when a friend recommended that I listen to books instead. I was skeptical because I’m a book-snob and I never really thought about listening to a book. But I downloaded a couple and it really helped me pass the time when I was awake. I still like to listen to books when I have time. The topic of interest for me and the books I was interested in listening to were about how to make the most of a limited day.
I was sleeping for about 18 hours a day at that time, sometimes more, sometimes slightly less. I really didn’t know if I would ever again have more than a few hours awake in a given day. What bothered me constantly was how I would manage to live a productive life if I was only awake for six or-so hours. What would that look like? I did mental math about it every morning: after you shower and get dressed, that leaves five…then factor in preparing and eating a meal, you’re down to four… medical appointment with travel and waiting room time? Now you’ve got two. You get the idea.
I decided then that I needed a strategy to maximize my time so I could do more than just shower, medicate, eat and breathe. I needed to find a way to create more energy for myself.
One of the strategies that several writers and thought influencers talk about (Elrod, Vardy, and others) is having a baseline for the tasks you need to accomplish in a day to make it minimally viable. Hal Elrod, in The Miracle Morning, talks about getting things done at 5am, Mike Vardy, in The Productivityist Podcast, talks about splitting your tasks into categories. In both cases, the baseline serves as a way to ensure you are able to go about your day in a productive and healthy way, knowing that you’ve done those minimum critical tasks and that they took priority.
My version is a slight variation of a combination of the two. My minimum productive day includes trying to accomplish eight key things, each of which is a catalyst for more energy. I structure my day so that I accomplish three first thing in the morning, two throughout the day, and three at any point during the day to allow for flexibility. Each task serves as a mini charging-station for my well-being, my energy, and my peace of mind. Here they are:
Let me explain what this looks like. In the morning, usually following letting the dogs out and making a cup of coffee, I Record. For me, that’s writing in a journal. No particular topic, I usually think about the previous day and any challenges that I had, I also contemplate the day ahead and the best way to move through it. This is just free-flowing thought, written down on paper. After I Record, and while the house is nice and quiet, I try to Read something. Even if it’s an article or a piece of news, maybe a chapter in a book. Not long, just a few minutes. The last thing I do before I fully hop out of bed, is I Reflect. Reflection sometimes means a short meditation. Sometimes though, if I’ve got a lot racing in my head, it means a brain dump, where I just take a bit of an inventory of what’s floating around up there and try to calm my thoughts before they get too out of control. Ultimately though, the goal is to take ten or fifteen minutes in quiet contemplation. It isn’t complicated, I just sit in silence and close my eyes. I pay attention to my breath. All said and done this morning ritual takes me a half hour. Most if not all of it is done in bed, with my cup of coffee, and before the house gets noisy. I really cherish this early morning time.
The next two things are items I try to stay mindful of throughout the day: how I hydrate and fuel my body. A good breakfast, something substantial for lunch, and lots of water throughout the day. That’s it. It isn’t so much the menu, but the fact that I’m mindful that I need to be drinking a lot of water, and I need to be making reasonable, good quality food choices. That’s really all it is.
Mid-afternoon I’m generally done. I can’t be awake much past 2pm. I have to stop whatever I’m doing and lie down. That’s just the nature of my injury. If I push through, which sometimes happens, unfortunately it means I will have a pretty nasty rest of the week. But I recognize that not everyone can stop and have a nap in the middle of the afternoon. To Renew, for me, means a nap – but for you, it might mean mindfully applying a coat of lip balm and breathing deeply for a minute. It might mean taking a brisk walk to the coffee shop. Whatever it is, though, it’s stopping what you’re doing and taking stock of where you are and how you’re feeling.
For the last two, their timing during the day varies depending on my schedule. All I know is that they absolutely have to happen at some point in the day. If possible, I intentionally set aside time for them in my calendar the day before. They are to exercise (stREngthen) and to do something creative (cREate). Exercise takes many forms. It doesn’t have to be a fitness class or a session at the gym. It can be a brisk walk, or a bike ride, or it can be playing with your kids. The same flexibility can be applied to your definition of creativity. Making a new recipe, doodling a picture, organizing the junk drawer. You don’t have to hit the craft store (but you can). Creativity has many avenues and we all have (and don’t have) different talents. I wish I could crochet, but I can’t. I like to design t-shirts. Sometimes I write blog posts. Sometimes I figure out choreography to Dua Lipa songs.
Luckily, I get more than six hours in my day now. I still struggle, for sure. But I’m working on strategies every single day to help overcome the obstacles that sometimes get in the way of progress. The interesting thing to me is that it doesn’t matter that these are strategies I applied to my recovery from a brain injury. They work no matter what you might be recovering from and they work even if you’re in perfect health. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to overthink any of it. You don’t need to track anything in a chart. You just need to remember that your body and mind need to recharge throughout the day, the same as your iPhone. You plug that thing in from time to time so it doesn’t run out of power, lest you need it for an important call or (dare I say it?) Instagram post. So - how are you keeping you and your day fully charged? I’ve just given you eight concrete tips to relatively quickly cultivate more energy throughout your day, which one are you going to try?
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