Lately, it seems like you can’t stop by a single productivity website without running across yet another article on the importance of good time management. And sure, managing your time is important – but it’s only part of the picture!
Suppose you sit down and map out a schedule that you’ll apply to your work life over the coming week. Perhaps you’ve read some article that says morning people are most productive, so you design a schedule of future habits that involves working on priority projects first thing in the morning, and then trickling down to less important activities as the day progresses.
For all intents and purposes, this represents good time management. But what if you happen to be an afternoon or evening person who hits his stride around 4:00pm? In this case, waking up early and chaining yourself to the desk because some productivity expert told you to isn’t going to do you any good!
Instead, you need to map out your schedule to your highest energy periods. Not only will you get more done this way, you’ll fight the fatigue and disinterest that have sunk more than a few well-intentioned time management plans throughout business history.
Here’s how to start planning your time according to the principles of energy management, rather than time management:
Step #1 – Identify your peak productivity periods
First things first… We aren’t all built the same, which is why it’s so frustrating that the modern workplace has many of us stuck in cubicles from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Instead, we all have naturally different times when we’re feeling on top of things (and, conversely, naturally different times when we want to crawl under our desks to take a nap).
The key to matching your energy management to your work load is to identify those times when you tend to have the most energy. Some of you will already have your peak periods figured out, but others will need to spend a few days tracking how their energy levels fluctuate throughout the day.
Fortunately, this isn’t difficult to do. Simply check in with yourself every hour or so and rate your natural energy level. If it’s helpful, keep these records stored in an Excel spreadsheet or other tracking program so that you can compare them from day-to-day. Keep an eye on any trends you see over time, and you should eventually be able to identify a pattern of peak productive times and low energy periods.
Step #2 – Find ways to boost your energy
Now, while it’s true that all of us have internal circadian rhythms that control when we’re naturally most productive, there are also plenty of things that we can do to boost our overall energy levels. For example, we can:
- Skip the coffee and donuts. Serious boosts of caffeine and sugar might provide a temporary surge in energy, but they’re short-lived and lead to crashes later on. In general, it’s best to wean yourself off of these items, rather than developing a dependency on them.
- Eat energy-producing foods. Beyond laying off the sugar, try to sneak a few more super foods into your daily diet. Doing so will give you a natural energy surge that will help you to maintain productivity – even outside of your peak hours.
- Get enough sleep. Pulling all-nighters isn’t a sustainable strategy – even if you’re still a college student! Think about the fact that some studies equate sleepy driving with being as dangerous as drunk driving. If you aren’t any better off when you’re tired than when you’re drunk, it’s easy to see why getting the sleep you needed to sustain your overall energy levels is more important than staying up late in order to fit more into your day.
Step #3 – Align your work life with your natural energy fluctuations
Once you’ve gathered enough information on when you’re most productive throughout the day and how you can boost your energy levels using natural stimulants, try to schedule your work life with your regular energy fluctuations.
For example, if you find that you’re the most focused around 10:00am and experience a natural energy lull around 2:30pm, try to schedule any necessary meetings for the mid-afternoon in order to keep your mornings free for productive work on your top priorities. Or, if you find that you’re more mentally alert at night than you are in the morning, see if your boss will be flexible enough to allow you to work from home some days.
Obviously, you may not have this luxury in your workplace – and you’ll likely come across a few meetings or other time-sucks that are unavoidably scheduled for your peak productivity times. However, by understanding when your most engaged times are and making an attempt to base your schedule around these cycles as much as possible, you’ll get much more done as the result of proper energy management (rather than through arbitrary time management activities).