When You Have the Time… But Not the Energy

posted by Andrea | 07/8/2015

time versus energy

A couple weeks ago, I shared a post about Time and Money Management… and how I personally feel that in almost every situation, we have a choice about how we spend our time and our money.

Many people agreed with that post, some politely disagreed… but one reader left a VERY good comment that really resonated with me.

She explained that although we DO all have the same number of hours in a day, one huge variable is the amount of ENERGY we each have in any given day — or any given time period in our lives. (read her full comment here)

The moment I read that comment, I knew I had to do a follow-up blog post on that topic — because she’s right. There is a fixed amount of time for everyone, but we all have various amounts of energy.

Even someone like me who is generally quite “high energy” still has days when I’m super tired, laid up with a broken toe, moving at a slower pace due to pregnancy discomforts or morning sickness, or just not feeling 100% up to par for any number of reasons.

In those situations, I definitely do move at a slower pace, I have less motivation to tackle my to-do list, and I generally am much less productive. Not because I’m lazy or because I don’t want to get things done… but simply because I don’t have the energy to push myself any harder.

I’m sure many of you can relate, right?

I know so many people who struggle with depression, anxiety, perfectionism, chronic pain or illness, debilitating mental, emotional or physical conditions, etc. etc. — all of which can drastically affect the amount of energy they have and how productive they are.

In most situations, these people are NOT lazy… they just don’t have the energy to move forward. In fact, many times their lack of energy actually causes them more anxiety and makes them more depressed and more emotional because they get so upset that they aren’t accomplishing more each day.

It’s a vicious cycle, and one many people struggle with at various points in their lives.


In my opinion, I’ve been blessed with a very high amount of energy, drive, motivation, and determination. And although I definitely value sleep and try to make it a priority every day, I also know that I do not NEED a huge amount of sleep in order to function efficiently.

In fact, for the first 2 years of Nora’s life, there was rarely ever a night when I got more than 5 hours of broken sleep per night… and, for the most part, I still functioned completely fine. Obviously, this was not an ideal situation, but even now, I’m still amazed how well I adapted and functioned with so little sleep for so many months!

I’m also a very stubborn and persistent person (in a good way!) so once I start something, there’s a good chance I WILL NOT stop until I’m finished… even if I’m not feeling great. I’d rather push through and finish versus stop and leave a project undone.

CASE IN POINT: I may or may not have mopped and vacuumed all our floors, washed all our windows, and weeded all our planting beds this past weekend at 9 months pregnant with a broken toe. 🙂

Before I had kids, I used to joke about the fact that I could accomplish more by 10:00am than most people could in a day — and although I obviously had no way to measure that, I’m positive there were days when that statement was true. I loved waking up early and using those first 4-5 hours of the day to plow through a massive number of to-dos!

It’s not as easy now with kids, but Dave says he can always tell immediately if I’m truly sick or hurt or super tired, because I stop and rest. He knows that if I’m actually willing to go to bed early or lay down on the couch and watch TV for a bit then I really must just need a break.

Otherwise, I’m the type who can just keep going and going and going without wearing out. Yes, Nora get’s her non-stop Energizer Bunny personality from me!

I know many people who truly need 8-10 hours of sleep EVERY SINGLE night in order to function normally. I know others who need to rest in the middle of the day for a bit, otherwise they just get too worn out.

Of course, there are also seasons of life when many of us have lower energy (during a pregnancy, right after giving birth, after a surgery, when we have young children at home, when we’re taking care of aging parents or relatives, stressful periods at work, when it’s super hot and humid outside, etc. etc.)

And then there are those people who live with CONSTANT pain and struggle to do even basic tasks like laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, etc. every single day.

If you can relate to any of those situations listed above (or have lower energy for any number of reasons) you most likely completely understand what I’m trying to say in this post.


The point is… if you’re feeling discouraged by your apparent lack of productivity, I think you need to look at both factors of TIME and ENERGY. 

Yes, there are certainly ways you can better utilize your time, improve your time management skills, and learn to be more productive (hopefully my blog can help you with all of that!)

However, there’s also the factor of how much energy you have at this point in your life — and often times, your energy level is somewhat out of your own control.

So the next time you are comparing your productivity to someone else’s make sure you consider your energy level too. I think it could make a huge difference in how you view your to-do lists and how encouraged (or discouraged) you are by what you can accomplish each day.

Even though we DO all have the exact same number of hours each day (and for the most part, it’s our choice how we spend those hours), we all have different amounts of energy, and that can make a huge difference in our productivity.

