Industry Trends

Energy Is Currency: How to Spend It Wisely

Gusto Editors  
Young businessman working on laptop and smiling.

Do you want to know how to enhance your vitality, have more peace of mind, and cultivate a positive emotional climate? The value of rest is underestimated in our culture, but it’s essential to a happy and productive life. 

At Gusto, our mission is always to create a world where work empowers a better life. That’s why we partnered with CPA Academy to bring you a webinar hosted by non-practicing CPA and consciousness coach Amber Setter. In “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” Amber discussed changing the mindset around work-life balance, strategies to overcome procrastination, and how taking care of yourself leads to a sense of accomplishment.

Amber Setter helps individuals and groups in the business and accounting world incorporate consciousness practices into their career lives. As a coach for CPAs, she merges her awareness of psychology, healing, and meditation techniques, and expertise in the accounting industry. Her ultimate goal is to help her clients lead happier, healthier lives. 

Getting to know yourself and the prioritization of tasks

The first step to spending your energy wisely is to get to know yourself more deeply. You need to do two very important things as you start making changes. The first is to actually track how you’re spending your time and how that is affecting you. The second is to know which activities are good investments for you.

“We wake up with 24 hours in a day. That’s not going to change. That’s a fixed budget. How do we think of our energy as a currency, and how do we cut out low yields?”

– Amber Setter

The process of getting to know yourself is straightforward, but following through and actually doing it is another thing. To keep yourself accountable, set an appointment on your calendar to explore which activities drain you and which ones energize you. After you’ve taken this first step, continue to carve out time for yourself on a weekly basis so you can fine-tune your strategy.

“I recommend that you invest an hour [each week] to have an appointment with yourself. … Make this a habit. … Block it off on your calendar. … [It really works for me to] have an hour when I start my Monday mornings where I get really present to [the questions:] ‘Okay, what’s on my calendar this week? What are some things that I can delegate? What are the meetings I need to really be prepared for?”

Amber Setter

As you go over your schedule, you’ll want to make room for positive or “high-yield” energy activities. These are activities that will enhance your energy. They are worth your time—even if you don’t think you have time—because they will make you more effective in all areas of your life.

Good investment activities will vary from person to person, but the common theme should be that they create the right conditions for you to thrive. They bring you joy, give you rest, enhance your relationships, or help you create and sustain wealth. If you look at your life holistically, you will see that having good relationships, proper rest and nutrition, and joyful activities will help you thrive on all levels, including in your professional life.

Woman taking notes in the cafe.

Think of yourself as a plant. If you are the plant, you need the right conditions in order to grow new, strong, healthy leaves. You need strong roots, good soil, the right amount of water, sunshine, air, and perhaps some gentle care and attention. You also need to be free of pests, weeds, and other irritants that could drain your life force.

Every plant is unique and has different requirements. You are unique and have individual requirements. Nevertheless, there are universally appealing investment activities that you might consider. These might be:

  • Going to a yoga class once a week
  • Having dinner with your partner every night without answering emails or calls
  • Watching your favorite fantasy show, which helps you disconnect from your daily life
  • Taking half an hour in the morning to journal
  • Turning your phone on silent and going for a walk during your lunch break
  • Hiring a mentor, therapist, or coach for support

Identifying energy leaks and drains

A big part of energy management is to look at where your life force is leaking away. There are a few ways that can happen.

Identify unfinished business

One big drain is the weight of unfinished business or tasks that we’re avoiding. This can affect us consciously, perhaps by keeping us awake at night or by creating a loop of worry because we just don’t know how to tackle the task. It can also affect us unconsciously by creating a low-level hum of background anxiety that we just can’t seem to shake. When we carve out the time to look at our energy, we have a chance to step back and see if we have things hanging over our heads.

“You’re taking a big step back. You’re using your higher [-level] strategic thinking skills and looking down, and you can see [that] maybe there [are] priorities that need to shift. You can also notice … the things you’re avoiding. Usually, we avoid things that we’re scared of. Maybe you haven’t done [them] before, maybe they’re too overwhelming, [maybe] they’re too big of a task, but then we avoid them. And when we avoid them, they’re the things that keep us up at night.”

– Amber Setter

Don’t beat yourself up for having unfinished tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You truly don’t have to tackle everything on your own. So who can you reach out to for advice? Who can you delegate things to? Do you need to break the project down into manageable tasks, so you’re making progress without getting overwhelmed?

How can you get your unfinished business off your to-do list so you can conserve energy for what’s most important to you?

Manage overwhelm with effective to-do lists

What happens when you cross one item off your to-do list? It’s replaced by something else, of course! The fact is to-do lists are never-ending. So, trying to tackle everything all at once will set yourself up for failure. Instead of creating a giant list and getting overwhelmed, prioritize. Break it down into smaller chunks so you don’t waste precious energy resources on stress and overwhelm, which can drain you of focus and stifle your problem-solving abilities.

Young businesswoman using a digital tablet at work.

Have a running master list of everything you need to get done, but then have a small daily or weekly list. When it comes to managing your daily schedule, pick three things you need to get done. This forces you to prioritize and gives you a sense of accomplishment as you cross off tasks. 

Know your limits. Know how much you can realistically do before getting overwhelmed. You can also use a special planner or journal to keep you focused on the bigger picture. The Best Self Journal is a great option. 

Take breaks

While you may love the rush of working for hours on end on a project, taking breaks actually helps boost your productivity. Amber cited an article published in The New York Times called “Why You Hate Work.” It was about a study that compared two groups of CPAs, one who worked without breaks and another that didn’t: 

“[They had] people work for 90 minutes uninterrupted and then [others who] took 10 to 15-minute brain breaks. … Then they took one full hour break in the late afternoon. … The results were surprising and not surprising. They found that those who worked in a focused manner, [but who took breaks] and left work earlier in the day actually produced much greater results. They got more done in less time, and this group also said they felt less stressed out. [Plus,] their turnover rate was much lower.”

