How to find + destroy your Energy Drains

You have big plans for BIG DREAMS but you're foggy, distracted, frustrated, and apathetic from all the crap cluttering up your head. If only you could destroy those Energy Drains before they destroyed your creative process. Well, actually you can. READ ON to find out how!

Not long ago, I removed 95 people from my Facebook. We all have those people, I think — the ones you accepted friend requests from even though you only knew each other in 5th grade, and you haven't spoken to one another or Liked a single post in the endless years you've been "friends." The ones who post political rants all the time, and whether you agree or not, you're tired of listening to people stir sh-t up. The ones who post witticisms all day and notice when you don't Like those witty one-liners, but probably aren't even following yours.

Yeah, I don't have time for that. Literally. I have things to do.

That Energy Drain had to go.

What exactly is an Energy Drain?

If a time sink is something that consumes a lot of your time, then a Energy Drain is something that consumes a lot of your mental space — at the detriment of your headspace. You need that headspace. It's the zone you get into when you're working hard on something you love when your mental engines are firing smoothly and fast and you're feeling like you could do anything.

And then Energy Drains come along and knock you right out of that headspace. You're left foggy, distracted, frustrated, and apathetic. What jerks. If only you could destroy those Energy Drains before they destroyed your creative process.

Well, actually you can. 

Escaping the Energy Drain Quicksand before you drown in it

For me, Facebook was an Energy Drain. My friend count wasn't huge to begin with, but I got it down to 140 9 (and later just 95) with exactly zero regrets. My feed started to actually be interesting again. The people I saw updates from were people I cared about, and not someone I vaguely remembered sitting behind in 7th-grade history class.

Facebook wasn't the only place I purged. I have a Livejournal, too, and I removed ~30 there. I stopped following some uninspiring Instagrams. I deleted my personal Twitter account because it was no longer necessary now that I was using Facebook strictly for friends and family. I even took my Goodreads to-read list down from over 400 to 42 or fewer.

These Energy Drains add up pretty quickly. You create a Tumblr account, for example, and add one or two interesting "People to Follow" from the suggested list just to get you started. Then a few more. A month later, you're following 120 accounts that you care so little about you don't even pause your scroll for 'em.

Or maybe you collect friends on Facebook. The more the merrier, you think. Or, the more friends you have on Facebook, the cooler you are.

Be honest — have you thought of your social media accounts as a popularity contest before? Even subconsciously. We all have, to some degree.

But you have to say NO to Energy Drains. If you're passive about it, if you let them slowly accumulate without setting boundaries for yourself, then you'll become passively overwhelmed by the information overload, too.

Information overload is a direct result of letting yourself have Energy Drains.

How to find your energy drains

I won't lie to you. This first push is going to take some time and commitment from you. You ready?

Making the decision to limit yourself to things that only bring happiness or inspiration will be a game-changer for you, I promise.

Go through all your online Energy Drains, and you'll find that the time you spend on them is probably overwhelming your mind to the point of exhaustion. You might even have lost motivation for doing the things you actually want to do.

That's what happened to me. I'd fallen into these Energy Drain habits, and I was going under fast. Here are the steps I took to overcome my Energy Drains.

01. Make an Energy Drains List

I had over 200 links saved on Facebook going back to March 2012. Unread.

Just random links, chilling, waiting for the day I'd notice them. I couldn't even remember why I'd been interested in reading some of them.

I noticed them on a hot summer Friday when I used my lunch hour to remove everything – either a straight delete or a read + delete – that I'd previously saved in Facebook.

Facebook Saved Links - GONE!

Facebook Saved Links - GONE!

Afterwards, I was so pumped by this clean sweep and all the brain space I'd opened up for myself, I decided to go through all of my online commitments, and other mental time wasters right then.

My list was a long one. And they weren't all easy fixes, either, but the list gave me a place to start. It gave me something to focus on, so that I could choose which Energy Drain to tackle, then get the satisfaction of crossing it off.

