With demands coming from all directions, managing time in reliable, 24-hour increments seems like the most practical approach to getting things done.
Most of us respond to increasing demands by putting in more time. We get up early and stay late at the office.
And what sounds like the hallmarks of a go-getter is really a recipe for disaster. High turnover. Distraction. Health problems. The list goes on.
Energy, of course, decreases as we spend it, of course. However, we can take some steps to regenerate our capacity to be more productive. Instead of thinking of out potential output in terms of hours and minutes, it might be smarter to look at energy management instead.
Why you should manage your energy instead of time
Energy management, an intro
Energy management as a concept isn’t especially new. But, it’s worth revisiting. These days, the line between work and home is increasingly blurring, leaving us feeling depleted on a regular basis.
Back in 2003, Tony Schwartz founded the Energy Project. The organization set out to find ways to improve productivity in the workplace, using scientific methods to help people feel energized at work.
Schwartz and his team found that we have four types of energy: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. And, each of these categories must be addressed in order to keep us feeling 100 percent.
82% of business leaders feel that they’re working at suboptimal energy levels. Which, let’s face it, is likely to trickle down the chain of command. Leaders set the tone for long work days, when instead, at least some efforts need to focus on helping workers recharge.
Here’s a short clip from Schwartz emphasizing the power productivity rituals.
Managing energy means learning more about yourself
Some of us are most productive in the morning, while others knock out tasks later in the day. While not everyone has the luxury to work when their body wants them to, you can choose how to organize your to-do list.
If you’re not sure, keep a diary of how you’re feeling every hour or so for a few days. Factors that can affect this include food, sleep, and stress levels.
A few things to work on:
- Be comfortable: This goes for your environment as well as your person. Keep your space clean, at a comfortable temperature and well-lit. Wear clothing that feels good—no belts that press into your stomach, itchy shirts, etc.
- Eat well: Lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, and minimal sugar. Drink lots of water, too.
- Get enough sleep: Aim for eight hours and avoid staying up too late finishing tasks.
Understanding your patterns also means leaning into those waves of productivity. What we mean by “waves” are those times you’ve felt compelled to clean out your closet or wrote a whole article in one sitting. Sometimes, these waves come without warning, and if that’s the case, try riding it out if nothing is standing in your way.
Those waves also come after you take an action. Let’s explain: crossing a smaller action off of your to-do list gives you that feeling of accomplishment—which helps you muster the energy for the more difficult task at hand.
Make room for rest
Resting isn’t exactly respected in our culture. The idea conjures up spa days. Of treating yourself after a hard day of work. Or, you know, just being lazy.
In fact, many of us consider rest the opposite of work. That the two concepts are at odds with one another. But that’s the wrong way to think about it. Rest is essential to working smart. That downtime allows us to collect our thoughts and reacquaint ourselves with our brains.
The New York Times published an article about the benefits of sleeping for short stretches during the workday. The idea there was, sleeping in 20-60 minute intervals (pre-REM) gives users a chance to tap into their creative side and recharge those internal batteries.
As you may recall, this article came with a whole side helping of backlash. Talk of coddled millennials and the mocking of Silicon Valley’s sleep pods and other perks were buzzing around the web.
But it’s interesting how it’s all about optics. We’re told when we get our first jobs that we need to put in the hours. You know, show up early, but be the last one to leave.
Late risers get a bad rap, for whatever reason, regardless of output, and setting boundaries when it comes to work-life balance isn’t as easy as it sounds. And we get it. Maybe napping at work isn’t an option, but rest doesn’t have to involve a pillow and a blanket.
Here are a couple of ideas that seem perhaps, too basic to mention, but we’ll do it anyway.
Spend some time with a book
The benefits of reading cannot be overstated. For one, all of our leading innovators read—everybody from Oprah to Stephen King and Bill Gates spends part of the day with a book.
The practice not only keeps your brain sharp, it also reduces stress and bolsters our problem-solving skills. Even better—unlike taking a nap, you can squeeze in some on the job reading without causing a scene.
Give yourself space to think
Or, just literally give yourself some time to think quietly for a period. Making space for your thoughts is not the same as doing nothing. In fact, it’s been shown to boost job performance.
The idea is that a short timeout for reflecting can help you process and learn information. Especially if you’re working in a mentally demanding industry. While we benefit from team-oriented brainstorming and collaboration, solo-thinking sessions can energize us and help us better prepare for meetings or a long list of to-dos.
Finally, just stop multitasking already
You’re failing at it anyway. Few of us can actually handle multitasking.
Instead, learn to prioritize.
Make lists, rank your tasks in order of importance, and check one thing off at a time.
Doing things quickly and reworking them later is a waste of time. In the moment, it might feel like you’re being productive, but in reality, you’re just slowing yourself down.
Unfortunately, there are countless studies that demonstrate over and over that multitasking does not help you get more done.
In fact, each time you stop to check an email or take a peek at your phone, you’re increasing the total amount of time spent on the task. If you need a break, take one.