How to score a better rhythm for your days

5163484867_e23bcd82fa_zTime management isn’t just about the management of hours. It’s also about managing energy. Some activities feel more energizing than others. Some are draining enough to require downtime afterwards.

It might help to think of energy as a pot. Some activities pour energy in. Some pour it out.

So how do you achieve the right level?

I kind of like the numerical approach. After keeping track of your time for a week, you can go through and label activities on a scale of -5 to +5. Activities that score -5 might include a long meeting with someone you dislike, or rush hour travel with a screaming baby. Plus five activities might include lunch with a best friend, a bike ride on a favorite path, work on a favorite project, etc.

If your week adds up to a negative number, that’s clearly a problem — and one reason it may feel like you have no time. If any given day adds up to a negative number that’s less of a problem, as long as the week is positive — though you probably won’t feel great on that day.

But you don’t have to accept a negative number. As you’re planning your weeks, try to balance the energy scale like you’d balance a checkbook. All withdrawals must be covered by deposits. If you can see that there’s a long afternoon meeting coming up that will be incredibly draining, you can ask your spouse to cover that evening so you can go to a favorite exercise class. Or maybe you can plan an evening playdate with a friend whose company you really enjoy. If something is a more regular drain — say, the evening commute — you can get into a rhythm of doing something restorative before or after. Maybe it’s 10 minutes to read a favorite website before you hop in the car. Maybe it’s a twilight bike ride after dinner or 20 minutes of quiet while the kids get some screen time.

Or maybe you can figure out a way to get rid of any activities scoring negative numbers, or modify them to be less negative.

One of my most draining times is the pre-dinner rush, when I’m transitioning out of work mode, and trying to make something reasonable for three children, one of whom enjoys broccoli and red onions and such, and two of whom do not. While the older two are content to watch TV while I cook, the toddler is inevitably pulling on my leg, which stresses me out if I’m carrying boiling water or hot baking sheets around.

So, I looked at my schedule and realized that I don’t find cooking stressful, it’s the cooking-while-watching-kids aspect that I find draining. So my sitter and I worked out a solution that she stays until 5:30 instead of 5 (I traded off my open-ended late night — I realized I can find other sitters for evenings if I need them). I am trying to still end my work at 5. I am not always successful, but sometimes I am. Then 5-5:30 can be transition time, when I cook, pop open a beer, read a few headlines, decompress. At 5:30, I aim to have the kids’ dinner on the table and go into full-on mom mode. This has converted -3 time into neutral time, maybe even +1 if it’s a good beer.

What are your -5 activities? Have you altered your schedule to combat them?

In other news:

Welcome new readers! I apologize that your comments aren’t posting immediately. I got such a ridiculous amount of spam that I stopped WordPress from emailing me when there are comments in the queue. I try to check in relatively frequently, but it may be a few hours. You should only have to wait once, though, and after that, comments will post automatically.

I started a new gig with Fast Company this week. I’ll be writing regularly for their website’s new “How to Be a Success at Anything” section. My first post is on 5 Non-Network-Y Ways to Network.

I’m also over at Fortune’s website, writing about “Home vs. office: Where should you work?” The answer turns out to be…yes. Both. And other places! I find I’m very productive on trains.

I enjoyed the post at Modern Mrs. Darcy about the “Target Run” phenomenon. You go in for toilet paper, and come out having spent $150. I’m usually pretty good about avoiding impulse purchases, but I can see how this could happen…has it ever happened to you?

Photo courtesy flickr user donjd2

18 thoughts on “How to score a better rhythm for your days

  1. Wow! That is a great insight. Darn. I think nearly all my days aren’t very positive…. I really, really need to work on that.

    Thanks for another great idea.

  2. You’re just trying to make us do more math, aren’t you? 🙂

    I do like this concept though, maybe even simplified to a simple +/-/0 system.

    Reminds me of seeing a high-level woman speak at Microsoft years ago. She’d mark her calendar at the end of the day with a happy face or a sad face depending on how her work day went. (Maybe there was a neutral face too, I can’t remember.) When she got to a point where the sad faces were dominating, she knew she had to change jobs. So simple, but I love it.

    Sometimes you’re so much in the weeds that you don’t actually know if it’s a systemic problem that needs to be fixed, or if just one bad day is making you feel like your whole job sucks.

    1. @ARC – that sounds like a great system the speaker had. I haven’t had many real “jobs” per se, but have had a number of long term writing gigs, and yes, when I get to the point where I feel like I’d pay *not* to do it, that’s a sign it’s time to move on.

