Time is something that we constantly obsess about. An army of business consultants and self-help gurus has made millions with countless time management courses, day planners, books and apps that we eagerly devour.
Organize your day, get through all your emails, conduct efficient meetings, tackle big projects, eliminate distractions, carve out time for family and personal fulfillment—you can do it all if you just learn to master time!
Yet we may be stressing about the wrong things. A new generation of consultants now says we should focus more on managing our personal energy—not our time. I have to say, there’s something to it. There are only so many hours in a day that we can be productive. The human body just wasn’t made to go full-bore for 12-16 hours straight. Energy management recognizes that your day has its ups and downs—energy peaks and valleys. It suggests that you build in breaks where you can rest and reenergize.
Personal energy expert Tony Schwartz notes in a New York Times essay, “Human beings aren’t meant to operate like computers—at high speeds, continuously, for long periods. Instead, we’re physiologically designed to pulse, to move rhythmically between spending and renewing energy.”
Drawing on research by sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman, Schwartz explains that our bodies need a break about every 90 minutes. Unfortunately, he says, we override those signals with coffee, sugar and stress hormones.
“In a workday devoid of real breaks, we don’t think as clearly, logically or creatively in the eighth hour as we did in the second,” Schwartz says. “We don’t listen as attentively in the third hour of an endless meeting as we did during the first. Put in too many hours, too continuously, and collateral damage eventually ensues, in the form of disengagement, broken relationships, sickness and a lower quality of work.”
There are many sources for learning more about managing your personal energy, including Schwartz’s 2007 Harvard Business Review article, “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” where he talks about his research with employees at Wachovia Bank. The employees in Schwartz’s control group practiced energy-renewing techniques and performed better in a range metrics, from engagement and personal satisfaction to customer relations and loan production.
Managing your energy starts with eliminating those things in your life that can deplete your energy levels. It isn’t hard to figure out what those are:
Are you working too many hours without any clear boundaries?
Are you getting enough sleep?
Are you eating properly?
Are you exercising?
Do you let too many things worry you?
While you work on removing these energy zappers, you can also begin to rearrange your day to maximize bursts of peak energy and build in time for renewal. Here are a few tips:
- Make a list of activities that give you energy. Examples might include taking a short walk, sharing ideas with a friend or colleague, listening to music or meditating. Make sure you are doing these every day.
- Schedule your work so you “sprint” in blocks of 90-120 minutes. Try not to have interruptions during this time so you can totally focus on your work. Do not multi-task during your peak energy times.
- After each sprint, relax and do one of your energy-renewing activities. Make sure your breaks are long enough. Most people don’t allow themselves nearly enough time to recover.
- Resist scheduling back-to-back meetings or an impossible travel schedule. Give yourself enough time to unwind, breathe and enjoy yourself.
- Break down big projects and goals into smaller steps. Reward yourself and your team when milestones are achieved.
- Stay positive. Learn to avoid or minimize the amount of time spent with individuals who are a drain on your energy. Encourage your employees to bring you solutions, not just problems.
- Get your family and friends to help you prioritize your time so you can spend quality time with them. Allow them to hold you accountable for your downtime.