Health & Wellness

Manage your energy! 9 habits of people who avoid burnout

If it feels like you're facing your own personal energy crisis, you're not alone. Many of us are on edge, starting with all that attention demanded by our phones.

“It leaves us in a constant state of mild anxiety,” productivity expert Peter Bregman told TODAY.

“You’re like a spy in enemy territory: you’re constantly keeping on the lookout for what might come in, what might exist. There’s sort of a nervousness and an anxious energy that pervades our existence.”

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One of the reasons you get so distracted is that your brain regularly needs a break.

People aren't working more than they used to, but many think they are, added Laura Vanderkam, a time-management expert and author of “I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.”

“When you’re constantly distracted by alerts and devices, it feels harder to get anything done. You don’t feel as satisfied with what you’re accomplishing,” Vanderkam noted.

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We asked Bregman and Vanderkam for their advice about daily habits that can boost energy and prevent burnout.

Here are their nine tips:

9. Create a very short to-do list

List three things you'd like to get done the next day, Vanderkam suggested. That way, you go in knowing what you need to do and the list is short enough to be doable.

“Three things is not a huge amount, but if you do three important things a day, that’s 15 important things a week and 750 important things a year; and that’s quite a bit,” she noted.

Take care of your most important items as early in the day as possible because that's when you have more energy.

Related: 8 ways to handle a negative conversation

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How to avoid burning out at work (and at life)

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How to avoid burning out at work (and at life)

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8. Get your email under control

Avoid checking and responding to email all day long.

Think about how you handle “snail mail,” Bregman said. Once a day, you get a batch of envelopes that you go through all at once and decide how to handle. Nothing overwhelming about that.

But imagine if 10 envelopes were shoved on your desk every minute and you had to spend all your time opening them and deciding what to do. It would be deeply inefficient, yet that’s how most of us deal with email.

To batch-process his messages, Bregman sets aside two 30-minute blocks of time — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — to read and respond to email.

If that’s not doable, Vanderkam suggested glancing through your inbox right after your morning commute to make sure there’s nothing urgent and then walking into work and setting aside an hour or so to tackle your to-do list before you start checking email again.

Put your phone on airplane mode and give yourself permission to focus for that time. “The world will not end” if you don’t respond to email for 45 minutes, she said.

7. Schedule real breaks and take them

One of the reasons you get so distracted is that your brain regularly needs a break.

“You want to take a break before the break takes you,” Vanderkam said.

You know it’s happening when you lose focus, mindlessly start checking headlines or browse social media — those are unplanned “half breaks” that won't refresh you. You want fewer of those, and more true timeouts.

To really re-energize, leave your desk and talk with someone down the hall, go for a quick walk outside or grab a cup of tea, Vanderkam suggested. Most people need a break every couple of hours. One strategy to try: Drink lots of water, which will force you to regularly get up and go to the bathroom.

Related: Sitting all day? How much is too much and why exercise can help

6. Eat, move, sleep

Take care of your body and you won’t feel drained. For optimum health, Bregman likes author Michael Pollan’s philosophy: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Plenty of exercise and rest is also part of a basic health formula.

“I’m a big fan of napping. If you’re in a situation where you can put your feet up and nap for even 10 minutes in the afternoon, it does wonders,” Bregman said.

Related: Feeling stressed? Recharge your mind and body with forest therapy

5. Make time for activities that energize you

Structure your day so that you’re not only doing the stuff you hate, Vanderkam advised. (Hint: If you hate everything about your job, it may be time for a change.)

“If you’re spending some time on the things you enjoy, that will help with boosting your energy levels through the day,” she noted.

4. Do one thing at a time

You’ll be much more efficient and you’ll move much faster. We can switch tasks, but our brains cannot multitask, Bregman said.

“You want to give your best to what you are working on at any given moment,” Vanderkam added.

3. Cleanse your phone of any unnecessary alerts

Vanderkam was taking a walk with her young son recently when her flashing phone interrupted their time together. It was a sporting event alert that she didn’t care about and didn’t even remember activating on her device.

Many of us have residual alerts from something that interested us months ago. Give yourself 15 minutes to get rid of them so that you have fewer interruptions.

2. Get real about your emotions

Trying not to feel things is what creates stress and drains energy, Bregman said.

“Feel the anger, shame, joy, embarrassment,” he advised.

“By doing that, it no longer controls you and you become much less stressed because your body is not holding all of these emotions.”

That doesn’t mean lashing out at people, screaming and yelling, but noticing what’s positive in your life without repressing what’s negative, he added.

1. Be gentle with yourself

Don’t overwhelm yourself with the need to manage all of your energy perfectly, Bregman advised.

Observe your energy and watch when it dips. Then pick a solution and make little changes.

“Remind yourself of what you have accomplished,” Vanderkam said. “At the end of the day, look back on what you did [and say] ‘Yay, me.’”

Follow A. Pawlowski on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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