Have you ever considered your energy level when you evaluate your productivity?

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Filed under: WorkTime ManagementProductivity

Leave a comment


  1. JJ


    Hope your toe is better soon! I love your blog, because I really relate to you–broken toe and all! Except I broke my pinky toe by dropping a jar of peanut butter on it. Who would have thought?!? Praying all is well and continually looking for news of Baby! =)


  2. Trisha G


    I most definitely think about my energy levels before planning my day. After the birth of my second child, I had absolutely NO energy and did nothing but sleep. I got further and further behind in my housework, I barely got food on the table, and it was big strain on my marriage. I definitely needed to make some changes! Thanks to blogs like yours, I learned some good tips that helped me learn to love to cook and manage my time and home much better. Now, after having my third child, I pretty much know what I can realistically get done in a day. Instead of putting tons of big projects on my plate all in one day (like grocery shopping, making pumpkin puree, and expecting to get laundry and dishes done, the bathroom cleaned, AND make three meals), I know that I need to spread those things out. I can now give myself a workload that I can handle without exhausting myself to the point where I sit on the couch the rest of the day beating myself up because I wanted to get so much done and simply can’t do it. Life is SO much better now that I understand how much energy certain things take and how much energy I have to do them, especially while pregnant or nursing. One day, I’ll have the energy to do all of those high-energy things in one day again, but for now, I’m good with doing what I can do. 🙂


  3. Diana


    Case In Point = nesting!!!! 😉

    Yes, I totally agree on this. I am a low-energy person and I probably give in to my “need to rest” too often. But by taking advantage of my more energetic times of day (morning) and resting midafternoon at my lowest, it all works out. I’m generally happy with what I accomplish in a day unless I know I’ve succumbed to laziness (and I can tell the difference…. 😉 )


    Andrea Reply:

    haha “case in point” = how I am allllll the time 🙂


  4. Christie


    Thank you so much for posting this! Very considerate and truthful


  5. Rebecca@TheFamilyFinder.Net


    There are two things that impact my energy levels, what I have eaten recently and my lady cycle. There are two days a month when I have ZERO energy. I have a little more control of the food. I have learned what foods knock me out. For the two days a month, I know when they are coming and don’t set my expectations too high. Like the other comment said, I give myself grace.


    Paleo Gal Reply:

    Me too!! Well on one count at least. I am 16 years past the “lady cycle” days, but I discovered that following a fairly low carb paleo type diet makes a huge difference I energy. If I indulge in starchy sugary foods my blood sugar goes bananas bouncing up and down. Any sort of carbs at lunch make me sleepy! So I eat them at dinner, and stick with good proteins and healthy fats for my other meals. I have so much energy when I stick to this plan. And for some reason I stay on task better as well. I think you are on to something!

    Andrea, in my 20s and 30s I was like you. It is dismaying to slow down in my late 60s. I guess it is a season of life. I try very hard to get my tasks done during my peak energy hours. I just seem to have fewer peak energy hours!


  6. Jennifer


    Since being pregnant I have definitely had to adjust my expectations of my energy levels! Hopefully that will also prove useful once the baby is born!

    I often make my to-do list distinguishing just a few MUST DO items and starring them, and designating the rest as ‘do what I can’. If I accomplish the starred items, I consider my list done, so the benchmark is set nice and low for success! Sometimes just that feeling of succeeding gives me the energy to move on to the less critical things, but if not, then I know I’ve spent my limited energy on the most important stuff.

    One tip that might be useful comes from David Allen, who wrote Getting Things Done. He advises keeping separate To Do lists based on type of task, e.g. computer tasks, phone calls, etc., so you can tackle things according to what setting you’re in. Similarly, if your energy levels fluctuate, for projects it might be useful to have a low-energy versus high-energy list, so on a tired day or a tired time of day you could plug away at the small, low-energy tasks easily because they’re already grouped in a list together.


    Sherry Reply:

    As someone with a chronic illness I love the idea of having a low-energy and a high-energy to-do list. It’s definitely something I am going to implement. Instead of lamenting that I’m not getting enough done when I’m not feeling 100% I can at least work on things like organizing my digital photos or my warranties and manuals and save things like painting the living room or organizing the basement for when I have more energy. Thanks for the idea, Jennifer!


    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, this is basically what I do with my Top 5 List — I make sure I get those few things done every day and everything else is just extra. Your starred items sound like my “top 5 items” 🙂 Good system!


