How I work with limited energy as a solopreneur.

chinese woman with light on her face, polaroid

I have a partnership with my internal rhythms, and that partnership allows me to make peace with what I’ve got in my reserves. It permits me to figure out how best to make use of my energy on any given day, whether I only have three, five, or seven hours of cognitive and physical ability.

Listen to me read this piece here:

 

I have limited energy resources.

In truth, I always did — but tended to ignore the whimper of my body and mind by forcing caffeine down my gullet. I was that girl who’d show up at the coffee shop and demand a quad-shot espresso multiple times a day, because it didn’t matter if I found myself physically ill by the side of the road up to three times a day, or if my panic attacks heaped on top of themselves for hours at a time. I needed to get my work done, regardless of what my body was telling me.

These days, I don’t have the luxury of shocking my body into working for me anymore. I have a partnership with my internal rhythms, and that partnership allows me to make peace with what I’ve got in my reserves. It permits me to figure out how best to make use of my energy on any given day, whether I only have three, five, or seven hours of cognitive and physical ability.

I share these tips with you because even though I happen to live with chronic illnesses, the skill of working with your body, and not against it, is one that anyone can use, because we all have limited energy resources, even if your limitations aren’t quite as severe as mine.

You might have a new baby in your household. New caretaking responsibilities. Perhaps you’re simply tired of living frantically from hour to hour — and not stopping for anything short of the roof caving in.

Figure out your internal rhythms. Then plan accordingly.

There are two main ways in which I leverage my internal rhythms: through intuition and record-keeping.

Via intuition, I’m able to check in with my body at any given time. How is it feeling? On a functionality score of 1 to 100, where do I stand? I honed this particular skill during the worst of my illness last year, when my sister-in-law would frequently sit with me; we used this scale so that she could know the appropriate actions to take. A low score meant that I was probably unable to hold a conversation. A score above 60 meant that I was having a good day (with all things being relative, of course).

Intuition is an excellent skill to deploy in the moment. Record-keeping is a way to understand how your rhythms tend to operate. I highly recommend Allie Rice’s Intentional Systems Bundle (not an affiliate, just a fan) as an elegant workbook to better understand such ebbs and flows, in which she includes several weeks’ worth of hour-by-hour charts. But if you’re choosing not to make such a purchase at the moment, it can be as simple as finding a basic notebook and tracking your hourly energy level, which may follow daily, weekly, or monthly patterns.

For example, I work best between 5am and 3pm. Though I’m not a machine, and therefore can’t rely exclusively on this bit of knowledge, it does help in my life as a microbusiness owner. I don’t schedule client calls for after 3pm, because neither my clients nor I would benefit from my depleted self. I also give my working hours, odd as they might sound, to clients in an introductory email, so that expectations can be set according to how I work best.

a man and a small dog sleeping

During the workday, I do require rest. I honor that need.

Around the same time every work day, there does come a time when I need to rest — which means something different for everyone. Sipping tea in a sunny window may work for you. I often require a full-fledged nap. In the beginning of my journey toward understanding my rhythms, I’d frequently panic about my need for rest. After all, how was anything going to get done if I needed to nap twice a day?

The answer? My work still gets done. It gets done because I care about my work, and because I’ve learned — though the process is ongoing — to say no when my plate is full. Because to honor my body, my clients, and the work that I do in the world, is a privilege and a priority.

How do you honor your energy’s ebbs and flows?

RESOURCES:

 

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    • Thanks so much, Daphne. Do you have any additions or other suggestions that I wasn’t able to touch on? I’m always interested in learning more about productivity and self-care. x

  • This is fantastic and something I’m in the process of learning myself, especially after too many finals weeks where I’ve pushed myself and my body to the limit, only to regret it. And even outside of grad school, I have done it with other projects as well. But I’ve learned that covering up the fatigue with caffeine only makes it worse. Like you said, we just have to allow ourselves to be as we are, accept it, and work WITH it rather than against it. The work, as you said, is better and FEELS better that way anyway. Thanks, Esme!

    • Oh, grad school was when I was the absolutely worst about caffeine! It’s such a hothouse for that kind of… self-abuse. I love this line: “…allow ourselves to be as we are, accept it, and work WITH it rather than against it.” And also, the fact that you’ve said that the work “FEELS better” that way — because it does. Thanks so much for visiting, and for sharing your story.

  • This article is exactly what I’m going to gently suggest to people every time they make fun of how much I sleep. I learned in my first few years of school that I do actually require 8 hours of straight sleep at night to be a person that interacts with her world, versus frantically observing it from the sidelines. I also discovered that I have absolutely no tolerance for caffeine, and probably never will. I have found that many people do not understand the idea that different people have different levels of energy to expend.The way you explain the concept of individualized care is incredible. Thank you Esme.

    • I find it kind of frightening that people make fun of you for sleeping eight hours a night. Eight hours! Isn’t that the recommended amount of sleep? Thank you for visiting — thank you for sharing. xE

  • Hey Esme,

    I’m quite new to your blog and I think this is the 3rd post I’ve read.

    Apart from you beautiful style of writing, I find your posts particularly pertinent to myself.

    I have a predilection for over-thinking and over-stressing, to the point where my energy levels are severely depleted. I’ve been working with my life coach to honour my body-clock, and I now realise that I am not a morning person! Morning’s are now reserved for yoga + meditation, then I usually get to work at midday. I eat lunch at my computer (terrible), take a break from 3-5, then work from 5-8pm when I get a second wind.
    Some might balk at 6 hours of work per day, but I’d say I achieve more than people who work 8 hours days. I just wrote 2200 words in 2 hours. Not bad, huh?

    Anyway, great post. I’ll have to check out Alice Rice 🙂

    • Hi, Camilla! Pleased to meet you. Thank you for sharing your process — I think it’s fantastic that you’ve figured out how your body and mind best work. & absolutely, re: the 6-hour workday. You’re getting an amazing amount of work done, and still making time for yoga and meditation; you’re an inspiration! xE

  • Esme,
    Accepting my energy limitations has been one of my greatest challenges. I am getting better at prioritizing sleep and listening to my body most days because I pay a huge price if I don’t. I love your suggestions and I am encourage to know you still get your work done. Thank you so sharing on this topic.