Learning to Manage Your Energy

by Karen Lee Richards

When you see the title, "Learning to Manage Your Energy," your first reaction may be, "What energy?" It's true that people with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or other chronic pain conditions often have precious little energy to work with--which makes learning to manage it even more important.

See if this sounds familiar. You have a rare day when you're actually feeling pretty good. Wanting to seize the opportunity, you set out to accomplish all those things you haven't had the energy to tackle. Fueled by a rush of adrenaline, you push your body to keep going until it finally gives out. Of course, the next day you wake up asking for the license number of the truck that ran over you. For days, or perhaps weeks, it's all you can do to drag yourself from room to room.

Yes, we've all done it. It's hard not to go overboard when, after months of being sick and exhausted, for a few brief hours you feel almost "normal." However, draining your energy supply is not the answer.

Budgeting Your Energy

Just as you budget your money, you need to budget your energy. You wouldn't think of spending your entire paycheck the day you receive it, yet you don't think twice about expending all of your energy the day you get it. Learning to budget your energy is key to making it last longer.

Do you remember the envelope method of budgeting? It's a tried and true method of learning to budget your money. You take a stack of envelopes and label each one with the name and amount of an item in your budget (rent, utilities, auto, food, etc.). Every payday, you place the designated amount of money in each envelope. When the envelope is empty, you've spent your allotted budget for that pay period.

The same envelope method used to budget money can also be used to budget energy. There are a couple of small differences. Until you're able to build an energy reserve, you'll need to budget your energy on a daily basis rather than a weekly or monthly basis. And instead of using multiple envelopes, you'll just use one.

Here's how it works:

  • Each day after you've been awake long enough to know how you're going to feel that day, evaluate your energy level.
  • Realistically decide how much you can do that day.
  • Write down the tasks you'd like to accomplish with your allotted energy on separate pieces of paper and put them in the envelope.
  • As you complete each task, remove it from the envelope.
  • When your envelope is empty, it's time to stop for the day.

The "Fifty-Percent Solution"

Once you've learned to budget your energy and you're consistently living within your energy envelope, you can start building an energy reserve. (It's like starting a savings account after you've learned to budget your money.) The fifty-percent solution is just what it sounds like. When you do your energy evaluation each day, only plan to do fifty percent of what you feel like you can do. For example, if you feel you can clean house for 30 minutes, only do it for 15. Rather than depleting your energy every day, you can slowly begin to build an energy reserve.

When you repeatedly push your body to its limits, it's not able to heal and rebuild. According to Dr. William Collinge, author of Recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Guide to Self-Empowerment, the rest you get on a good day is of a higher quality than the rest you get on a bad day. Allowing your body this quality healing time will eventually pay off with a consistently higher energy level.


Campbell, Bruce. The CFIDS/Fibromyalgia Toolkit, A Practical Self-Help Guide. Lincoln: Authors Choice Press. 2001.

Collinge, William. "Promoting Recovery: The fifty-percent Solution." ProHealth. 5/25/06.

Updated 7/31/07