Society today concentrates a lot on time management. How can you cram 10 hours of work into an 8 hour workday? How can you maximize your morning routine and squeeze in that one extra activity? How do you correctly balance a social life, a personal life, a work life, and a family life every single day of the week? Sometimes, you just can’t.
Managing your own personal energy levels while juggling various tasks and obligations is just as important as managing your time. As any introvert will tell you, just because you can fit one more thing into your week doesn’t mean you should.
(What’s an introvert? Find out here.)
If I spend several nights in a row forcing myself to interact with people, the resulting fatigue will then begin to affect other areas of my life. I’ll often find it impossible to concentrate at work or complete even a simple social obligation (like returning a phone call from a family member) until I have time to be completely alone and recharge.
This fatigue isn’t always about how much sleep I’ve been getting, although being sleep deprived definitely doesn’t help. This drain is a mental and emotional fatigue that won’t go away until I’ve had a day, or perhaps even several days, to be alone with my thoughts and process my feelings. This is what many introverts refer to as “recharging their batteries.”
Everyone is different in the amount of alone time they need to recharge and how much social energy they can spend before needing that alone time. If you are finding your energy level stretched thin, I find it helpful to ask a few simple questions.
1. How many times a week do I need to socialize?
If you’re feeling really exhausted by life right now, or if you are a hardcore introvert who is at a point in your life where you find socializing unnecessary (and there’s no shame in that!), you might be tempted to answer this questions with a big fat zero. However, most of us, even if we identify as introverts, do need at least a little social interaction from time to time.
If you spend an entire weekend by yourself, do you feel lonely? Does the work week get boring if you spend five days in a row engrossed in your own routine and not interacting with others? Maybe you do like to socialize, but only during the daylight hours, so you can spend quiet evenings at home?
Personally, I find having at least one free day a week entirely to myself to be very important to my mental health, and I work these days into my schedule as seriously as I would any other social obligation. However, you may find that you need more than one of these days, or that you prefer shorter bursts of solitude throughout the week. Figure out what works for you based on your schedule and your own personal energy levels.
2. What counts as socializing?
Are you happy just getting out of the house and being around other people, even if you are doing so alone? One of my favorite pastimes is going to the movies. It’s two hours where I don’t have to talk or face any distractions. If I can take a companion with me, that’s great. However, even if I’m just going by myself, I still count this as a fun evening out.
Likewise, many introverts enjoy spending time hanging out in coffee shops, museums, or local parks, where they get to people watch and interact with the world but still have mental space for their own quiet thoughts.
Or, maybe you do like a more energetic atmosphere like a bar or concert, but you prefer to attend only with a close friend or significant other rather than with a large group. I find the latter to be very true for myself, as I like new experiences and new places, but I don’t want to feel overwhelmed by also meeting new people while experiencing them.
If I am meeting a new person or joining a large group, I like to do so in a controlled and familiar environment, like in the home of a friend or at a favorite restaurant where I already know the wait staff and exactly what I like to order. Eliminating some of the environmental unknowns allows me to concentrate more of my mental energy on the people around me and to feel like my introvert battery is depleting less quickly.
3. Am I eliminating unnecessary social distractions during my alone time?
Between texting, social media, and the constant threat of someone calling you on your phone at any given moment, it’s now possible to feel socially drained without even leaving your house. As long as you aren’t expecting any important news, don’t be afraid to put your phone on silent.
Even though I have an office job where I could potentially take personal calls or messages during the day, I choose not to. I find even a five minute chat or an unexpected text message has the potential to pull me away from my present thoughts and distract me for hours, destroying my productivity for the entire day and leaving my brain fried from trying to concentrate on multiple things.
When I’m at home, I’ve also been known to leave my phone on silent. And if I’m in the middle of a task, even a non-urgent one like grocery shopping or exercising at the gym, I usually wait to respond to messages until I have a quiet moment. I am definitely not the person who you will find talking on my phone while walking down the sidewalk or texting while standing in line to get coffee. There’s no shame in making the person on the other end wait until you can give them your full attention. Sometimes, you have to let your phone’s battery die if you are going to allow your introvert battery to recharge.
4. Am I socializing for the sake of socializing, or am I making life memorable?
Most introverts aren’t interested in just surface-level human interaction. I’m not interested in getting drinks just for the sake of getting drinks. I am, however, interested in hearing all about your day and telling you the intimate thoughts and details of my life. I’m not interested in listening to a band I don’t like or never heard of just because the only other alternative is going home and curling up with a book (honestly, the latter sounds much more appealing). However, I am interested in making memories, both by myself and with the people I love.
I recently took a pottery class. I had no expectation that I would be particularly good at pottery, and I was a little hesitant at the thought of carving a two-hour chunk of time out of my Monday nights for weeks on end, especially with a crowded room of people I didn’t know. But it was something I wanted to explore — just for the experience — and I’m glad that I did. I was typically very tired and ready to immediately go to bed when I got home at the end of the night, but I have six weeks’ worth of memories of attempting a new skill, and I feel it was worth the energy spent.
I found that my quality of life improved when I concentrated less on socializing and more on trying new things and accomplishing new goals. How am I going to get out and enjoy life this month/season? What new things have I tried in the last year? Is it more important that I concentrate on mental health, physical health, or spiritual health right now, rather than being social?
When the last question is true, there’s no shame in taking a break and putting your social life on hold for a while. Not only will you give your introvert battery time to recharge, but taking the time to balance how you exert your energy in the long-term will hopefully lead to a more meaningful life in the present.
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