  7. Kelly S


    This is a great point.

    What I am trying to figure out is:
    – how to increase energy levels
    – how to maximize my most energetic times of day. I feel like you’ve written about this a bit, but trying to know when to do the work that requires the most focus vs. what kind of jobs will re-energize me when I am feeling lazy vs. when to just give up and read a book. 🙂


    Debbie W. Reply:

    Kelly S. – Me too!

    Andrea – Thank you for writing this one. It is so easy to feel lazy when I’m working along side of someone who naturally has more energy than me. And I wish I could feel that strong motivation for the task that you described, which would help me to just push through the fatigue. I love that you not only write about what you do to manage your time , but also the motivation behind it. That has been helpful to me in finding my own motivation. I’d love to read more posts about this topic!


  8. Ann


    Thanks for this. I have NEVER been a high energy person but starting over with a 3 year old at age 50 has truly tested the amount I can get done in one day. Exhaustion has become my middle name!


  9. tina


    Yes-energy level is so important to consider!

    My husband is constantly reminding me of how well I do if I feel down or like I have to compare myself to other moms who have it “all together”. My sleep is non-existant at this point, an avg 2 hours of sleep a day(Wish this was an exaggeration!). I compare it to feeling like death.

    There are thyroid problems, insomnia, a toddler like your Nora, a new baby, a husband that works third shift 6 days a week. Sleep is just not there. So we have to give ourselves grace or we’ll go crazy!

    I remember sleeping 5 1/2 hours one day and I woke up and just started singing! It was like the best gift ever. I had so much energy. I kept asking if this what people feel like every day then I could get so much done! lol

    But really we all just do the best we can at any given time and that really is good enough. We’re all in this together!


    Andrea Reply:

    WOW, you’re a rock star!! yes, I can relate to how awful it feels to be SOOO tired all the time. I said numerous times that I fully understand why sleep deprivation was used as a torture technique!

    my ONE saving grace with Nora was that she would ONLY sleep when she was laying on me or snuggling with me, so in order to get her to sleep, I had to lay there too — and although I had a million things to do, I often fell asleep for 20 minutes here and there throughout the day (because she only slept for 20 minutes at a time!) Night time was a different story because, like you, I was awake for most of the night for many many months!

    I’ve been so spoiled with Simon that I’m actually a little nervous for all the sleep deprivation that is bound to come with the new baby.

    We are both lucky to have supportive husbands who understands. that’s HUGE in my opinion!
    I have no advice for you, just sympathy… but it sounds like you’re doing the best you can with the cards you’ve been dealt!


  10. Jen


    I think this is a great point. I’ve been anemic on and off for most of my adult life, and that has a dramatic affect on my energy levels. I know I probably need to either see my doc or at least start taking iron supplements when I have several days in a row of un-period-related exhaustion and lack of motivation. I’m generally a pretty big “go-getter”, too, so prolonged exhaustion and weariness is usually an indicator of something with my health, and it’s almost always iron deficiency. My husband is great about jumping in and picking up my slack when this happens, and it can take weeks for my energy levels to return to normal, though usually just realizing what is going on an adjusting my routine to accommodate my best times of day can be enough to keep my house from becoming disgusting or my children from being neglected. lol


    jade Reply:

    Jen – I too have iron deficiency anemia (diagnosed at 15, so going on for almost 25 years). A few years ago I decided to (try to) become more proactive than reactive. I take iron supplements – playing around with dosage and frequency until I found the right fit. I am consistent in taking the supplement. I also make sure I eat a little red meat every few days. There are other iron rich foods – red meat just works best for me.

    I highly recommend taking a vitamin C supplement daily because C helps our bodies absorb iron. Calcium blocks iron – so timing of ingesting this mineral can help too.

    I still get those low periods that take time to bounce back from – but preventing my iron levels from getting too low has helped me out dramatically! So much so I felt like I needed to encourage you as a fellow iron lacker. 🙂

    Best wishes to you!


  11. The Busy Brunette


    Andrea, I am SO like you in terms of needing to constantly be busy. There are so many days when I don’t feel like it, though — believe me. But I find I’m happy when I accomplish things! My husband is like yours… he knows something’s wrong if I lay on the couch… haha!
    Today we’re expecting a lot of rain, so these days can really be hard to get motivated. I’m going to try, though!
    Sorry to hear about your toe, by the way. Hope you are feeling okay otherwise! Almost baby time!
    “The Busy Brunette”