    2. The guy who writes one of the project management blogs I like does the happy face/sad face/angry face/etc thing for his whole team- people come into his office and draw a face on his board. He says it gives him a quick visual cue for how things are going. Here’s the post:

      I’ll have to think about your scoring method. It is an interesting idea!

  3. Very intriguing idea! Lots of possibilities to play with once you see the numbers for individual parts of the day.

  4. I like it !

    I do agree that 1 to 10 is too complicated so go with the woman’s suggestion (Cloud?) about 0, + or –

    Im so opinionated I’l have to think about what I consider a neutral activity — it’s easy to know what is happy for you or negative for you but neutral I will have to think about that — maybe cooking for kids like grilled cheese is a neutral for me

  5. Your babysitter solution was a very good one! It almost makes me wish I had in-home daycare instead of picking up my kid, bringing him home, then feeling the rush of preparing dinner at the same time as he wants attention.

    1. My daughter was in daycare twice a week and the pickup/dinner/bedtime thing was the WORST part of it for me. A couple of things that helped us – one of those days EVERY WEEK we went out to eat right after pickup. The other day I’d bring a snack and/or milk for her to give her immediately while we sat on the bench outside the daycare and reconnected.

      This gave me a tiny bit of wiggle room once we got home to get the evening stuff started. Oh, and I also moved her bath to the morning as our mornings were much more relaxed than our evenings.

      1. @ARC – I’m working on a post on how our evenings were much, much longer than that — no need to rush to get the bath in. Heck, it could have taken 2 hours…
        But yeah, they’re hungry right when I stop working, so this is my solution. So far so good….

    2. @Sarah – yes, that is the upside! I loved daycare for one kid, because he got lots of built in playmates. Now that we have 3 kids, there’s always someone to play with at home. Plus, it costs the same and there’s more flexibility.

  6. Love the ideas of a smiley/frowny face day-rating system and of balancing your energy like a checkbook!

    Re: the latter, Your Mind at Work by David Rock explains in detail which types of mental tasks are the most draining and why, so you can plan your day accordingly and don’t needlessly frustrate yourself trying and failing to do the kinds of tasks that are the biggest brain-drain at the end of a long, hard day when you don’t have enough juice left to handle them efficiently, or at all.

    Which probably has a lot to do with why getting dinner together at the end of the day feels so overwhelming. I’m a good cook, but I can’t even multi-task at it with friends in the kitchen, let alone toddlers (unless the kids can actually be involved in the cooking process, like with mashed potatoes or pancakes). The hardest part of cooking is all the thinking!

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone have a sense of how and when it became standard practice for parents to prepare all different kinds of foods for different family members? When I was a kid, my mom cooked the same thing for everybody and we all ate it. There were no battles of wills involved, because it never occurred to anyone to expect or demand anything different; we just accepted that some days we’d like what was for dinner more than others and either enjoyed it or put up with it–kind of like the weather. Was there some massive shift in consciousness between then and now, or was my family unusual in this respect and I never realized it?

    1. I’ve never made separate meals for my family members. My kids are young adults now. No wonder young parents are exhausted! They are running a restaurant. Eat what is served and try a bite of everything!

      1. In my case, my husband is generally not home when the kids want to eat. So I make something for the kids, then often he (sometimes me) will cook something for us later. We do family breakfasts, though, and those are fun.

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  8. Hey Laura:

    I like this idea of viewing your time as not just a pure time expendature but also an engergy expendature. Sometimes you may not have a lot to show for the day as far as pure “work” completed but you are just crushed. One of the things I have been working on is figuring out the upcoming day and how to anticipate the things that may take a ton of time. However, I am now going to look at it from also an energy standpoint. Sometimes, energy can drain from you even if you are not “doing” a lot. Case in point: I have a meeting later today that I am simply an attendee. I rarely speak and mostly come back with a report to my boss. Still, I usually am tired and will give into the dreaded 3:00 cup of coffee. (i know, I know, bad, bad bad) I wonder if there are ways to try to save up some energy prior to this meeting in anticipation of the upcoming meeting? Thanks for sharing this idea.

    Best rgs,

  9. I have been on a deliberate practice-themed reading binge, so I’m happy to see a post about time management that isn’t exactly about time management. I’ve been paying attention to what’s draining me lately (because I’m finding summertime pretty draining), but I’d never thought to assign numerical values. Good food for thought.

    Thanks for the mention!

  10. I appreciate the mention of energy as opposed to strictly time. I find that my trouble with trying to be more “productive”—either with work or even fun activities, is that fitting in as much as possible into the hours of the day, leaves me EXHAUSTED and burnt out. I think I could squeeze more in if I am deliberate about using my high-energy times more efficiently and scheduling breaks during my natural slumps.

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