Best Ways to Manage Your Energy Throughout the Workday


Whether you struggle to get going on work in the morning and hit your stride in the afternoon, or you hit the ground running in the morning but experience a 3 p.m. slump, most people experience peaks and troughs of energy throughout their daily routines. Either way, these cycles of energy leave them spent by quitting time. Over 1 in 3 US workers report missing out on life outside work due to work-related exhaustion.

This article isn't about squeezing every last drop of productivity out of your day—it's about finding balance. A balance that allows for high productivity, yes, but one that also prioritizes happiness and sustains your energy. Because, let's face it, a burnt-out brain isn't going to produce its best work.

How does our energy rise and fall throughout the day?

Do you reach for a cup of coffee at 3 p.m. and count the minutes until work is over? Or maybe you’ve found yourself surprisingly alert late at night? 

That's your circadian rhythm at work. It's a natural, internal process that regulates your sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. But it doesn't only impact when you feel sleepy—it also affects your energy levels throughout the day. 

The cycle of energy levels throughout your day is known as your ultradian rhythms. While circadian rhythms control our body's daily sleep and wake schedule, ultradian rhythms are like the mini-me version. They're shorter, happen several times in one day, and handle how everyone naturally makes energy, uses it, and recovers.

Factors like exposure to light—hello, sunshine (or lack thereof)—can greatly impact these rhythms. Then, consider the quality of your indoor environment. Air quality and temperature play more of a role than you might think.

There are also a myriad of biological and psychological elements that affect energy levels. We’ll hit on these later, but for now, remember that they can ignite your energy fluctuation. So, understanding how your energy ebbs and flows during the day can help you work with your body, not against it.

Spotting energy drain

Pinpointing what’s making you feel sluggish helps you understand your rhythms and manage your energy effectively. Consider tracking your energy levels during routine tasks throughout the workday for a week to identify what drains your energy and when you're most productive. 

If you notice a consistent energy dip or feelings of exhaustion, then it's time to dig into the root cause. Here are some questions you can ask yourself about your energy:

  • How alert are you generally? 
  • Do you find time to exercise? 
  • Are your sleep patterns regular? 
  • How engaged are you during meetings?
  • How long does it take you to complete tasks?
  • What during your workday irritates you and why?
  • Do you take breaks between meetings and tasks or stack them back-to-back? 

When freelance content marketer Masooma Memon reflected on her energy, she noticed context switching left her feeling depleted. 

Recognizing these patterns is the first step toward better energy management.

4 factors to consider for energy management

After tracking your energy for the week, it's time to reflect. Identify when you're primed for higher-level thinking and solving complex problems. 

Dr. Sharon Grossman—psychologist and success coach who wrote 7E Solution to Burnout and hosts the Optimize Your Life podcast—suggests you consider these four factors:

Biological factors

Health’s impact is no secret: 75% of employees recognize that physical health influences their mental health, and vice versa. Illnesses and chronic conditions can impact our energy levels. 

Dr. Grossman says a healthy diet, balanced hormones, and regular exercise contribute to sustained energy. Also, try to get enough sleep at night to energize you for the next day.

Psychological factors

Your mindset significantly influences your energy management. Negative self-criticism, for example, can drain your energy. Dr. Grossman asserts that mindset plays a hefty role in our mental well-being.  

Dr. Grossman says she thinks about how out of all of a person’s thousands of thoughts during the day, the negative ones drain so much energy. “If you are in a job that you don't like, if you have a lot of conflict at work, if you've got a stressful job—whatever the case may be—if you're having your internal negative self-criticism and things like that, that can be a very big energy drain for you.”

And she’s not the only one who notices that trend. Gallup’s 2023 report found that 44% of employees experience significant daily stress, and over half are struggling—a trend that's been increasing for the last decade. 

Personality traits matter, too. If you're an introvert in a people-facing job or an extrovert doing solitary computer work, you'll need to find ways to accommodate the mismatch.

Work-life balance

One way to do this is to find outlets outside of work that energize you and help you feel like yourself.

Dr. Grossman warns that even those who love what they do can burn out due to physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Symptoms like brain fog and difficulty focusing can creep in, hindering even the things you're good at. 

So, what else sustains you beyond work? Your activities should provide a sense of purpose, and finding enjoyment outside work is just as crucial. These activities are key to conquering work-life balance

What if I feel like chilling on the couch and binge-watching TV?

Dr. Grossman had a client, a physician, who worked longer hours on Mondays and preferred to unwind alone by watching Netflix in the evening. As an introvert who spent a long day seeing patients in the office, he didn’t want to talk to anybody: not even his wife or kids. 

But after having dinner and watching Netflix from the couch, he didn’t feel recharged afterwar.

She advised him that this approach is fine for relaxation and recovery time. But if the goal is to rejuvenate his energy, he may need to consider a different activity.

Setting boundaries

Just like on an airplane, where you might cover your head with a blanket to signal "do not disturb," you need to establish a similar system in your work environment. 

Set boundaries with colleagues or family members or other interruptions. You can do this by creating protocols and expectations for effective communication. 