– Amber Setter

Set a timer on your phone, and make yourself get up and walk around on your break. Try not to use your break to scroll on social media or web surf.

Ritualizing Your Wellness Routines

In a world full of options, many of us suffer from decision fatigue. There are seemingly endless choices that we have to make on a daily basis, from what to have for breakfast to which detergent to buy to where to send our kids to school. Decision-making is energetically costly, so the more you can eliminate the need to make decisions, the better.

One way to do this is by ritualizing your self-care activities and creating routines. Chances are you don’t think twice about brushing your teeth in the morning. So how about having a habit of always working out on Mondays or always journaling at night? 

“Energy can be expanded and renewed by having rituals in your life. Meeting with [your]self [can be] a ritual. Always exercising the same day [is a ritual]. [Taking] the same class [is a] ritual. Always having a meeting with a team member is a ritual. You don’t have to spend energy thinking about when you’re going to do it. You just have some things, some structures, that support your performance. [They] are automatic. [They] get done quickly, and [you are] steadily achieving whatever result you desire.”

– Amber Setter

The great thing about a ritual is that you don’t have much time for excuses or procrastination. You don’t debate whether or not you will work out—you just do it. However, you can still make it fun and pleasurable! Go for your run at a beautiful park and listen to your favorite podcast. Have your herbal tea in your favorite mug. The less your rituals feel like drudgery, the better.

Conserving and cultivating energy in all areas

From a holistic point of view, all areas of our lives are connected. Your personal life affects your professional life and vice versa, your physical health affects your mental health, and so on. When looking for energy drains and ways to enhance your energy, look at all areas of your life. 

You may wish to get a journal and reflect on the four primary areas of energy: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Physical energy

This is the most straightforward area of energy, given that our culture places high importance on physical self-care. These are the basics: fitness, nutrition, and sleep. 

These are some questions to help you enhance your physical energy:

  • Am I eating well?
  • Am I getting enough rest?
  • Am I  exercising enough?
  • How does my body feel?
  • Are my muscles tight or sore? Do I need to stretch?
  • What ritual or habit can I put in place to support my physical energy?

Mental energy

As knowledge workers, your mental energy is one of your most valuable assets. You need boundaries in place to protect your intellectual capacities, which are the basis of your job. As discussed, taking mental breaks is important to keep you operating at peak performance. Eliminating distractions is also key, as it often takes longer to complete a task when you’ve been interrupted. You should also consider your own energy peaks and dips, and schedule your projects around them if possible. Use time-blocking to set boundaries around projects and eliminate mentally intensive decision-making.

Smiling African-American woman meditating, sitting at work desk.

Here are a few questions to help you enhance your mental energy:

  • How often am I taking breaks at work?
  • When do I feel most sharp and awake, and can I do my biggest projects at that time?
  • What distractions are there in my work environment, and how can I eliminate them?
  • Which projects require the least mental energy? Can I do those at the end of the day?
  • What are some fun activities I can do that require little to no mental energy?

Emotional energy

Amber describes this energy as the “climate within yourself.” It’s not always possible to control the climate, although thoughts and behaviors do influence our emotional health. Rather, it’s more important to be aware of them so we can manage them better.

“Do you have a sense of what you’re feeling through[out] the day? … [Imagine] the emotional climate within yourself. Is it stormy? Is it sunny? How does it feel, and what activates you in certain ways? And do those things serve you? Are there certain things that nourish you and have you feeling better? Or [are there] things that are draining you?”

– Amber Setter

When assessing emotional energy, make sure to count the positives in your life. They’re often overlooked, which leads to pessimism or an unnecessary desire to have/be/do more.

Questions to help you enhance your emotional energy:

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What triggers me? 
  • What drains my energy?
  • What practices/activities/environments/people make me feel good?
  • What practices/activities/environments/people make me feel bad?
  • Is there anything in my life that I would be better off not having? How can I do that?
  • Is there anything in life that I need more of? How can I get that?
  • Who can I ask for support, encouragement, or advice?

Spiritual energy

You don’t have to be a “spiritual person” to enhance your spiritual energy. Amber explained that this energy is more akin to values and higher purpose. You might value authenticity, family, service to others, and so on. When you are living your truth and in alignment with your values, you are enhancing your spiritual energy.

Here are questions to help you enhance your emotional energy:

  • What are my core values?
  • Am I living in alignment with those values?
  • What areas of my life are most important to me?
  • How much energy is going to each of those areas?

Learn more about spending your energy wisely

Mastering your energy involves taking control of all areas of your life: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. You should choose activities that bring you high-yield returns, such as increased performance at work, better relationships, deeper sleep, and a more positive mindset. When it comes to work, sometimes striving more and trying harder can actually work against you. You need to take breaks to conserve your mental energy and have an enjoyable experience. Take the time to sit down with yourself and assess your schedule. Cut out leaks and drains, such as unfinished business and an overwhelming to-do list.

Once you master energy management, your return on energy investment can truly skyrocket. To learn more about how to live a happier and healthier life, check out our other articles based on the same webinar: “What Is Accountant Burnout?” and “Managing Your Energy During Burnout Season.” 

Becoming a Gusto Partner can make your life easier. Get payroll and HR support for your team and our new advisory revenue stream for your practice through our people advisory platform. As a Gusto partner, you’ll also get tools to help you expand your accounting practice and offer your clients new insights, plus a free payroll subscription for your own accounting firm. Sign up today!

Updated: May 17, 2022

Gusto Editors
Gusto Editors

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