Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Time Management Tuesday: Manage Energy Instead Of Time

What I thought was going to be a one- or two-week break ended up lasting a month. This could have gone better. Or maybe it couldn't have.

At any rate, I am back at what passes for work for me. Sunday I went back to  attempting to rise for the day on a middle-school student schedule. I am feeling great joy at beginning the purge of my email inboxes each day at seven. Those boxes are a mess, because this past month I just didn't have the energy to do the skimming I needed to do each day or make the decisions I needed to make in order to deal with them.

It wasn't just a matter of not having the time. My energy was going elsewhere. 

The Difference Between Managing Energy And Managing Time

Last month I stumbled upon a Medium article by Kim Witten called Stop Trying To Manage Your Time: Do This Instead. Sadly, you won't be able to read her entire article, because Medium is no longer allowing three free reads per month. In the interests of staying on task, I'll spare you my thoughts on that subject. Nonetheless, Witten's article was very thought-provoking for me, and if you're part of Medium, anyway, give it a look.

By the way, you can also google "manage energy instead of time" and find other articles about the concept. Many of them advise doing things we've heard before--working in forty-five minute unit/segments of time, deep work, etc. 

Witten, though, very simply describes managing energy instead of time as responding more to the internal "I'm tired" signals over the external clock and calendar signals.

Personally, I think we often end up responding to internal signals over external clock and calendar signals whether we want to or not. There often comes a point where we don't have any choice. The energy is just not there. It's gone.

Small Energy Adjustments

Witten suggests a number of small things to do to help with energy, but something significant they all involve is being aware of your energy in the first place. Being aware that energy matters, not just time, creates a whole new mindset about work. As soon as you recognize and accept that, you can probably start picking up on small energy savers on your own--when to do high energy tasks versus low energy tasks, for instance. This past summer, I began starting to make dinner early in the day, leaving the end of the day for reading, something that required less physical energy but is necessary for me professionally. I thought I was managing my time, but I was managing my energy.

Larger Energy Adjustments

Treating to-do lists as menus: My second big takeaway from Witten's article, after the whole concept of managing energy, was using to-do lists as menus. She suggests looking at your list and being realistic about what you can actually do in a day.

Having just come off an energy-draining month, I'd even go further and suggest choosing tasks on the basis of the energy you have. If you want to plan ahead a little more, you could try predicting which tasks will require the most energy and when you think you're likely to have the energy required for them. Recognize your low energy times and save lower energy tasks for then. Witten has a chart to help you do this, assuming you can access enough of her article to find it.

As an example of working a low-energy time for all it's worth, I don't have that much energy when I get up on that middle school student schedule I mentioned earlier. Which is why I've been cleaning email boxes first thing in the morning. I rather enjoy doing that then and knowing that I'm freeing up better time later in the day for doing harder work. If I ever get my email in order, I could use that time for short-form professional reading, something I have trouble getting to.

I am probably attracted to this menu analogy because the main organizing element for my bullet journal is the week, not days and months, which is what are traditionally used. The only things I assign to days are appointments, workshops I'm attending, and things I'm doing away from home. Otherwise, I just keep slogging away at the week's tasks, noting with a slash that I've worked on something even if I haven't finished it until I get to the point when I can cross it off my week's list. In the future, I'm going to be thinking about whether or not I can stop the "slogging away" business and try using energy levels to determine what I work on. Could that eventually mean getting more done?

Situational energy management: For eleven years, I've been writing here about situational time management, how we can't expect to manage our time the same way throughout our lives. The situations we're living through--pressure from day jobs, no day job, children, no children, children out of the house, ill family members--have a huge impact on how we manage our time.

Our situations also have a huge impact on our energy. We have to think about our energy situationally, too. During X part of the year, I have to manage my energy this way. During Y part of the year, I have to manage it another.

I'm going to be thinking about managing energy a lot in the future, which means you may be seeing more about it here.

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