How to Manage and Optimize Your Mental Energy
What would it mean for you to improve the mental energy you need to tackle your day-to-day?
In the first in this series of articles, we discussed the five different types of energy that drive and sustain you:
- Physical: your health, stamina, and vitality
- Mental: your clarity, focus, and intellectual agility
- Emotional: your resilience, creativity, and emotional self-regulation
- Spiritual: your values, motivation, and sense of purpose
- Social: your surroundings, relationships, and professional environment
The asked you to think of these types of energy as individual batteries that interact synergistically with one another and are constantly being recharged and drained. While these fluctuations are normal, you need a Personal Energy Management framework to help you:
- Identify how to sustain and optimize your energy by drawing from all five dimensions.
- Reduce the risk of overusing one battery. Burnout is an example of a depleted Mental Battery.
- Optimize how you tap into your energy and derive greater benefit from the energy you have available.
In this article, let’s explore how you can increase and sustain your mental energy by deliberately putting in place behaviors and habits that make the greatest impact.
Which factors affect your Mental Energy?
Our mental Energy expresses the focus of our energy as it moves between flexible and fixed states. When our thinking is fluid, we can easily embrace different points of view, identify new opportunities and strategically act on them. When we tire, our mental patterns become more rigid and problem-oriented.
We need mental breaks and a degree of clear routine to be able to thrive. Over the last two years, we have drawn on our mental energy dimension more and more as remote work disrupts the down time between our professional tasks, as increased video meetings call for prolonged attention, and as higher uncertainty in our ways of life have taken a toll on our brain.
Each battery is recharged or drained by specific factors, including your daily habits, your perceptions, and your lifestyle. In this article about the physical battery, we identified sleep, nutrition, movement, and health as being the core factors. For the other batteries, the factors are more nuanced and individual differences are far greater.
In my experience as an executive coach, these are the five factors that affect your mental energy:
- Productivity cycles: matching your energy with your tasks.
- “During which parts of day do I usually feel more productive and alert?”
- “Which times are more suited for routine tasks?”
- Interruptions and multi-tasking: juggling multiple tasks at once with the aim of saving time and sustaining quality.
- “How do interruptions influence the quality of my work?
- “What happens when I regularly multi-task?”
- Frequency of breaks: taking regular, short breaks to sustain your clarity and concentration versus infrequent, long breaks.
- “How often do I take breaks to stand up, relax my eyes and switch my focus?”
- “To what extent does taking a short 5-minute break every hour versus a 1-hour break every few hours affect my ability to focus?”
- Your focus: being deliberate about how you direct and sustain it.
- “Is my habitual focus scanning for options and solutions or for obstacles and problems?
- “What factors do I persistently strive to change versus what I decide to accept?
- Your Signature Factor: something personal to you that has a big impact on your mental energy.
- “What do I really need to sustain my ability to reflect and think clearly?”
- “What is special to me that can clear my mind and shift my mindset?”
How to optimize your mental energy?
Here's how you can begin to take your mental energy to the next level, using examples from my clients.
Step 1: Reflect on the impact of the 5 factors
First, you want to understand how the factors described above affect your energy. Are they recharging it or are they draining it? Through the years, I’ve observed that "drainers" have a greater impact than "rechargers." Think of it like a bucket with holes: no matter how much water you pour in, it will continue to drain out until you fix the leaks!
Measuring his mental energy against the five factors, a client we will call Sundar realized that:
- His most productive time is usually at the end of the day, when he receives the most messages and attends most meetings.
- Interruptions were disrupting it. He leads a global team and, being based in India, often worked in the evening to stay in touch with his colleagues.
- His breaks were mostly linked with going to the balcony to smoke. He decided to find new reasons to stand up.
- His tendency to be a perfectionist played against him when it came to choosing where to focus his energy. He often worked extra-long hours to keep his high standards and often felt overwhelmed by his multi-tasking.
- His “signature factor” was his need to switch off at the end of the day. When he could do it, he recharged much more easily.
Step 2: Identify what to improve one small step at a time
Now, it’s time to ask yourself, “What could I do differently?”
To build new ways of doing things that stick, I find taking on a small action that is meaningful for you, that you can do frequently (4-5 times a week), and which can be done even when you feel tired or busy, is the best approach. I call these "mini habits."
Sundar wished to start changing all the factors at once, but I strongly advise against attempting to do too much. Instead, I recommend you list your options first and then choose 1-2 new "mini habits" at most. Here is what Sundar came up with:
- To contain the interruptions, he could block out 10 minutes at the end of
- his afternoon to reflect on the day.
- To reduce his habit of multi-tasking, he decided to put a reminder: a humorous post-it note next to his screen that read, “One is Beautiful.”
- To increase his breaks, he could put a 2L water bottle next to his computer to remind him to drink more often.
- To tackle his perfectionist streak, he could start using the “CIA model” to identify what he could Control, Influence, or just have to Accept.
- To address his “signature factor” and switch off, he could start listening to the music he loves for 10 minutes at the end of each day.
Initially, he selected the “post-it note” and “2L bottle” mini habits, though they felt almost too easy. One month later, he felt very motivated by his progress and decided to block one hour twice a week at the end of his day for more strategic reflections.
Step 3: Better focus your mental energy using the CIA Model
Becoming more deliberate with how we direct our attention is one of the most impactful ways to be more often at your best. It’s not always easy to do, and that’s why I recommend using the Control, Influence, and Accept (CIA) Model — a simple and effective way to get clear on where your energy is going. It helps you determine to what extent your focus is supporting you and where it’s not. Click here to download my slides on the CIA model to learn more.
If you want to explore even further, consider taking the Energy Check to assess how you are currently taking care of the five dimensions of your energy.
Francesca Giulia Mereu
An executive coach with more than 20 years’ experience, Francesca Giulia Mereu is also author of the book Recharge Your Batteries. She regularly works with Frontline Humanitarian Negotiators (CCHN) and at IMD with senior leaders of global organizations. She is a Genesis Leadership Consultant working with global clients to support transitions and development.