JUST AS WE EACH have a limited amount of physical strength, we each have a limited store of energy each day. There’s only so much energy for focus, motivation, and self-control. Only so much energy for creative activities such as writing.
Have you noticed that sometimes you feel a high level of vitality all day and other days you tap out, depleted by mid-morning? Why the difference?
It’s likely that you’ve been a victim of one or more energy thieves — people (external influences) and personal habits (internal influences) that siphon off energy, affecting your levels of creativity, productivity, and emotional health.
Energy thieves pull you off balance, making it difficult to focus and be productive. They can be subtle and hard to detect, sneaking up on you and siphoning energy away, little by little, until you feel depleted.
So what are these “energy thieves”?
Typical Energy Thieves
- Surrounding yourself with negative and/or co-dependent people. You know the negative ones. They sidle up to you asking for advice. They complain about their jobs, their spouses, their kids. Everything happens “to” them; they are always the victims, emotionally needy. And when they are done, they have worn you down, taken what precious creative time you have, and sucked the energy right out of you.
Along with negative people, those with whom you are in a co-dependent relationship want your constant attention. They can’t stand it when you are independent and happy, demanding your time and energy to deal with their problems.
The key to dealing with negativity and co-dependency is learning to set boundaries. In some cases, it may mean not allowing a person in your life anymore — letting him or her go.
For those you choose to keep in your life, learn to say “no.” You don’t have to be mean, but you do have to learn how to take control and no longer allow them and their dramas to set the tone. Stop taking on their problems or even giving advice. Be sympathetic, then move the conversation to a positive subject. And when you need to have time to yourself, tell them you’re not available (and then make yourself so).
- Procrastination. You procrastinate when a task seems distasteful, intimidating, or when you fear failure (perfectionism). When a task is distasteful, determine whether it’s something you really need to do. If not, cross it off. If it is necessary, can you delegate it or pay someone else to do it? If not, then get it out of the way first. If a task feels daunting (fear of failure or needing it to be perfect), then the key to getting started is to break it down into smaller, doable subtasks. And focus on doing one subtask at a time rather than the entire project.
- Indecision. The other side of the procrastination coin, indecision is another cause of anxiety and robs you of energy because you spend mental and emotional energy imagining alternate scenarios for your decision. Remember, it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s better to make a decision and go for it, than to be in a constant state of uncertainty.
- Disorganization. Being disorganized means losing time when looking for something you need, causing frustration and stress (all energy thieves). Organize your physical and digital workspaces, including file folders, reference books, and research materials. The time you spend creating this organization will be paid back many times over.
- Too much work and no play makes Jack and Jill dull children indeed. Not to mention creating emotional exhaustion. If you’re the workaholic type, introduce time for rest and relaxation into your daily routine. Your creative life depends upon your ability to engage your imagination. So take some time to play. Revive your inner child through fun and silly activities — fashion characters out of playdough, play kickball, or go to the beach and run through the waves. What you do isn’t as important as how you do it. You will return to work refreshed and ready to bring that playful attitude to your writing.
- A habit of saying “yes.” Do you have a hard time saying “no” to requests for help? If so, you may find yourself overcommitted to doing things for other people with little time for yourself and your own goals. Learning to say “no” is part of learning to set healthy emotional boundaries. We are often conditioned to think that turning down requests for help is selfish, but unless you have the time, mental and emotional resources, and passion to help, saying “yes” is actually counterproductive. And healthy boundaries are important to healthy relationships with ourselves, family, friends, and professional relationships. So learn to prioritize your own mental, emotional, and creative needs. Surround them with an imaginary protective fence and say “no” whenever an external request would impinge on that territory. You’ll be much happier and more productive overall.
If you lack the energy to accomplish your creative goals, look around for energy thieves. You may find that you’ve unwittingly invited a few into your life. Whether those thieves are external (people) or internal (behaviors), politely but firmly let them know they’ve overstayed their welcome and ask them to leave. Then, do what it takes to change habits and behaviors to protect and recharge your energy on a regular basis. You — and your writing — will be happy you did.