The Spoon Theory: The key to knowing your energy and productivity

Sara | AbstractedCollective
4 min readSep 28, 2018


“three green, red, and blue plastic spoons” by hue12 photography on Unsplash

How many spoons do you have in a day?

In other words, do you know what are the limits to your energy each day?

Do you over-estimate the energy you have available each day?

Are you constantly packing your days full and always feeling worn out?

What has spoons got to do with your energy anyway?

Read on to find out more about the spoon theory and how it can help you manage your energy.

The Spoon Theory

First coined by Christine Miserandino in 2003, who used spoons to describe to her friend how having lupus felt like to her, and the impact her illness had on her daily life.

Miserandino used spoons as a unit of measurement to quantify how much energy a person has in a day.

It tends to be used with people who have disability and chronic illnesses to explain the reduced amount of energy they have in performing day-to-day activities.

She details in her ground-breaking essay, that everyone has a fixed set of spoons each day. Say, 10.

You start with a fresh set of spoons each day.

You can borrow tomorrow’s spoons to finish your tasks today, but that would mean you have lesser spoons for tomorrows tasks.

Spoons are metaphors for your energy.

What effects then, does this limited number/amount of spoons/energy have on:

  • How you design your to-do list?
  • Your boundaries — how far can you go each day?
  • What are you doing to conserve energy? (Hint: quality sleep with the right amount of hours)

Spoons, energy, boundaries and productivity

Energy is the new unit of measurement for productivity. Not time.

Think about it, you could have 24 hours to finish everything, but if you are low on energy, you would never be able to properly utilise those 24 hours.

Now, with or without chronic illnesses or disabilities, all of us have a certain amount of spoons we can use per day.

READ ALSO: Implemented these Time Management Strategies? (+Free checklist)

And this number differs from individual to individual.

We have differing responsibilities and use different amounts of energy to achieve them.

For instance, Person A and Person B might both have a demanding job and an equally demanding family life. However, Person A is still able to study part-time, run a part-time business and take the occasional holiday. Person B on the other hand is already feeling exhausted by the time he tucks his kids into bed.

Different types of activities used up different amounts of energy.

Sweeping the living room might use up 1/4 of a spoon, whereas researching and writing an essay might easily use up 3.

This is a great time to think about the activities you tend to have in a day and the amount of energy you need to expend in completing each one.

We have a great tendency to under-estimate the energy we need for each activity so do be mindful of that.

How many spoons do you have?

Are you aware of your energy levels? When are you at your most energetic and alert?

Knowing these things can allow us to plan our day according to our energy levels.

Feeling most energetic in the day? Great. That’s probably the time you’d want to complete your most important task of the day, instead of vegging out on the couch and watching Netflix.

It also allows us to understand our personal boundaries and limits.

Some people can do 1000 things in 24 hours and still have the energy to take on 500 more, whereas you might already feel half-dead by 3pm.

READ ALSO: 15 Morning Habits for a Successful & Productive Day

The lessons to learn here are:

  • Don’t compare, our energy levels are all different
  • Don’t beat yourself up just cause you didn’t finish all 15 items on your to-do list. You could be under-etimating your energy levels
  • Be willing to let go of things/shave down activities in your day

I had to get real with myself when I realised I just wasn’t the type who had the energy levels to complete 5 items on my list. I could complete 1 or 2 big ones, not 5.

Realising that made me much feel RELIEVED, but also much happier and more productive.

Remember your energy is like a battery, once used up, needs to be replenished. Nobody can keep going on forever without proper rest, breaks and all that.

Figure out the number of spoons you need each day for each activity, figure out your energy limits and which times of the day do you feel most energetic and plan your tasks accordingly.

You’ll be so much more productive, happier and less stressed.

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Originally published at on September 28, 2018.



Sara | AbstractedCollective

I write about relationships, personal growth and mental health. Dreamer. Tea addict. Researcher.