protect your energy

Last updated on March 30th, 2023 at 07:35 pm

I was sitting at a café in Medellin, waiting on my Spanish tutor, having a pandebono and sipping a tinto (the first time I ordered it I expected wine, but I was well-accustomed to the stout coffee at this point) reflecting on the prior 7 years. Not long before, I had poured every ounce of my being into building a company from scratch, taking it through an acquisition, and transitioning our team into an entirely new business with new operating procedures.

It was grueling. I spent years feeling drained without even knowing that setting boundaries was an option.

A lot of people will say that putting that amount of energy into the work is the only way to see the success that you want. That may be true. But, personally, I gained 30 lbs., went through a divorce, and eliminated the idea of self care in my life.

This is the reason that highly successful entrepreneurs like Arianna Huffington are focusing on energy protection.

Burnouts are common. Even more so when you’re starting a business. In fact, 72% of entrepreneurs suffer mental health issues.

There’s always a reason to exert more energy. Give more time. Take less space. You put a lot of effort on the front end in order to receive on the back end. That’s completely understandable, but protecting your energy is actually a way to become more productive without giving an unhealthy amount of yourself.

I’m no expert on energy protection. In fact, I still struggle. But, when starting a business, I’ve found the below 17 ways to be extremely effective.

1. Set Boundaries

Everyone only has a certain amount of energy. The key to protecting it is to know your boundaries. There are specific situations that you simply don’t want to – or can’t – put up with or tolerate. Put boundaries in place to avoid these, both socially and in your business.

Choose to engage in activities that add to your energy levels while limiting or avoiding ones that don’t. While you’ll need to put effort into being firm with these boundaries, it’s something you’ll have to do to protect your energy as a business owner.

2. Limit Your Time and Responsibilities

You’ll take part in quite a few things as part of your business, ranging from meetings with employees to consultations with partners and suppliers. These can take up a lot of time and effort, draining your energy levels. Preventing this is vital.

The biggest drain on your time is not knowing how your time is actually spent. The first thing I do when advising startups is ask them if they know Sade… yep, the singer (and the acronym below).

Sure, Smooth Operator is about a “player”, but if you apply the lyrics “move in space with minimum waste and maximum joy” to your work, then operations work more smoothly.

With S.A.D.E., ask yourself:

  • Why do I do this task?
  • Does it need to be done or can I cut it?
  • Does it get me to where I want to go?

Then, you’ll want to apply S.A.D.E. to determine ways to Simplify, Automate, Delegate, or Eliminate the task to free up (get my template here).

3. Set Realistic Expectations

Expectations are crucial. That’ll be the case with everyone you’re engaged with, from customers and employees to suppliers and stakeholders. If people don’t know what’s expected of them – and what they should expect from you – you’re setting yourself up for miscommunication, headache, and stolen energy.

Don’t over promise. By setting these expectations and being clear about time, deliverables, and responsibilities, you can avoid all of that negativity. This is hands-down one of the best ways to protect your energy.

4. Enforce Hours

Don’t confuse this with limiting your time and responsibilities above. Rather, this is meant to be time bounding your working day. The quickest way to run out of energy is by being available at all times. 99% of client needs and company issues can wait. To protect yourself from burnout, enforce work hours.

Only making yourself available for business during these hours makes sure you don’t have to waste your energy outside of it. Work on this at the same time you’re setting boundaries.

5. Surround Yourself With the Right People

The saying “You’re the sum of the 5 people you surround yourself with” is a cliché for a reason. It’s true.

The people in your life affect your energy. That’s why it’s essential that you protect it by surrounding yourself with the right individuals. You need people who will lift you up instead of drain you. Who will challenge you to be better version of yourself. Who will support you.

If you don’t have a circle of friends or counterparts in your entrepreneurial journey, then engage in courses, communities, and events to find the people who will help you along your way. As an entrepreneur, your peer set is one of your most important assets. It can make or break your most important commodity, your energy, so be mindful in who you surround yourself with.

6. Keep a Healthy Lifestyle

This is a protect your energy 101 tip, but it’s important enough to be repeated here. A healthy lifestyle significantly adds to your energy levels. This means you should:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Sleep enough
  • Reduce stress

Your body is both an obstacle and a vehicle. Its impact on your day to day is determined by which version you feed. By taking care of your body, you can protect your energy and have more of it to pour into your business.

7. Automate Where You Can

Technology has come a long way and there are now quite a few things you can automate in your business. This includes everything from bookkeeping to social media updates and email responses.

The key to automating is figuring out which tasks need to be done but don’t necessarily require your personal touch. If you can find a tool, bot, or software that can help you with that – automate it.

This will protect your energy by giving you more time and headspace to focus on the things that need your attention.

8. Let Go of Perfectionism

This is a tough one, especially for entrepreneurs who want to put their best foot forward.

We’ve heard that perfect is the enemy of good, but truthfully it’s the enemy of progress. Think about it. If you waited to ride a bike until it was perfect, you never would have ridden at all. You needed to make errors to learn. To progress.

In the words of Thomas Edison “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” 

Embrace every moment that it’s not perfect. Without your 5th attempt, you’d never have your 6th… and that could be the one that changes everything.

9. Choose Partnerships Carefully

At times, you’ll spend more waking hours with your business partner than with your significant other. Few things will impact your energy more than this. If you’re going to partner with someone when you’re starting a business, you need to do more than just consider whether or not they have the necessary skills.

Consider your personalities and whether you can work well together. Focus on working with someone you can collaborate with and actually get along with while running your business. You’ll spend a significant amount of time with them every day. You’ll want to make sure it’s not a drain on your energy levels.

