I’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?