My goodness, we are so focused on time, and we give it so much power over us. We say things like “I don’t have time to exercise.” We lament about things we’d love to do, “if only I had the time.” Time gets blamed for all kinds of things we know we should do to take care of ourselves, but don’t. We miss workouts, we don’t eat well, we don’t sleep enough, and we say time is the reason. I do this too!
We need to let time off the hook. Time is simply a neutral tool we use to organize ourselves, like measuring cups or maps. We need to know how much time to allow to get to the airport. About how much time to bake the chicken. When to meet a friend or a client for lunch. All perfectly fine.
Instead of giving time such a central role, what if we focused on managing our energy instead? What if we measured our days by how well we maintained our energy levels, meaning our capacity to do the physical, mental, or emotional work that matters most to us? What if we had periods of amazing productivity, and then balanced that work with periods of restoration?
The idea of energy management is described in many places, but perhaps the best is The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. They say every single thought, emotion, and behavior has an energy consequence. How true this is! Some things generate energy, and some cost energy. The trick is to balance the two by routinely including actions that restore our energy levels. To be effective, these actions need to be planned in advance (preferably written down) and extremely specific. For example, you plan to take a 10 minute walk at 11 a.m., not to “take a walk daily.”
I love imagining energy management as a series of sprints. Identify work that needs to be done and go all out, like a sprinter. One hundred percent focus and maximum effort, with no e-mail, no Facebook, no distractions. Then, after fully engaging for a bit, take a walk. Or have a cup of tea (I love fennel tea!). Or meditate. Or have a nice lunch. Or talk with a friend. Engage, disengage, repeat.
Looking at energy this way has some pretty profound implications. Restorative activities are not merely “nice to do”; they are an essential part of the ebb and flow of life. They’re not selfish; they make it possible for us to work hard and accomplish what we want to get done.
For many years, I didn’t do any kind of recharging, at least consistently. I got to work in the morning and typically worked until I dropped, sometimes after midnight. And hey, I got a lot done, though I question how efficient I truly was. I kept myself going with unhealthy behaviors, like drinking too much coffee and soda. I was often grumpy, so my emotional energy was low. I’ve gotten much better and am actually in a decent place as far as managing my work, but I want to take it to the next level. To me, Productivity 1.0 is managing time effectively, but 2.0 is successfully managing energy. To do this, I’ve been blocking time to work hard on my highest priorities, and then I back off with something enjoyable. Sometimes it’s just a five minute break to meditate; other times it’s a workout or a meal. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t perfect, because I tend to have a lot of meetings and unplanned work that pops up during the day. But I feel more productive, and more importantly, I’ve felt happier since I started working this way.
I’d love to see a world where taking time to recharge is viewed as essential to productivity. From what I’ve seen, we’ve made big strides, but there’s work still to do.
I’m wishing you good energy!