The Marble Jar Experiment: Balance Your Energy Account

by Ambre Leffler
published in Community

Do you feel like most days you are losing your marbles?

If you are like me, you end the day wondering why you didn’t get as much writing done as you’d intended. There isn’t one right or wrong answer to how our daily energy should be spent. We all need to prepare food, take care of ourselves, our kids or fur babies, and keep things somewhat clean. The online world entices us to spend time and energy there, whether checking email or browsing the Internet.

Building an author career is a juggling act. It takes practice and iteration to strike a balance between writing, reading, and community. It takes even more dedication and flexibility to build a writing career in between family responsibilities, day jobs, or volunteering. No one lives in a vacuum where the entire day is spent writing.

When your energy is scattered among several tasks, it is difficult to do one task with full strength. In my Breath Qigong Yoga class, I teach several techniques to gather scattered energy back to your core. With focused energy, you can work toward your true purpose.

Think of energy as water moving through a garden hose. When water moves through the hose and out a power washer nozzle, the water is focused, concentrated. There is a lot of power in the way the water moves. When water moves through the hose and out a fan spray nozzle, the water is scattered, not as strong. The power is dispersed in many directions. 

Both are ways to move water through a hose. Concentrating the water flow in one direction, though, is more powerful.

It feels like there aren’t enough hours to get everything done. But I’ve realized it isn’t the quantity of hours. It is the way I’m spending my hours. 

There are distinct peaks and valleys to my energy levels during the day. With an awareness of how I’m spending energy, I can make adjustments to create a sustainable writing routine in balance with other demands on my energy.

Introducing… the Marble Jar Experiment

Instead of tracking time, I track how I’m spending my energy. One marble represents a unit of energy. One jar represents a category of how you spend your energy. 

You can track how you are spending your energy with this marble jar experiment in 7 simple steps:

1. Write down 5-10 categories of ways you spend your time.

Everyone will have a different answer. For my categories I have:

  • Checking Email and Text Messages
  • Online Time (social media/websites/author community platforms)
  • Writing/Creative Work
  • Reading
  • Wellness (going for a walk/Tai Chi/stretching)
  • Daily Tasks (cooking/cleaning)

2. Label a glass or jar with each category.

3. Get a number of identical objects such as marbles.

4. Every time you spend energy on one of the categories, put a marble in the jar. 

Be honest!

5. At the end of the day, tally up how many marbles are in each jar.

I’m a visual person, so seeing a quantity helps me along with the tally. Remember, you’re not tracking time. You are tracking how many times you spend energy on this category.

6. Repeat for as many days as it takes to see a pattern (but not so many that it takes away from your writing project).

7. Analyze the results.

Write down ways you can tweak your daily routine to balance the energy spent in each category.

The results are in…

After three days, I tallied up my results. I was not surprised to see that 20 marbles were in the email jar, the most of any category. I’m so overwhelmed whenever I check email that I actually freeze up. And most of it isn’t even messages personally addressed to me that I need to answer.

I have two easy solutions. Part one is to unsubscribe from emails that have information I can get another way on my own time. This digital clutter drains both my creative energy and fossil fuel energy. I recently wrote about digital spring cleaning in my newsletter. It is a good first step in reclaiming creative energy.

Part two is to set specific times for checking email instead of every hour. I have a colleague who only responds to phone calls and text messages while he is out in the field. He answers emails when he is back at the office at 4:00. His clients know their emails will get answered at that time.

The next fullest jar was daily tasks. Cooking or getting something to eat takes a chunk of energy. My plan is to start batch cooking on the weekends. This way I can reheat a dish during the week instead of spending energy each day figuring out what to eat, which often results in choices that aren’t beneficial to my body or brain.

The wellness jar had only 3 marbles and the reading jar had only 1 lonely marble. These important parts of my wellbeing often get crammed in at the end of the day or neglected altogether. Cutting back on email frees up time for reading a book. Batching tasks such as prepping vegetables one day a week frees up time for afternoon walks. I am confident just a few changes will move the marbles into the right jars for a balanced day.

Are you ready to make significant healthy changes to your writing life? Taking a few minutes for a few days to do this easy experiment will give you clarity on what is out of balance in your energy account. You will be surprised at the results!

Tell us in the comments: Have you tried the marble jar experiment? How did it go?

Ambre Dawn Leffler is a Tai Chi instructor, gardener, and weather geek who writes about vegetables, seasons, communing with nature, and the interconnections of mind/body. She loves trees and cherishes time in their presence. Learn more about her tree time, garden residents, and wellness practices at her website and seasonal inspiration from her newsletter Sky Earth Water. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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