For the last couple of years I’ve been using the seasonal markers of the equinoxes and the solstices to remind me to review the previous three months. These points of change and balance feel right for noticing how things are going with my creative and personal endeavours. But, I’ve also noticed something else happening when I slow down at these moments of seasonal shift – I become more aware of my own seasons and the rhythm to my year.
At the equinoxes in Autumn and Spring, when light and dark are balanced, I tend to consider the balance in my own life, whether things are feeling ok or whether there may be some work to do to bring things back to where everything is equal. Incidentally, these times also seem to correspond to when I am busiest in my work (things gearing up in September or taking off in March) which is when I am most likely to have my blinkers on and to let work things take over. So, it’s a good reminder to allow time for other elements, like creativity and time with friends and family, and to give them space.
At the solstices in Midwinter and Midsummer, when the light is at its lowest and at its greatest, I tend to take a wider view of things, a longer look back and forwards. What is interesting to me is that although the winter solstice comes at a time when I am often at my lowest ebb, energetically and emotionally, I see it as a time of hope. The nights may be long and dark, but the light is returning. This is a good time for me in the year to look back over the autumn and winter, to see how I’ve been feeling and to start looking forward to the time in spring when my energy will return and I will want to take on bigger things.
Conversely, when the summer solstice comes around I am feeling full of optimism and energy from the light, I am likely to be in full flow with work and life things, so that everything is feeling positive. I don’t always feel like reflecting and doing a review at that time, but I know that there are benefits to doing it when I’m feeling good. It’s a very different feeling of reflection from winter. Although I rejoice at the longest day, I am mindful that the light will be going, and that although summer can feel endless at that moment, soon enough it will be autumn and winter. The energy at midsummer can be great for planning ahead for those leaner times, to set out a course I’d like to follow, knowing that sometimes, once I’m in it, I don’t have the energy to do that work.
This year, on today’s equinox, I’ve decided to look at energy as the thread throughout my work and life. I’m going to review things from that point of view rather than using the usual metrics of accomplishment and activity.
There is nothing wrong with doing a review based on what you did in the past 3 months, 6 months, 9 months… and asking what you still want to do in the months ahead. But, it focuses very much on numbers (quantity of work, frequency), and it can be quite binary (done/not done, successful/not successful). And this can sometimes leave us feeling a bit disheartened if we haven’t done as much as we set out to do, even if we are trying to be kind to ourselves in our analysis! In choosing another way to frame the review, I wonder if the same work can be done, but in a way that embraces the nature of life to be messy and not go to plan, that we are all imperfect and that’s ok.
I’ve used balance as a frame for review before (see my Spring equinox post from 2018) and that feels like a good way to look at things. Today I’m going to share the process that I’m using, based on energy, for a slightly different approach:
Energy Review & Planning
Start your review by going through your diary or calendar and writing a list of everything you’ve done over the past 3 months (or up to the point of your last review). This list should try to include non work things as well, as a reminder of how busy you really are.
Then, instead of looking back at your goals for the year, or for the last 3 months, and seeing how well you matched up, take a look at your list of activities from a point of view of the energy those activities gave you or used up.
Create 3 columns:
· Gave me energy
· Energy is balanced
· Drained me of energy
Now, categorise all the activities you got up to under those headings.
Be honest with yourself – no one else will see this so it’s ok to put things under ‘drained me of energy’ that you feel awkward about (maybe things you have no choice about doing or you think you should enjoy but don’t). This is a non-judgemental exercise, try not to over-think it or critisise yourself, just acknowledge where the energy seems to go when you do certain things.
Look at your 3 lists. Notice the things that feel obvious, or that you weren’t expecting.
· What activities give you the most energy?
· Which ones take up the most energy?
· Why is that the case? What about those activities makes you feel that way?
· Is there a list that feels like it might be too long or too short?
· Does this give you an indication of where the balance might be off a bit?
Now, thinking ahead.
· What are the things you’d like to do in the next 3 months? (These could be goals from the beginning of the year or new things.)
Consider them holistically – not just the big outcome (eg update website) but the component parts that you’ll need to do to get there. I wouldn’t recommend breaking it down into a really long list, but maybe a list of the 5 key stages you need to go through. Now, think about those stages in terms of your energy:
· Which tasks will fill you with energy?
· Which are neutral?
· Which will reduce your energy?
What next? Once you’ve identified how doing those things is likely to make you feel, you can start to plan your time better. I’m not advocating avoiding doing tasks that drain you of energy, these things always have to be done, but you can choose when you do them and how you do them.
You could try to balance your day or week with tasks in terms of the energy they give and take, so that you don’t end up feeling exhausted after a week of energy-sucking activities. You could also match up your tasks to the times of the day, days of the week or months when you know you have more energy. For example, I am at my brightest in the morning and at the beginning of the week, so it makes sense to do the most important work, or the things that might challenge me, then. There is no point deliberately choosing to do something that will leave me feeling tired on a Thursday afternoon in February. Unless I mitigate that with other things.
We can’t always plan everything and quite a lot of our life is up to other people’s schedules. But we do have a certain amount of flexibility. So, for the things that you are responsible for, that you control, focusing on where the energy is going might mean that you can adapt your working routines to help deal with the things that don’t feel great, as well as amplify the things that do.
But, for those times when you have no choice, when you’re faced with needing or having to do energy-draining activities at a less-than-ideal time, then you need to ask – how can I help myself with this? What supporting things could help me maintain my energy? Will I need to invest more time in my health (exercise, eating habits, sleep etc) to get me through it? Do I need to balance those things with some really fantastic activities or a break? Only you know what helps to restore your energy levels, but use that knowledge to help identify tricky patches up ahead, and to ease them.
I’m not entirely sure if this approach will work but it feels like a good way to look at things (for me, today) and maybe it will be interesting to see what comes of it. What I do know is that autumn and winter can feel very long and the context of energy feels like an appropriate way for me to deal with that. I’d be interested to know how you feel about it.
If you’d just like to do a regular review format, then you can download my Autumn Creative Practice review pdf here.