As a working parent, you don’t have any time to waste.  Yet as life becomes busier, it becomes more difficult to evaluate what might be wasting your time and energy.  Some things that used to inspire and motivate you now seem to drain you.  You can’t put your finger on it, but you know there are areas of your life that sap your energy.  These are things I like to call “energy vampires.”

Here are the things that I’ve found waste my energy the most, which ultimately ends up wasting my precious time:

1) Toxic people.  There are many different types of toxic people in the world, but there are a few in particular who have monopolized years of my life:

Troublemakers.  These people gossip about you behind your back.  They criticize and put you down.  They like to stir up conflict or throw you under the bus.  They seem to thrive in chaotic situations.  You get consumed with trying to “heal” these relationships, but they continue to leave a trail of frustration, tears, and distraction with every interaction you have.

Crazy-makers.  These people make you feel like you’re living in the twilight zone.  Their perception of reality simply doesn’t make sense to you.  You try to reason with them, to “help” them see your point of view, but to no avail.  Leaving conversations with these people is bewildering, confusing, and unsatisfying.  You get wrapped up in trying to find that “magical” explanation that will help them see the obvious, but they are dedicated to their point of view, and your efforts are wasted.

Drama queens.  Everything in their life is an emergency, and they need your help get through it.  They always seems to have a story you can empathize with, so you feel guilty if you don’t step in to help.  You get an ego boost from being powerful enough to “save” them, but somehow nothing ever improves in their lives.  One dramatic scenario is just replaced with another.  They seem intent on creating and staying in difficult situations.  Their lives are never just peaceful and positive.  They’re victims, and you feel responsible for solving their problems.

Evaluate all of the relationships in your life: your friendships, romantic relationships, co-workers, bosses, parents, in-laws, and siblings… Do any of these people fit the descriptions above?  Ask yourself whether the energy you’ve put into these relationships is worth so much of your attention at this point.

It’s one thing to be supportive and available to someone who is close to you who truly needs help.  Just make sure you’re intentional about the amount of time you dedicate to their cause, and keep your eyes open about how invested you get in the outcome of their lives.  Don’t let their issues consume your life.  And if there’s no reciprocity in the relationship, consider whether it’s worth continuing to have them in your life at all.  The truth is that you can’t change anyone else, but you can decide who receives your attention.

2) An Unsatisfying Career  This is a tough one because everyone needs money to live, especially with a young family to support.  And these days you may just feel lucky to have a job.  But it seems to me that too many people have simply accepted the common myth that “work” is supposed to be a miserable experience.  It is tempting to accept the job that offers the highest salary, but basing your career choices on money alone often leads to resentment, stress, and exhaustion.  If you have a full-time job, you spend a majority of your adult life at work.  If that work is unfulfilling, it’s going to drain your energy – and quickly.

There’s a good YouTube video called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” based on the book by Dan Pink of the same title.  This video is a short summary of the book, which demonstrates that monetary reward doesn’t motivate people as effectively as most companies think.  In fact, once you get beyond “rudimentary cognitive skill” (i.e., you’re an educated professional), a higher monetary incentive actually produces a negative result.  Studies show that when you have a task that requires some conceptual, creative thinking, people are actually motivated by three specific factors:

Autonomy.  Our desire to be self-directed, to have control over our own lives.

Mastery.  Our urge to get better at something.  It’s satisfying to improve our skills.

Purpose.  People want to have some transcendent meaning in their lives.

Take a look at your career.  Do you have all three of these qualities as part of your job?  If not, that may be sapping your energy and wasting your time.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m motivated and inspired, I accomplish more in one hour than I do over several days when I’m bored or feeling micromanaged.  Take stock of your own work situation, and see if you need to improve any of the above areas.  Can you talk to your boss about working more independently?  Maybe you have too much on your plate, so you never have enough time to really master the work you’re doing.  Perhaps you work for a company that revolves around money alone and doesn’t appear to care at all about improving the world in any way.  See what you can do to maximize these three qualities in your life so you can feel more energized and motivated (which will lead to natural productivity).

3) Zoning Out.  Now, I am a big supporter of letting go of always being “on,” especially as a working parent.  We pack so much into our day (raising tiny humans on top of a full-time job is a lot of work!), and I think it’s necessary to check out for a bit to recharge at times.  My favorite ways to zone out are to browse Facebook and Pinterest, watch a favorite TV show (Fixer Upper, anyone?), or enjoy a glass of wine while I watch the sunset.

There does seem to be a limit to these activities though.  If I engage in them too often or at the wrong times (say, right after work when my son wants my attention), it makes me feel lazy and purposeless.  One of the ways I’ve found to keep my need to check out under control so it doesn’t derail my productivity and engagement with my family is to schedule it.  When I have a specific time of my day when I know I’ll get to zone out, that helps me stay engaged and in the moment when I need to be.  I “zone out” intentionally, and not just at random moments to escape my overwhelming life. 

I’ve implemented a few little tricks to keeping this area of my life under control:

Schedule social media time.  Check into Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest (or whatever your favorite is) at pre-scheduled times of day.  Give yourself a deadline, and the TURN IT OFF.  Remove the social media notifications on your phone so you aren’t compelled to open the app every time that little alert shows up.  Get your fix at appropriate times, and then move on to something more meaningful.

Record your favorite TV shows.  Forward through the commercials.  Commit to turning the TV off at the end of the show.  Don’t get sucked into watching show after show after show.

Choose to consume something that uplifts, inspires or informs you.  I used to turn on the news first thing in the morning, which I found just depressed me, a feeling that lingered throughout the day.  Now, I have a queue of motivational podcasts ready to go, which I listen to as I get ready for work.  It’s ultimately a passive activity so I can let my mind wander, but overall this has greatly improved my mood.  I learn something new that contributes to my self-development every morning, and it sets me up for a day of focus and contribution before I even leave the house.

Your time is precious.  There are so many ways that life can drain your energy, and it’s up to you to eliminate these “energy vampires” if you want to lead a more meaningful and calm life.  The areas I described above are the biggest time-sucks in my life, but there are plenty others that may be stealing your time.  Take stock of your life, and decide what areas are draining your energy.  The more you can limit these sources of energy vampires, the more free time you’ll have to focus on what’s truly important to you.

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