Struggling to manage your time? Do this instead

Have you tried different ways to manage your time? Have you experimented with scheduling your day this way or that, to see what’s most productive?

I’ve tried my share of time management techniques, such as monk mode mornings, the Pomodoro technique, and the complete calendar. These techniques can and do work well for some people. But I found them lacking.

When I manage my time strictly, I find that my calendar doesn’t align with my energy. For example, if I schedule writing for the mornings, I might dutifully sit down to write and find that I am not inspired to write at all. Sure, I can write when I’m not inspired, but more often than not that results in a lot of resistance and in poor writing.

Over the past year, I’ve gradually discovered a better way to plan my days. It helps me get more done with less resistance and with more ease. Maybe it can do the same for you. Here’s how it works:

Manage your energy rather than your time.

What do I mean by “manage your energy”? In managing our energy, we think about the energy a task requires, rather than how long it will take. Just as we have a certain number of hours in our work day, we also have a certain amount of energy.

When we manage our time, we might think: “This task will take three hours to complete. I have four free hours this afternoon, so I’ll complete this task then.”

When we instead manage our energy, we might think: “This task will require lots of hard thinking. I’m giving a presentation this morning, which will be quite tiring. I don’t think I’ll have the energy after lunch to jump straight into three hours of hard thinking. I’ll do some routine work this afternoon instead, and do the hard thinking first thing tomorrow morning, when I’ll be fresh.”

A wonderful side benefit is that managing your energy effectively also frees up time. If we feel tired, but we had planned to do a certain task right now, we might make a half-hearted attempt. We don’t have the energy to do the task properly, so the result is that we have to revisit the task the next morning—a massive waste of time. Doing tasks when our energy is right for it is more efficient.

To manage our energy effectively, we do need to be aware of our energy and we need to know how it typically evolves throughout the day. It might help to check in with our energy frequently. Simply ask, “What’s my energy right now?” The answer might be “tired”, “keen”, “distracted”, or “focused”.

We can set up a trigger to check in with our energy. For example, put a sticker on your laptop. Each time you open your laptop, and you notice the sticker, ask yourself what your energy is right now. After you’ve trained yourself to do this, add a sticker somewhere else. With time, you’ll be paying attention to your energy automatically.

(This is, essentially, being mindful. Practicing mindfulness meditation consistently will massively help us plan our days efficiently.)

It might also help to think of energy as having two dimensions: a level and a direction. We can think of our energy level as a scale from 1 (exhausted) to 10 (fresh, eager). And we can think of our energy direction as emotion or feeling: for example, having a lot of energy because we’re excited is different from having a lot of energy because we’re restless.

When we know what our energy is right now, we can choose to accept it—rather than fight it—and act accordingly. Here are some behavioral shifts we might see when we manage our energy:

  • We take a break when we’re tired, rather than because it happens to be 12 o’clock.
  • We continue working on a project, even if we’re ahead of schedule, because we’re “in the zone”.
  • We postpone a task until tomorrow morning, because we notice that we’re exhausted and not capable of thinking straight.
  • We notice that we are distracted by an incident that happened with a coworker earlier. Perhaps we were rude to them. Rather than trying to push these thoughts aside, we apologize to our coworker for being rude, to clear our mind. Then we get back to our work with focus.

A different way of saying “manage your energy” is “don’t fight your emotional state”. Sure, if we’re tired, we can try to push ourselves. That will work once or twice. But eventually, not listening to our body and mind will catch up with us. When we instead accept how we feel and act accordingly, we don’t expend tremendous energy trying to fabricate a certain mood.

We can go overboard with managing our energy, of course. There are some tasks that we’ll never feel like doing. If we wait for “the right energy” to file our taxes—well, that energy may come, or it may not.

The goal isn’t to do whatever we feel like doing in the moment; the goal is to align our work with our energy a bit better, so we can work more efficiently and with more ease.


— Peter

P.S. Want help with this? I have one more coaching spot available at a reduced price. Sign up for your free 30-minute introductory call now—if we’re a good fit, you’ll be eligible for the reduced price.

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