Manage your energy, but time matters too

photo-251I’ve had a number of people tell me lately that one should “manage your energy, not your time.” There are solid reasons for this phrase. Time is what it is. However you manage it, you’re not going to get more than 24 hours in a day. Energy, on the other hand, is a more elastic thing, and hence managing it might actually change its quantity.

There are other good reasons to think about energy. First, it’s easier to get a lot done if you match your most important work to your most productive time. Managing energy is about figuring out when that most productive time is (8:15 a.m. with a cup of coffee for me). When your energy flags it’s hard to get anything done, which explains why a lot of web surfing gets done at 3:30 p.m.

Second, there are many things you can do to boost your energy and hence be more productive. From a micro perspective, you can take breaks — real breaks. You can get up and walk, or call someone you like talking to, or have a cup of tea. From a macro perspective you can eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep. All of these things will boost your energy levels over time.

So yay energy. When it comes to managing energy instead of time, though, I’d say yes…but.

Time still matters. It matters a lot.

This is particularly true for those of us who have to be accountable for our hours. If my sitter leaves at 5:30, and it’s 4:00, and I’m planning on turning in an article the next morning, it would behoove me to write it. Even if it’s not a peak energy time of the day. You don’t have to feel like doing something in order to do it. Indeed, I’m reminded of Gretchen Rubin’s admonition to “act the way I want to feel.” That’s why I elected to “do it anyway” the other night when deciding whether to go into NYC in the rain to hear a concert, knowing I’d be home at 1 a.m.

Then there’s just a practical matter to managing time. Life is lived in hours. If you have certain things you need to get done in a day, you need to know how long they take, so you can plan them in and be sure there is enough space for them all. I may think, after that 8:15 a.m. coffee, that I have enough energy to write a novel in a day, but even post my NaNoWriMo binge, I know that I’m not going to write more than 1500 words an hour if I’m going for more than an hour, which means that I could write 9,000 words in a day if I had to…but not 90,000. As David Allen once put it, after caffeine, people have a tendency to totally overcommit.

To be sure, I think some element of the “manage your energy, not your time” is that headline need to have a dichotomy. These two things are not actually in opposition. You have to manage your energy and your time. I just don’t like seeing time downplayed.

Do you think in terms of energy or time? Or both?

15 thoughts on “Manage your energy, but time matters too

  1. Absolutely both. When I was studying for my qualifying exams I basically had the motto “if you can’t study, sleep.” That was an extreme but it was a way of acknowledging if I couldn’t do REAL work it wasn’t worth doing anything that didn’t help doing serious work the next day.

    Now I’m more balanced. But I’d rather NOT work than spend 3 hours doing something that should take 30 minutes because I’m exhausted. So in that case I’d just sleep, or watch TV, or something completely mindless and really kick it into gear another time.

    I don’t miss deadlines and I do absolutely fine in terms of annual reviews. So I guess I’m doing something right for me.

    1. @gwinne – if it works for you, it works. I find that I’ve developed a number of techniques to force myself to crank things out. Starting in the middle, then working up and down, or maybe choosing quotes and then just casually writing some transitions between them before I notice what I’m doing. Yes, I’d prefer to write from 8 to noon but if I don’t get that time, I don’t get it.

  2. I’m so glad you posted about this. Energy alone just can’t cut it. A sound time management program involves managing energy, having the right tools and systems,
    and creating good habits.

    1. @Nicole – yes, we need both. I think people just like to set things up in opposition that aren’t really in opposition. There are many stories that can be simultaneously true.

  3. Funny, I’ve been thinking about this lately and several blogs I follow have written about it. I’ve been sick for several weeks in a row and I DEFINITELY see the impact of reduced energy in my ability to make the best use of my time. I actually feel like I have more time than energy some days, so I have to be very intentional about using the higher energy times to get essential things done—which means I better get started NOW.

    1. Ana, yeah. Sometimes I feel like time is irrelevant if you don’t have the energy to really use it. Or you just need more time if you have low energy.

  4. I tend to think in terms of time. Things have been crazy for me this year but now with the holidays it has really cranked up. Usually I’m so protective of my sleep but the past few nights I’ve cut into my precious 8 hours to finish up Christmas cards. Unfortunately, I really feel it the next day. So I agree it’s really a dichotomy.