Some places to look for Energy Drains:

  • Email messages
  • Email accounts
  • Photos on your phone or computer
  • Bookmarks
  • Facebook saved articles
  • Twitter "likes" to read later
  • Instagram/Twitter/Facebook accounts you don't really want to follow
  • Email subscriptions you always delete
  • More than one or two news sources
  • Pinterest
  • Forums
  • Browser tabs
  • Books you want to read but never will
  • Research links that you won't go back to read
  • Google Drive documents
  • Computer files and folders
  • An out of date calendar
  • Out of date phone contacts

What other Energy Drains have you identified in your life? Share them in comments so we can tackle them in our lives, too!

02. Pick your starting point, any starting point

The idea here is that you only want to keep what's valuable to you.

For me, I decided to next tackle my most mammoth of Energy Drains: my Google Chrome bookmarks. I had over 510 of these bad boys. Many of them I'd started saving in 2006 and transferred from browser to browser, computer to computer, for almost a decade.

I was researching and writing a novel at the time, so I knew I didn't want to just go in, Select All, and delete them. I needed to review many of them first. And that's okay: If you need to think about some of your clutter before you delete it, go for it. Just make sure you don't get distracted from your process. 

And that brings us to the next step.

03. Set a reasonable process and timeline for tackling your Energy Drain clutter

I know from experience that it is so, so easy to sit down with every intention of clearing out this mental clutter BS, only to get sidetracked reading the very Wikipedia article you're planning to delete.

For me, most of my bookmarks were novel research-related. I didn't want to delete them just in case I needed them later. Just in Case Mentality isn't an easy one to beat, but I talk about some strategies in this post.

Like with cleaning out a cluttered house, you need to set up a Keep/Move/Toss strategy. There may be some items that legitimately bring you happiness, or that you legitimately need. Obviously, those go in the Keep pile. You can check them off and move along.

Others may be things that you quickly saved in your email inbox, but it really needs to be saved to Google Drive, and you've been putting it off. No problem. Move it on over and promise yourself you won't do that again.

If you need to evaluate an item, by reading it over, checking that it's not already saved elsewhere, or reviewing why you had it in the first place, do so. But set yourself a time limit for each item. Say, no more than 5 minutes maximum. If you can't decide in five minutes, then maybe it needs to go. Be realistic with yourself. Only you know what you truly need and what you truly love.

04. Set yourself up for continued success

Have you ever spent all weekend cleaning the house and by Monday night it was a wreck again?

Yeah, me too. Usually, when I get a wild hair to DIY.

There's no point in going to all of this trouble if you aren't going to maintain your good work. Like with your house, it takes upkeep and commitment. The best advice I can give you here is this:

Do not blindly let clutter into your mind again.

This goes for accepting all friend requests, blindly following back people who follow you on social media, links you save to read later, apps you download, notifications you allow, emails you subscribe to, and so on. Consider everything carefully before you let it in.

Once you let mental clutter in, it becomes an Energy Drain, and it's much harder to get it out.

It doesn't have to be personal, for example, to say no to a friend request. Just choose the boundaries you want for yourself, to keep your head and heart as clear and energized as possible, and don't lower those boundaries. Be ruthless. This isn't about being nice or not nice.  It's about your health and your Magnum Opus.

Which Energy Drain will you start with?

Energy Drains and other distractions build over time, so it's okay if it takes you some time to clear them all out and get to a baseline you love.

Get started today. Make your list. Choose your first Energy Drain to tackle, and tackle it.

And hey, while you're at it, I would love to know what Energy Drains you've identified in your life and how you're going to knock 'em out. Let me know in comments, or Tweet me!

Funnily, one of the articles I'd saved and forgotten on Facebook was an NPR one from March 2012 and it sparked an idea. They say there it takes 66 days to change a habit. Not, apparently, the fabled 21.

I don't know if that's true or not, but I do like the Habit Loop that they talk about.

It's not just the time that it takes to develop a new habit, it's how the habit forms in your brain. First there's a trigger that signals your brain to cue the habit; then the habit action itself; then finally the reward.

Are you ready for your big reward? What will it be?