Forget time management. Focus on energy.

Feel like no matter how many extra hours you work that you will never catch up?

Or maybe you live with the overwhelming feeling that there are simply too many demands to get done in a day.

It's easy to find ourselves barely managing the anxiety that there is not enough time.

We've been taught that our success (or failure) in this area is based on time management. And yet, everyone has the same 24 hours each day.

Why do some days seem to be wildly productive—yet others leave us feeling like we never left the finish line.

What if time is actually irrelevant?

Remember when we were a kid playing and time would fly by? Contrast that with the way we felt when our mom told us, "Clean your room!"

Time crawled.

So. Slowly.

We've all experienced how time ceases to be a factor when we are doing something we love. Minutes, hours and days can fly by when we are absorbed in a task that energizes us. When we are doing something engaging, we never notice time. We will get up early, stay up late and perform amazing feats of productivity in pursuit of it.

While time is a limited resource, energy is not. It is exponential and can be renewed.  Managing our personal energy is the difference between being a high performer enjoying our life or living depleted feeling like a hamster in a wheel.

Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project writes, "We feel better and perform better when four core energy needs are met: sufficient rest, including the opportunity for intermittent renewal during the work day; feeling valued and appreciated; having the freedom to focus in an absorbed way on the highest priorities; and feeling connected to a mission or a cause greater than ourselves."

Purpose impacts our energy. 

In thinking about your responsibilities right now...if you had all the time in the world to complete your task list, would you actually complete that task list?

Or if you had no time at all—such as with a terminal diagnosis—would you still do the same things with your limited hours that you are doing now?

The tasks that suck the life out of us are the ones that have lost their purpose. 

Benjamin Franklin is famous for asking himself at the end of every evening, "What good have I done today?" When we have a sense that the tasks we are committed to actually matter, we are energized by their completion. (Contrast that with the TPS Reports from the movie, Office Space.)

If you were to do an "energy audit" on your schedule right now—identifying things you do that energize you and things you do that drain you, there would likely be a  correlation—both high and low—in the sense of purpose you experience in those commitments.  While we might consider a task "important," it isn't the same as feeling like it contributes to a "mission or cause greater than ourselves."

Calibrating our tasks with purpose, can be a big boost to our energy reserves.

Motivation is a perishable commodity. Only commit to short timelines.

If we can execute quickly—before we start to question and second-guess ourselves—then big things can happen.  The faster we can get from ideation to execution, the more likely it is that we will put something out there in the universe.

There is a trend in personal planning to move from plotting out an entire year to only looking at 12 weeks at a time. Books like The 12 Week Year and planners like the Self Journal  or Freedom Journal focus on executing in short timelines in order to keep our motivation high. 

Why 13 weeks? Because moving quickly and creating tangible results silences our doubts. 

Perfectionism, fear and insecurity chip away at ideas. The caveat is that they need a timeline.  Tight planning cycles short-circuit our propensity for circular decision making.

Not only that, but 13 weeks allows us to create tighter alignment between motivation, purpose and activity.  Our context continually changes.  We may have once loved serving on a board, but 3 years later find we aren't in the same place that we were back then in terms of purpose.  Or maybe we committed to something only to learn a few weeks later how much it drains us.  Planning our commitments in 13-week increments keeps us focused on what matters most to us and minimizes getting trapped by things that drain us.

What do we do when we find that we have committed to too many things that deplete us? We have to man up and have the hard conversation. Motivation matters.

Building energy at work

Most of us respond to increasing demands at work by putting in longer hours, which takes a toll on our energy reserves:  physically, mentally, and emotionally.

"When we regiment our days too severely, when we stay completely focused on one task, our minds tend to stagnate after a time." writes Ori Brafman in The Chaos Imperative, "We need white space in order to avoid becoming so task focused that we lose our creativity."

Brian P. Moran, author of the 12-Week-Year, writes, “An effective breakout block is at least three-hours long and spent on things other than work. It is time scheduled away from your business during normal business hours that you will use to refresh and reinvigorate your mind, so that when you return to work, you can engage with more focus and energy.”

Few of us have the freedom to completely own our time at our day jobs; however, we can create pockets of time where we are engaged in something that recharges us.  While three hours may be ideal, 15 minutes can also have impact.  

We can also start to become aware when we've hit the point of diminishing returns. If what should be a short task begins to take way too long, we need to have the courage to either engage it the next day, find someone who has more skill in it than we do, or write it off as a task that lacks purpose.

Having exponential energy takes some investment.

We would never write a $10,000 check on an account with $150 in it, but we regularly write energy checks we can’t cash. Shifting our focus from managing time to managing energy can make a big difference in how we experience our schedules.

For example, with a time-management focus, we might skip working out because it takes too much time. But in an energy-focused system we will never skip the workout because it increases our energy.  Or we might get up an hour earlier each day to focus on our 'passion project' so that the rest of our day is fueled by knowing we've already accomplished something that matters to us. We might take the extra time to shop for groceries or make our lunch so that we aren't trapped in a fast-food rut.

Daily rhythms are a significant part of building personal energy.  Our spiritual practices, eating habits, physical activity and relationships play a big role.  But one of the most significant factors in energy management is how well we sleep.

All of us are under the drive of circadian rhythms—which influence the complex relationship between our body chemistry, timing and light. (It's the reason jet lag hits us so hard.) One of the biggest things we can do to help our bodies sleep is to wake up and go to sleep at consistent times each day—even on the weekends. If sleep is a problem for us, solving our sleep schedule has to become a priority if we ever want to have the kind of energy that makes time irrelevant.

It's not about time. It's about energy.

Shifting our focus from managing time to building energy isn't just recommended, it's essential.  The thing is, deep inside we know the things that energize us and the things that drain us.

It simply takes intention to look at them.

And the courage to work it like a balance sheet to make sure we are building our energy income and eliminating the embezzlers. 

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© Random Cathy
Maira Gall