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Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time

Where most productivity advice misses the mark.

Charlotte Grysolle
Charlotte Grysolle
6 min read
Photo by Pixabay

Energy, not time, is our most precious resource.

I’ve become fascinated with this idea ever since I’ve started online writing and combining it with a full-time day job.

I want to do both, and do them well, so I need to be very intentional in how I spend my time. Finding the information on how to do that is easy.

There are endless articles on productivity and a steady supply of apps and tools for managing our to-do list. Pomodoro, time-blocking, Eat The Frog, GTD are just a few popular techniques to ‘get the most out of our days’.

While those ideas are all incredibly useful, they miss an essential point.

Time management is useless without energy management.

Don’t worry; this is not another new-age trend!

It’s intuitive and, frankly, surprising how little it is discussed within the productivity sphere.

In this article, I’ll explore 2 components to energy management:

  1. Energy is not one-dimensional. To be fully engaged in life and work, we need to consider our energy across 4 levels.
  2. Matching our biological energy flow to our task list will make us feel  more accomplished and motivated.

Energy Is Not One-Dimensional

Jim Loehr is a performance psychologist and author. Tony Schwartz is an American journalist and business book author.

Together, they co-authored The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal in 2003.

Before reading the book, I would link the concept of ‘energy’ to sleep and exercise. “I’m feeling low energy” means “I’m tired”. “I need some energy” equals “I should get up and move”.

I now appreciate that energy is much more than that.

While physical energy is the foundation of everything, it is far from the only one that matters.

There are 4 separate but related sources of energy to draw on to feel fully engaged:

  • Physical energy is vital to daily functioning. Without physical energy, you won’t be able to do anything. It comes from how well you sleep and eat and how much you exercise.
  • Emotional energy allows you to react to situations with a broad set of feelings and not be at the mercy of your feelings. To perform at our best, we must access pleasant and positive emotions: the experience of enjoyment, challenge, adventure and opportunity.
  • Mental energy fuels your attention span. You can focus on what you want when you want, and how long you want. It helps you not cave when things get tough and power through the boring parts of work when you need to.
  • Spiritual energy is not about religion; it’s what motivates us to act. The authors define spiritual energy as having a set of values and a purpose beyond our self-interest. It is your life’s compass, and it helps motivate you.

It’s simple — someone with balanced energy levels across all 4 dimensions will achieve more in 1 hour than someone with unbalanced energy levels in 10 hours.

How else do you explain how some people get so much more done in the same 24 hours as everyone else?

Not all dimensions need to be at the same level at all times. There simply needs to be a balance and an awareness of each.


It’s about creating positive energy rituals

You can optimize your engagement throughout the day by consciously creating habits and patterns that replenish your energy.

This is highly personal and may require some effort to figure out.

Start by observing yourself. What drains you? What energizes you?

We’re used to noticing this for physical energy — but how about emotionally and spiritually? Which tasks make you feel grumpy or bored? Which type of project gives you a boost of excitement? What inspires you?

Take notes for a few days and look for patterns.

For example, I noticed that drinking too much alcohol on the weekends drained my energy for the first half of the week — physically and mentally. So, while I enjoy drinking and found it difficult to give up, I wanted to experiment with how quitting alcohol would impact my energy levels. 4 months in, I can say the difference is enormous. I’m only seeing now how it affected me spiritually and emotionally as well.

Or going for walks. I learned that going outside and being surrounded by people on the street gives me an immediate boost of mental and emotional energy, no matter how stressed I’m feeling. Yet, in the moment, I often try to convince myself that I don’t have the time to go outside.  I’ve had to put a Post-it on my computer to remind myself to go—time or no time. It says, “You know this will make you feel better! Do it!”.

You’ll have to quit some habits, others you’ll have to force yourself to do more of. Taking naps, calling a friend, gym, meditating, playing tennis. Whatever it may be — lookout for what makes you feel reset and refreshed, and do more of that.

In future posts, I’ll delve deeper into each dimension.


Sync Your Schedule to Your Biological Energy Flow

Actively working on replenishing your energy levels across the 4 dimensions is one part of the equation.

The other side is our biological energy flow, defined by our internal circadian clock.

Circadian rhythms affect our sleep-wake cycle, eating habits, body temperature, digestion, etc. This creates a natural ebb and flow of our energy levels throughout the day.

Now, what does this have to do with time management?

Most people approach the task list according to urgency, priority, or what feels most interesting in the moment.

What these approaches don’t consider is your natural flow.

Finishing that presentation might be the most important task on your list, but if you are naturally unfocused in the mornings, it’s not a good use of your time to start the day with a high-energy task.

What we need to do instead, is sync our daily schedule to our biological energy flow.


Define your low and high energy states, including your PPP

Not everyone is a morning person.

Activities like client calls, social outings, family interactions, and so on will affect different people differently. Study yourself, and start noticing what happens to your energy after these activities.

When are you feeling most sharp and clear-headed? When do you feel most tired and sluggish?

The goal is to define your Peak Performance Period, which is when you’re most naturally focused. For me, it’s early morning between 6–9 am. For my partner, it’s mid-afternoon, around 4–5 pm.


Organize your tasks according to your energy states

For me, it looks something like this:

My PPP is for writing or other strategic, focused work. I do my best to avoid going into my inbox or opening social media. You want to make sure you use your Peak Performance Period to work on your most important projects. Not the most urgent or the easiest, but the most important.

Client calls and team meetings require high-energy brainstorming and problem-solving, so I try to schedule the majority before noon.

I’ll always get a dip in the early afternoon, which is ideal timing for mass replying to emails and other admin work.

The key here is to do what works best for you, not what traditional productivity advice tells you.

For example, per traditional health advice, I used to start the day with exercise. It made me feel great for the rest of the day. However, I realized it’s not the best use of my PPP. So I’ve now switched to writing first thing in the morning and using my dip in the late afternoon for exercise. That typically gives me a new boost of energy for the evening.

You might be thinking — I don’t have that level of freedom at my job to manage my schedule like that. I didn’t think I did either, but once you start making minor tweaks, you’ll find you have more control than you think, especially if you’re working from home. You’ll be surprised by how few people will notice if you don’t reply to emails first thing in the morning.

A great book on how to protect those PPP hours within a traditional work environment is Deep Work by Cal Newport.


Be flexible

Forcing yourself to do a task that is not a good fit for your current state of mind is not only a poor use of time but also counter-productive (I call this Energy Quicksand — very dangerous territory to be in).

It’s important to internalize that slowing down and feeling low energy isn’t you being “lazy”. It’s simple biology that our bodies go through ultradian cycles, with varying energy levels throughout the day.

Instead of powering through, do something that will reset you. Sure, you might have blocked the time to work on that presentation or article, but what’s the point if you don’t have the energy?

Over time, a lack of energy can cause a dip in productivity, even when there’s more than enough time to get the required tasks done.


Thanks for reading!

If you found this interesting — I’ll be writing more about these topics in the next few weeks, so sign up for my bi-monthly mailing list here to stay in the loop! 🤸‍♀️

Productivity

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