If you do remote work from home and experience interruptions from a kid who eagerly wants your attention, you can tell your kid you'll spend time with them at a specific time after setting them up with an activity.

Like with your kid, you can set boundaries with colleagues, too. Consider setting office hours or having colleagues schedule appointments where colleagues can consult with you. Doing so preserves your focus time for deep work and makes it easier to manage your mental energy throughout the day. It also encourages your colleagues to seek out answers for themselves. 

When your coworkers face delayed gratification and formality, sometimes they’ll just find a solution on their own. "Sometimes, your coworker doesn’t want to look something up because it would be faster to get your answer. Now, if they have to wait for you to answer their question, they will look it up because they want to get the answer faster.”

How to manage your energy throughout the workday

Back-to-back meetings, constant multitasking, doomscrolling on social media, or juggling too many open tabs might be your energy thieves. 

Dr. Grossman suggests consciously choosing activities that boost your energy throughout the day. Along with that, use timeboxing to schedule your most demanding tasks for times you have high energy for work. Then, slot in more manageable or lower-intensity tasks when your energy tends to dip. 

The goal is to foster an awareness of personal energy patterns throughout the day and use them to your advantage. As Dr. Grossman points out, planning and preparing for energy is better than preserving it in the moment. In this sample schedule, you can see examples of how to map out your day to complement your energy levels:

Morning: Set the tone for productivity

Set the tone for your day with morning routines designed to boost your physical, mental, and emotional energy.  Rather than picking up your phone first thing, why not go for a walk to get natural light and kickstart your day?

Start with a few minutes of sun: 

Exposure to natural light wakes the brain better than draining that first cup of coffee. The Mayo Clinic reports that adequate sunlight can balance serotonin levels and your circadian rhythm, impacting your mood, sleep, and energy levels. 

Get in the right mindset:

Meditating and journaling can help jumpstart positive emotions and purposeful decision-making in the morning. Also, consider dressing for comfort because even uncomfortable shoes that cause blisters will result in negative emotions.

Tackle your most pressing and challenging tasks first:

"Eat that frog first thing in the morning because that's when you have the most ability to focus,” Dr. Grossman said. “If we don’t, by the time we get to the big things on our to-do lists, we're already tapped out if we've started with the small tasks like email."

Try for free

Midday: Navigate energy peaks and troughs

Congrats! You’ve made it to the middle of the day, and there are things you can do for yourself now—when it’s typical to take a break—that will set you up for a more energetic afternoon. 

Take strategic breaks:

According to Harvard Business Review, you should choose activities that contribute to, rather than deplete, your energy during these breaks. For you, it might be desk yoga, walking the dog, or calling a friend.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests drinking water throughout the day to combat chronic health issues that can sap your energy.

Eat lunch away from your desk:

Scheduling a daily lunch break to eat a healthy lunch—without mindlessly eating in front of your computer—can increase job satisfaction and efficiency. Avoid overly heavy lunches if a full stomach tends to make you drowsy.

Afternoon: Sustain your momentum

Post-lunch, you may start to feel your energy waning. Here are some tactics for counteracting that afternoon slump:

Keep taking breaks:

To combat the infamous post-lunch slump, take short breaks involving walks or mindfulness exercises. 

Power nap:

As the Mayo Clinic suggests, a short nap early in the afternoon can also help prevent a late afternoon slump.

Plan fun post-work activities:

Scheduling creative rewards and outings a week in advance can help quell work anxiety and energize your days and weeks. Besides, having post-work activities planned makes it less likely that you’ll end up binging Netflix on the couch with takeout because you have things to look forward to.

Essential tools for peak performance and energy

While managing your energy can feel like trying to please Goldilocks, the right tools help make consistent energy attainable. 

Here's a rundown of resources that make it possible to harness your energy and streamline your workflow:

  • Fitness, sleep, and water intake trackers: These can help you monitor your physical energy levels, ensuring you're always in tune with your body's needs.
  • Meal delivery services: Time-saving and nutritious, these services serve healthy food without the hassle of meal planning or grocery shopping.
  • Meditation, focus music, and ambient noise apps: These peaceful sounds can energize you while helping you maintain a steady focus on meaningful work.
  • Noise-canceling headphones and “Do Not Disturb” signs: Simple yet effective, these establish a distraction-free zone when you need to buckle down and concentrate.

Many folks find their energy sapped by too many open tabs, constant notification pings, marathon meetings, or frequent interruptions. That's why solutions that thwart these energy busters are in high demand.

Enter Sunsama, a smart daily planner designed to protect your energy and stave off energy slumps and burnout by bringing calm and focus to your day-to-day routine. Sunsama automates minor scheduling tasks that nibble away at your time, supports timeboxing for efficient scheduling, and features Focus Mode that blocks all other tech distractions so you can single-task without context-switching

With a tool like Sunsama, improving your energy and time management is about figuring out how your energy levels change, spotting when things are going off the rails, and using clever tactics to get back on track and maintain high performance.

Keen to start on your energy management journey? Learn more about your productivity habits by signing up for a free 14-day Sunsama trial today.

Facebook iconTwitter IconLinkedIn icon