      1. Well…I’m earlier than usual because we moved this year and really nobody knows our new address. I’m hoping if our card is one the first people get then they can adjust addresses.

  5. Great Post! Yes, on both. And I think energy is best managed after evaluating your 168 hours. Then you can make tweaks to boost energy. For example, this week I tried something I’m calling “rake breaks”. I took a morning and afternoon 15 min break to go outside and rake some leaves. A few minutes outside usually recharges my brain and the extra physical activity didn’t hurt either. I found myself more productive afterwards than if I had used that time for say random internet activity. Not to mention a much nicer looking yard.

    1. @Jammy – thanks! Yes, I tend to think that physical activity (at least in reasonable doses) creates time. You’re enough focused after that you gain the time back. Again, in reasonable doses. When I was training for a marathon, I definitely felt like I had less time in my life, and the hours of running were a time suck that left me tired, not focused, afterwards. But a 30 minute run is an entirely different thing.

  6. I’m late in commenting on this post because I’ve been thinking a lot about it. I would like you to write about this topic more. This was the thing that bugged my about your “168 hours” book. All my hours are not equal. I work set hours in a medical clinic so all my work is done during those hours and there is nothing to take home. My problem is when I get home after being gone 9-10 hours, I’m exhausted. I have a few hours in the evening but no energy left to tackle household projects or even hobbies, other than vegging out with a book. I work 4 days a week but that leaves all the piled up household mess and laundry, errands etc to do on my days off. On paper, I should be able to a few minutes of housework each night and not leave it for the days off, but in reality, I have no energy left to care. Then when Friday rolls around, I’m annoyed at all stuff I have to do on my day off. (No kids left at home so I don’t have that to worry about.) I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. @Linda M – thanks for your comment. One option to choose is that this is not a bad schedule. Four long work days with easy relaxation after, then one day catching up on other stuff. Especially if you tried to compress the chores on the day off (say, only doing them in the morning) that would give you the afternoon off for other longer leisure activities. If you do want to do something differently, then the “plan it in, do it anyway” mantra from another post might be relevant. I never felt like taking my kid to soccer on Monday nights, but since I’d planned on it, and that was what we were all expecting, I’d naturally manage my energy to have some left in the evening. Then we could go to the playground and nearby library during his practice and it would all be fine. If I’d had to figure out an evening activity upon ending my work day, we wouldn’t have done anything, but since it was planned in advance I’d managed my energy for the day with that in mind. If you did want to occasionally do something fun in the evenings it could be along the lines of meeting a friend for dinner. Yes, you’d be tired at the end of your work day, but if she was expecting you, you’d probably still go… I do agree it’s an interesting topic. Some hours are better suited to some things than others, though when you’re desperate enough you’ll do what you have to do. I’ve worked on Friday nights (definitely not a favorite work time!) when I’ve had to get something done.

    2. Chances are, even if you had the energy each day, you probably wouldn’t be working a full hour on things to do around the house… But instead of breaking it out into 7 disparate days, you could choose to do it all in one single day — still leaving you the evening on that day and a full day on Saturday and Sunday. Or if it’s more errands, you could choose a “half-day” on Friday and a “half-day” on Saturday, leaving the mornings or afternoons (your preference) free for those errands. Or make Saturday your “household” day and leave all-day Friday for your errands.
      Something you also may not realize is that you might be able to get more work (“chores”) done in the larger blocks than you would in the smaller ones. (If you “gear up” for each block, it stands to reason that the less blocks you have, the less time needed to “gear up” for that activity.)
      And depending on the errands, you may be able to arrange them in a way that’s the least intrusive and/or energy-draining, so instead of bouncing back and forth across town all day, you can make a single loop and be done.
      Also, something that might help is to essentially clean up after each activity — but only for that activity. So, instead of making a meal and leaving all the dishes sitting around for that one day you’re off, pick up and clean off just the dishes for that meal. Run some water over them, do a couple scrapes as necessary, then place them in the dishwasher. Then when it’s the day to do the dishes, all you have to do is put in the dishwashing liquid/soap and set the dishwasher. Sort your clothes when it’s time for them to go to the laundry (e.g.- at the end of the day). You may have multiple piles until it’s the day for laundry, but on that day, it’s a simple matter of grabbing one pile at a time — rather than having a huge pile that you’ve got to spend extra time sorting before you can do anything with it. That sort of thing… 😉
      Hope that helps! 🙂

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