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Warning: Energy Quicksand

The dangerous territory of prioritising time over energy.

Charlotte Grysolle
Charlotte Grysolle
3 min read

2 hours blocked on my calendar on Sunday afternoon. A wide open plain of time, no other obligations or distractions in sight.


The goal? Finish and publish my article. Let's go!

[Fast forward 1 hour]

 I am lost in my notes, confused about which direction to go.

I'm suddenly exhausted. My brain feels foggy. I keep staring off into the distance, opening up Twitter and mindlessly scrolling through the feed.

I snap out of it, throw my phone to the side and berate myself for wasting my precious writing time. I try to boost myself up by reciting annoying Twitter-style quotes in my head like "Discipline over motivation!!", "Come on, Charlotte; consistency is key!".

At the end of the 2 hours, I feel drained and have made no progress on my article — if anything, I've gone backwards.

I stumbled into Energy Quicksand, eyes wide open.

You know, that feeling when you want to work on something but you're completely stuck.

You sense it from the first minute, yet instead of relaxing into the situation and calling for help, you start kicking wildly. After all —  it's on your calendar. It's is what you planned to do—just power through.

The harder you fight, the deeper you sink.

It's pointless, and you know it is, yet you keep trying.

Until you've drowned and the time is up.

Does that sound familiar at all?

You can replace writing here with any activity that requires focus, creativity and clear thinking.

Creating a presentation, putting together a proposal, coming up with creative concepts.

You're forcing yourself to work on the task even if you don't have the mental or emotional energy for it.

The worst thing you can do in quicksand, real or imaginary, is panic and struggle. You'll just sink deeper.

That is hard to internalise for people like me, always seeking to get the most out of our time. If I have 2 hours free and planned to get that article out, I have no excuse not to get it done. Right?!

Unfortunately, no.

Getting things done is not only about managing your time.

More than anything, it's about managing your energy.

The idea of energy management is to be conscious of your energy levels throughout the day and organise your tasks accordingly.

Plan high-focus tasks in the time of day you feel most energised.

Keep low-focus tasks for the dips.

Simple but difficult to implement. We set ourselves all these goals and deadlines without considering the energy it takes. Not just physically, but across all dimensions: mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

I know from experience that I find it difficult to focus and think clearly in the afternoon. I am at my best when writing in the early mornings.

On that lovely Sunday afternoon I described earlier —instead of forcing myself to write, I could have used the time for low-energy tasks related to writing. Reading, editing, looking for visuals. It would have been more productive and way more fun.

No, I wouldn't have finished my article by the deadline (entirely random and self-imposed, by the way), but I didn't do that now either. All I've done is wasted 2 hours of my life (to be fair, it did give me the idea for this article. Small win!).

So, for all you time-optimisers out there, beware of Energy Quicksand.

Don't fight. Slowly move away from the task and do something different. Or, don't do anything at all.

In the wise words of my anti-productivity productivity guru Oliver Burkeman:

The truly valuable skill here isn’t the capacity to push yourself harder but to stop and recuperate despite the discomfort of knowing that work remains unfinished, emails unanswered, other people’s demands unfulfilled.

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