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Energy Management

Is it frustrating when you can't do things that are important to you, or that you want to do? It's good for you to be as active as possible, and you can stay active if you use good pacing techniques. Also, when you learn to maintain a comfortable breathing pattern while you work, you'll be able to do more. This might mean stopping often and taking some deep, diaphragmatic breaths to minimize breathlessness.

When you work more efficiently, you reduce the strain on your heart and cardiovascular system; minimize fatigue, shortness of breath, and back pain; prevent injury, and make your energy go a long way. Here are some techniques you can apply to any everyday task including self-care, household chores, hobbies, and work.


Techniques to Be More Efficient

  • Pace yourself: A moderate pace gets us further. Take your time with tasks. Give yourself adequate time to complete a task to avoid rushing. Take frequent, short rest breaks before you feel really tired.

  • Make tasks easier: Most of us waste an amazing amount of energy every day. Finding easier ways to do things is not lazy - it's smart. You are your own manager.

  • Space your activities: Break some big jobs into smaller steps. Put restful activities between more strenuous ones.

  • Think of energy as money in the bank: If you continually overspend, you will always be running in the red. If you under-spend, you will not be making the best use of your resources.

  • Maintain a comfortable breathing pattern while you work: You may need to stop during a strenuous activity and take some deep diaphragmatic breaths in order to decrease shortness of breath. Slow, deep breathing is ' relaxing and helps slow and smooth out body motions. Taking short, jerky breaths or holding the breath is a common practice when using the arms or when in a hurry. Slow, deep breathing uses more of your lungs and gets more oxygen into your blood. In addition, use adequate ventilation. Heavy cooking odors, perfumes, or steam may make breathing more difficult.

  • Relax! Nervous tension and anxiety use energy, cause muscle tension, headache, and backache, and put more stress on your heart. Minimize anxiety by planning ahead, leaving enough time to complete tasks and rest afterwards. Only plan to do each day what you can realistically accomplish. Do several different types of activities in one day (not just housework!). Schedule time for primping, listening to music, hobbies, visiting, and getting outside. Learn to limit visits when you get tired easily. Learn to say, "NO!"

  • Use planned rest periods: When you know a task will take a long time or is usually fatiguing, plan and take breaks. If this is difficult for you to do, create a "break center" with a comfortable chair and some reading or handwork so you don't feel you are wasting your time.

  • Easy flow of work : Working on an assembly line basis accomplishes more in less time and with less effort. For Example: During meal preparation, take all of the necessary items from the refrigerator by cart to the sink area, do all of the preparation there, move on to the stove, and when the cooking is completed, proceed to the table.

  • Eliminate unnecessary tasks: Eliminate extra trips by planning ahead and assembling supplies. Use throw­aways such as paper plates when you want to save washing time. Let dishes dry in the rack. Get rid of dust-collecting clutter. Lightly sponge down the tub or shower each time you bathe. Keep a sponge by wash basins and lightly wipe after each use. Straighten out the covers before you get out of bed to make bed making easier. Invent your own shortcuts!

  • Avoid strenuous arm motion: Rapid, jerky arm motions cause shortness of breath and fatigue and puts an extra strain on your heart. Breathing is difficult during this kind of activity, and most people take short, shallow breaths or tend to hold their breath when they are using their arms. Working with the arms overhead also causes extra strain. Keep arm motions smooth and flowing. Also minimize holding by hands. Work on a non-­slip counter surface or use an "octopus" suction cup holder to keep bowls or other utensils from moving around. Use 'an electric mixer with a stand instead of mixing by hand. When slicing round vegetables, cut a small piece off the bottom so they will not roll.

  • Sit to work: For tasks taking a long time, use a stool, or chair to minimize fatigue. Standing for longer periods of time is usually tiring. For Example: The ironing board should be adjustable so that ironing can be done at proper sitting or standing heights. The adjustable ironing board can also be used for other tasks.

  • Avoid lifting and use wheels to transport: It is desirable to have utility cart on wheels to use in most household activities. For Example: Place laundry on the cart and distribute from room to room in one trip.

  • Adjust working heights: Eliminate excessive or unnecessary bending, stooping, and reaching from household activities because they are fatiguing. Improper working height causes back strain and fatigue. Poor posture also restricts breathing. Best working height for a tabletop is 2" below your elbow. Raising the height of the bed makes bed making easier. Table, bed, or chair legs can be extended with wooden blocks. Extenders that bolt on can be found in some catalogs. For Example:A dustpan with a long handle eliminates bending.

  • Organize storage and work areas: Excessive bending or reaching causes back strain and increases fatigue. Keep items that are used often within easy reach. Store items in the area where they are used most. See "Storage Height" handout.

  • Keep cool: Working in a room that is warm is less efficient for the body than working in a cool place, because extra energy must be expended by the heart and lungs to cool the body. So, do more stressful activities such as gardening, in the cool part of the day. Avoid excessively hot baths or Jacuzzi, as they may cause fatigue, dizziness, or shortness of breath.


This information has been approved by Shelby Jenkins, OTR and Chelsea Randall, OTR (May 2012).