8. Eat the Frog

Knocking your most difficult task out early (a.k.a. your “frog”) frees up mental space, releases the negative energy associated with the burden of the task, and sets the tone of accomplishment for the remainder of the day.

Mark Twain famously said once you’ve eaten the frog, “nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.” This is a phenomenal productivity hack and is a powerful way to free yourself from negative energy situations.

  1. Identify the frog (what’s your hardest task)
  2. Eat the frog (knock that task out)
  3. Repeat daily (small actions lead to grand accomplishments)

9. Pause

If you’re experiencing a lot of emotions or feeling overpowered by a certain situation, it’s natural to feel as though you’re not in control of your own body. You might not be fully present in yourself.

Thomas Jefferson’s famous advice “Count to 10 when you’re angry. Count to 100 when you’re very angry” holds true in any situation where you need to remain calm or just want to feel good.

As simple as it seems, there’s legitimacy to its ability to help. Try:

  • Taking deep breaths
  • Briefly remove yourself from the situation and centering yourself
  • Taking time to understand the situation and how you feel about it

Once you’ve taken your “10 seconds”, you’ll be better able to deal with the situation.

10. It’s About Them Not You

Unless you’ve chosen to work remotely and avoid interaction as much as possible, starting a business means that you’re going to have to interact with a lot of people. Unfortunately, not all of these interactions will be positive. People will be upset, angry, or simply in a bad mood.

It’s easy to let this affect you. In fact, it’s common.

I remember one time I was getting off the subway on my way to our office in NY and as the doors opened, the oncoming passenger walked straight into me. It was as if they wanted to go through me. We were belly to belly (literally) when I said, “are you serious?”. Their response – “deadly”. I could do nothing but laugh at the situation as I moved out of the way, but behind that laughter I was fuming.

This wrecked my ability to do my job all day, as I envisioned all of the things I should have said or done in the moment. Was bothered for days. Looking back, it’s all ridiculous.

That was about them. Not me.

You’ll find that the majority of the experiences in your interactions aren’t about you. They’re about the person you’re dealing with.

11. Use Constructive Confrontation

In his book Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression, therapist Mark Gorkin offers his methodology for “constructive confrontation“:

  1. Use an “I” statement – Beginning your exchange with someone in a way that takes ownership (i.e. “I’m feeling…” or “I’m frustrated”) sets up the conversation in a more easily receptible manner.
  2. Be specific in the problem description – My partner always asks me to give 3 examples when I state an issue I have. While at times, this can drive me crazy, it allows me to be sure that I’m not coming a conversation saying “you always do…”, but rather saying “hey, I’ve asked for xyz multiple times this week and haven’t seen anything. Is everything okay?” That frees up so much negative energy, as you’re able to immediately address the real issue.
  3. Talk through effects and expectations – If you needed something done and it wasn’t, what was the effect it had on you / your business? From there, lay out specific expectations.
  4. Acknowledge the other person and ask for input – This is huge. Nobody is going to respond well to you if you don’t hear them. Acknowledge them. Ask for their input on how to move forward.
  5. Let it go. One of Amazon’s core principles is to “Disagree and commit”. Disagreements are healthy. Challenges are necessary. However, once you’ve decided on a path forward, then commit to it. The same holds true here. Once you’ve gone through steps 1-4 above, commit to the path forward and let it go.

12. Find “Me” Time

I wake up every morning an hour and a half before my partner. While she’s cuddling under our blankets with our dog, I’m having an early cup of coffee on the back deck watching the birds.

I’m not great with meditation, but this is the closest thing to a meditative state to start the day that I can have.

Then I spend 20-30 minutes writing before working on personal (not job related) projects.

I’m not great at the “gym life”. But, I try to ride my bike multiple times weekly and find an hour to play basketball 4-5 times a week.

This is my me time. Whether you want to read a book, go fly fishing, meditate… whatever, just find time that is about you and about fulfilling some level of enjoyment away from everyone and everything.

13. Improve Your Mental Diet

You are what you eat. This applies to your mental space as much as it applies to your waist. What you consume impacts every other aspect of your life.

In the same way you put effort into making your food diet healthy, you’ll need to keep your mental diet healthy. Consume content that sharpens you. That challenges you. That brings you joy.

Be mindful of not just what you consume, but when you consume. I used to open my phone and watch a few minutes of TikTok right before going to bed and right after waking up. My day ended and began based upon an algorithm. Not based upon where I wanted to focus my energy.

Think about that. If you’re starting and ending your day without intention in your consumption, your energy has significantly shifted from center.

The more effort you put into this, the better you’ll protect your energy and look after your mental health.

14. Know Your Worth

Doubt has a large impact on your energy levels, especially if you’re doubting yourself constantly. What if you’re not making the right decision for your business? What if you’re not good enough as an entrepreneur? Are you actually able to run a business?

If these questions have popped into your head, they’ve likely done so a few times. They’ll affect your mental health, leading you to feeling more anxious and depressed. To counteract this, you’ll need to know your worth.

Highlighting the ways you’ve made effective and positive decisions with your company, focusing on how your employees respect you as an entrepreneur, and similar measures all help with this. Knowing your worth lets you build up your confidence and properly deal with customer complaints and similar issues.

Final thoughts

If you don’t protect your energy when you’re starting a business, you’ll quickly find yourself overworked, stressed, anxious, and possibly even depressed. Being aware of your energy levels and mental state helps figure out when you need to take a step back. And, that ultimately makes you better at your job without losing yourself in the process.

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