Personal Energy and Frugality

Me finishing Chicago Marathon by rbackowski on Flickr!Whenever I write about how I organize my life, I usually get several comments and emails from individuals who lament their lack of energy. “I get tired just reading that task list!” is a common thing that I hear.

Here’s the thing: compared to many people I know, I feel like a very low-energy person. As I’ve mentioned before, I have hypothyroidism (since birth) and I take Synthroid each morning as a supplement. One of the side effects of hypothyroidism is a fairly low energy level, and there are times when I really feel the effects. I have to make myself get going - and it takes about everything I have.

Because of that perspective, I’ve noticed many times that the frugal way of doing things is often the way that requires some significant energy output.

I could go out in the yard and play with the kids for free, or we could go watch a documentary and burn some electricity in the process.

I could bust my tail and make a delicious supper, or we could open up the pocketbooks and go out to eat - or have someone bring us food.

I could make up a batch of homemade laundry detergent, or I could just buy one at the store.

I could go ride a bike two miles to the post office to deliver a package, or I could fire up the truck and drive there.

I could stroll to the bandshell park and listen to a community concert, or I could just lounge at home on my couch and play with my Wii.

I could use cloth diapers and save on the huge replacement costs, or I could just buy disposables over and over again.

In each of these cases (and in many more cases), the frugal method often works better and is definitely cheaper than the big spender version, but the frugal way undoubtedly requires more energy output.

Given that, it makes quite a bit of sense that a lower personal energy level would result in more expensive choices. The low energy person would put a higher value on energy conservation than the high energy person and thus would be more prone to choose the more financially expensive route than the high energy person.

In other words, I tend to think that doing things to raise your natural energy level can actually have a financial benefit as well. If you feel more energetic, you feel much more like tackling tasks that can save you a bit of money. Air sealing your home doesn’t seem like an overwhelming task. Cooking a complex meal sounds like fun, not like drudgery. A bicycle ride is a happy experience, not a dreaded one.

Raising Your Energy Level
So how can a lower-energy person overcome that state in a healthy, stable way? As this idea has been percolating in my head for a while, I decided to look into that very issue. What actions can I take to overcome a low energy level without risking my health in other ways? How can I reduce my sense of tiredness and exhaustion in a positive fashion?

exhaustionI read through several books on the topic, but the one that really clicked for me was Laura Stack’s The Exhaustion Cure. For those who have read The Simple Dollar for a while, Laura Stack might be a familiar name, as I thoroughly enjoyed two of her earlier books, Find More Time (time management in one’s personal life) and Leave the Office Earlier (time management at work).

Here are the twelve most useful tips I was able to find in that read through, most of which I was able to apply directly to my own life pretty efficiently and quickly.

Get adequate sleep. You should be getting seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each day. The best way to do it is to make your sleep very routine - go through the same patterns before sleep each night. Stack also recommends drinking less fluids before bed - try cutting yourself off three hours before bed. This keeps you from waking up at night with a need to go to the bathroom. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, try a mild natural relaxant - a cup of warm milk or a glass of wine in the evening.

Get tested for sleep disorders or other problems. If you find yourself getting tired easily, especially in the morning, this may be a sign of a larger problem. Go to the doctor and describe the problems. There are lots of easily explained and easily treatable reasons for tiredness.

Eat better. A better diet can make all the difference. That doesn’t mean you have to go on some strict diet of nothing but vegetable greens and beans. It just means that you should strive to make better choices. Reduce your sugar and corn syrup intake. Eat more whole grains. Eat more fruits and vegetables that aren’t prepackaged. Drink lower fat milk.

Start a minimal exercise routine. Do something non-sedentary for thirty minutes a day, even if it’s just a walk around the block a few times. Do enough to get your blood flowing well and raise your metabolism level. You don’t have to go into triathlon training mode - just get things moving at least once a day.

Get up and move around if you start to feel low-energy or tired. If you feel your energy crashing, get up and walk around. Walk around the block, or walk around your office area. Stretch a bit - or even do some very simple yoga.

Directly address the things that are worrying you. Is a relationship stressing you out? Don’t let it fester. Go to the person and talk through the situation. Let that other person rail for a while if it makes them feel better. Resolve the problem. If it’s a personal task that stresses you out, either tackle it directly or spend your time coming up with an actual detailed plan for tackling it.

Keep your environment well-lit. Don’t work or relax in a dim environment. Keep bright lights on as often as is reasonable. This is actually something I implemented recently in my office - I upgraded the brightness in the light bulbs, and it actually lifted my energy level for working.

Scale back a bit on your required duties. If you’re feeling exhausted even thinking about your to-do list, take a serious look at your responsibilities and choose a few to scale back on. Tell your boss that you’re overloaded and you need to step back from a particular project. Don’t sign up again for a volunteer task. Reduce that to-do list to something that doesn’t overwhelm you.

Do work as far in advance of deadlines as you can. Don’t let deadlines crunch you, leaving you worn out and beaten down. Instead, as soon as a project comes up, start working on it and strive to get it done well before the deadline. This keeps you from doing the last minute crunch to get it done and lets you manage your time in a healthier fashion.

Find friends that are active and/or positive in attitude. If your circle of friends prefers to just sit around and be negative towards each other and everything else, they’re likely lowering your energy level. Seek friends who are engaged and want to do things. Also, seek friends who have a positive attitude and talk about you - and other things - in a positive fashion. Negative friends sap your energy.

Get involved with something you truly care about. Having a deep passion is a sure-fire way to get you doing something and raise your energy level throughout your life. If you’re not involved with anything that stokes your fire, spend your spare time trying lots of different activities and groups until you find the thing that clicks for you.

Read. This might seem shocking - reading is as sedentary as you can get, right? Actually, reading is incredibly mentally stimulating and can actually raise your energy level if done in moderation. Choose items that aren’t easy reading for you - instead, find things that push your understanding and knowledge and make you learn and discover new things about yourself and the world.

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