Life with MS

Energy Conservation and Work Simplification for People with MS

By Jennie Q. Lou, M.D., M.Sc., OTR/L; and Carolyn Tischenkel, Occupational Therapy Program, College of Allied Health Nova Southeastern University
Energy conservation and work simplification refer to completing tasks in the most energy efficient way, in order to have enough energy for the activities you enjoy most. The following are some principles of energy conservation and work simplification that will help you plan your activities to conserve your energy, and pace yourself appropriately.
  • Plan, set priorities, and balance your activities when planning your day. While planning your day, keep in mind the tasks that must get done and the leisure activities you want to do. The key is balance. Spread heavy and light tasks throughout the day or week, and make time for leisure. It may be helpful to plan your week ahead of time so that responsibilities can be distributed evenly. Once your week is planned, you can approach each day within the limits that you have set for yourself.
  • Sit while you can. You are saving 25 percent more energy by sitting down. Tasks such as folding laundry, doing dishes, preparing food, bathing, and dressing can all be done while sitting. Rearranging work areas -- your kitchen, desk, bathroom or sink area -- to avoid excessive standing is a significant way of saving energy.
  • Pace yourself during the activities. Take frequent breaks. Don't involve yourself in a task that you cannot stop when you become tired. Pace yourself and take rest breaks or short naps to refresh yourself. Stop the task that you are working on before you become too tired.
  • Avoid activities that involve exposure to warm weather. Do your shopping, gardening, and walking etc., in the evening or early morning hours, when the weather is cooler. Create good working conditions with bright lighting and ventilation, and wear comfortable clothing. Remember, you always consume more energy if you have to work in less than optimal temperatures.
  • Slide objects instead of lifting or carrying them. Slide pots from sink to stove; use a cart or table on wheels to transport items; have a cart with wheels available to move things from one room to another for items such as laundry, boxes, groceries, etc.
  • Lay out work areas and storage areas within reach. Avoid all unnecessary bending, reaching, and stretching. Rearrange your work areas so tools can be obtained quickly and easily. Arrange cupboards so that all items are easy to see, reach, and grasp. Use a pegboard to hang pre-positioned equipment. An electric mixer with beaters attached, or commonly used kitchen utensils can be stored on a pegboard. Remember, you are using more energy if you have to reach above your shoulder level.
  • Materials, utensils, and equipment should be arranged to allow the best sequence of motion. For example, having a laundry basket on a chair near the ironing board containing items to be ironed, and a rack on the other side of the board for hanging clothing would provide a suitable sequence for energy conservation.
  • Eliminate unnecessary tasks. Let dishes drip dry, and bake potatoes instead of peeling them. Arrange electrical appliances on the counter where they can be readily available, and avoid the temptation of putting them away and taking them out with each use. Purchase duplicates of inexpensive items needed in more than one place to eliminate a great deal of energy expenditure in going back and forth.
  • Combine details. Cook and serve in the same container. Complete your bowel program and then shower since this eliminates the need to undress and dress an extra time.
  • Avoid rushing. Don't waste your energy by panicking. Things that must get done will get done and more often, these things can wait. During times of stress, take time to relax. In other words, take a break! Play your favorite music, read, or call someone who makes you laugh. If you have pets, spend time with them.
  • Don't be afraid or unwilling to ask for help. Don't be afraid to ask for help so that you may accomplish some of the more difficult tasks that require too much energy. People are usually very happy and willing to help. We all need help from one another from time to time. Keep in mind that you are important to your friends and family and there is no inconvenience in helping a loved one.

Before you start a task, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Why is the job necessary?
  • What purpose does it serve?
  • Where is the best place to do it?
  • When should it be done?
  • How should it be done?
  • Can someone else do it?

Give some of these tips a try and you may find yourself having more energy for the activities you really enjoy!
(Last reviewed 7/2009)