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I use a variety of GTD-related systems that work smoothly for juggling many projects---as long as I have plenty of energy to pick out the right actions for 'now' and get cracking. However, when I sit down at the end of a long day, I tend to get stuck trying to muster the energy to get back into my system at all.

So, how do you make effective use of time available with "low energy"? And how do you get from "low energy" back into full productivity?

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Please split into two questions or make a wiki. –  Brian Carlton Jun 27 '11 at 3:07
@Brian thanks--I rewrote it to clarify my main question. –  krubo Jun 27 '11 at 3:21
What do you mean by the end of the day? It's a consequence of being productive the whole day that you are tired; that's why we sleep at night and eat in the morning, to refresh our energy. Your question would be answerable if it were in another moment of the day, but now I feel like it's something you shouldn't do... :) –  Tom Wijsman Jun 27 '11 at 10:25
Good article: Mastering Productivity: Energy –  Soner Gönül Sep 22 '11 at 20:25
If I do something with getting excitement, I will be always energetic.. –  Soner Gönül Sep 22 '11 at 21:03

9 Answers 9

up vote 15 down vote accepted

How do you make effective use of time available with "low energy"?

Do easy tasks. Go through your list and pick the easiest, most mindless task you can find and do it. Seeing the task get crossed off will give you a little more motivation to keep going, creating a positive spiral. If you're truly burnt out, stop trying to force yourself to work and go do something else to relax.

And how do you get from "low energy" back into full productivity?

A few ways that work well for me are hard exercise, meditation, a nap, going for a walk, getting something to eat or spending time with friends. Taking a clean break from work lets your subconscious mind work on problems in the background and you'll often come up with the solution to problems immediately afterwards. You'll also feel energized and ready to get back to work.

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This really clarifies my problem! My problem is: When I don't have plenty of energy, it feels really daunting to "Go through my list and pick" things. Is there another way to make this work? –  krubo Jun 30 '11 at 2:38
I'd say you'd be in the 2nd category - you don't have enough energy to be productive. That's when the best solution is to take a break and not try to force yourself to work. Even a 15 minute break doing something you enjoy can be rejuvenating. –  Dan H Jun 30 '11 at 16:06

I guess this involves knowing how to work with your natural energy level.

If you recognize that you can't tackle the high-importance things, then don't. Do something that matches your energy level, or switch gears to bring your energy level back up again (exercise?) if you really need to.

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As @John said - it is key that you understand your high and low points. My highs are early morning and late evening, with lows at 2am and 3 - 3.30pm.

During those low points do something else - in the case of the 2am one, I try to be asleep:-) but for the afternoon one, I get a coffee, go for a walk, read the paper, listen to some music...anything for around a half hour that kickstarts your metabolism or mood.

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Instead of coffee, you should take a nap: (I highly recommend this book) –  Vilmantas Baranauskas Jul 5 '11 at 10:41
@Vilmantas - naps are good, but you require the right environment. Some forward thinking employers provide quiet rooms, but not many... –  Rory Alsop Jul 5 '11 at 10:43

I agree that you shouldn't try to make yourself productive when tired. Sometimes you have to though. Suppose you work for 8 hours and then there is a "production problem" that can't wait because the users can't logon to the bank. It has to be dealt with right now if not 20 minutes ago. You need energy so you drink coffee and have candy. This spikes your energy to get you through the crisis and then you crash even harder.

I mention the crash because this isn't productivity. Productivity is sustainable. You want to make the most of the long run, not just one day.

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On low energy i do routine tasks. Or switch tasks to something completely other. Or just rest (tee, etc) for 10-15 min.

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GTD requires a certain amount of energy and willpower to engage with the workflow and summon the mental determination necessary to cut through the ambiguity and evaluate the related context when making the decisions the system imposes on you. When you are in a low energy state this can be an insurmountable hurdle, leading you to give up and procrastinate or do something less than ideally productive.

As a sufferer from chronic fatigue for 15 years (now cured), I faced this problem daily. I designed a system called Cyborganize that seeks to eliminate many of the friction points in GTD that increase its mental energy requirements.

I would suggest you pay careful attention to the mental friction points in your system and think about ways to reduce their impact by redesigning your software workflow. Then you will be better able to capitalize on your low-energy time.

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My suggestion would be to find what are your recharging activities. Do you get recharged after socializing with people? Do you get recharged after playing video games for 10-15 minutes? Do you get recharged after watching an educational video? Find what charges you up and do that when you are low. What recharges you may take more than a little practice and experimenting.

Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance by Marcus Buckingham would be a book recommendation on finding your strengths which would likely be how you'd recharge and feel strong again.

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As far as energy is concerned: If it's not physical fatigue but just the usual fatigue people experience after a meal or after a nap you could try getting your heart rate up. For me taking a two-prong approach works nicely: first make yourself a good cup of coffee. Caffeine makes the heart go faster. Then start some first-person shooter (whatever floats your boat), turn up the volume and play a few rounds. You might want to mix in additional music (metal/numetal, screamo or punk are great for this). Fast and hard is key here. My experience is that 30 minutes is enough to get to a level where I'm functional again. You might need to set an alarm to help you quit the game, though.

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I know this is an old question, but I wanted to throw this out there in case it helps someone.

Background of answer: I suffer from periodic clinical depression and clinical anxiety. I have good brain chemistry days and bad brain chemistry days -- and there's an entire spectrum of possibilities between "full capacity" and "don't even". So I have to deal with this question more often than I would like.

When other tips like those presented in answers here so far don't work, I do the following: 1) acknowledge to myself that I will be working in "slow-motion" and just accept it 2) Don't focus on "getting stuff done" but rather on "setting things up to make it as easy as possible to get stuff done tomorrow"; this can involve things that seem like busy-work. Clearing out e-mail, cleaning my desktop, making lists organizing tasks and breaking them down, planning what specific small steps to begin with the next day, tidying up my physical space.

Often, following this process I get a lot of stuff done in the form of tying up loose ends. Best case in that setting things up to make it easier to begin allows me to actually begin it today rather than tomorrow. But even if I don't accomplish much concrete work that same day, it makes it much more likely that I'll have a higher-energy day tomorrow, and be able to get off to a solid start.

And I want to reiterate some things that others have already said: exercise, mindfulness meditation, healthy food, enough sleep -- all of these things can make a huge difference.

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