I have learned over the years, and many will corroborate this as well, that ENERGY MANAGEMENT is where it is at. I seem to have plenty of time for the things I am enthusiastic about doing, its the other stuff I can struggle with. Once I figured out how to manage my energy better, the concerns of time management became more clear and more effective for the things that I don’t get excited about.
One of the things I love to do is to go the the local coffee shop near my house and write or do other creative things. I think I could literally start every day like this, even though I do not typically do this more than four days a week. But when I do, I see my best and most creative work done in these early morning sessions. The best way for me to manage my creative energy is to A. be aware of when the best window of time during the day to do certain things, and B. ensure I am disciplined enough to set up my day to work in the appropriate window of functionality.
One of the reasons I find writing in the morning better is because my brain is as close to the theta wave mode that we falling into or exiting sleep. This is the stage where the division between conscious and subconscious minds are overlapping and your brain is more flexible and creative. By cracking open my laptop, grabbing a hot chai tea and putting on my headphones, I get to work in the zone closest to the most creative brain phase of the day. I can easily spend two hours at the coffee shop before I realize that time has passed. I am immersed in the moment, and this really helps the focus and creativity. Eventually I will get a little mental fatigue, and my butt will hurt from sitting on those lousy wood chairs for so long, and then it is time to go. In many cases, I will proofread the blog from the last writing session and then post it, as well as crank out a blog like this one.
By starting out my day at the coffee shop, I am managing my energy effectively. I get a lot of stuff done in that time slot, and if anything is left for the next session, I do not worry about it. I know it will be completed the next session. I want to write and create, therefore the energy management is minimal in my mind. It is not a struggle, so I don’t have to be “disciplined” to get things accomplished. Now on the other hand, when I have a task that I am not excited about doing, that is a different story. I feel most mentally energetic the first few hours after waking up, so I use that momentum for my creative processes. Because I do Intermittent Fasting, I will eat the first meal of my day around 9:30am. This will give me a second wave of energy to finish out my morning, and I can tackle the things on my To Do list that are the least appealing thing(s) to me. I know that if I manage my energy correctly, I can use this second wave of mental energy (after breakfast) to scratch things off my list that I need to get done. This includes difficult conversations, large opportunity presentations, etc.
For example, I hate entering information into my CRM that I use for tracking client and prospects, so this 2nd wave timeslot is where I usually schedule this task. I am not excited about it, and therefore I have to manage when I do it to make sure that things get done, and done effectively. It requires focus to input the data correctly, and also remember any additional details from recent conversations that would be noteworthy to add into that client or prospect file. When I wait until the end of the day to do this, it feels like it takes way longer, and I am sure the quality of my input suffers. This can have long term impact; if I mess up details or transpose digits in a phone number, I will have to backfill the right information later on, and this can be a real struggle at times.
My afternoon energy levels are usually fairly consistent, and I can work straight through several hours on menial, non-creative tasks like video editing, scheduling social media posts through Buffer, and other things I do not need to put a high level of creative thinking into. I schedule large client presentations in the morning hours, as I feel that a big opportunity will take more focus and energy than a routine smaller client will. For a large prospect, I will want more energy, focus and creativity at my disposal, so I try to get those on the books before noon. For the smaller client, I can go on auto-pilot, going through the process in workmanlike fashion.
This is what I am talking about when I say Energy Management: being aware of your own patterns and using this to your advantage.
Time Management will fall in line with your energy management if you follow some of the examples that I shared above. This “system” is reliant on a couple of factors to be aware of:
1. Consistent sleep patterns – I am an early to bed and early to rise person at this stage of my life. I need a lot of sleep, like a minimum of 8 hours a day. When I do this, I recover my energy levels, my brain is sharper, and it even helps me avoid injuries as my body recovers better as well. I find it WAY better than what I used to do, which was stay up late and sleep in even later. That is not terribly functional when you have an 8-5 job either, as I was always tired and unproductive. Once I broke out of this cycle and reset my body’s rhythms to a more natural state I became ten times more productive and creative.
2. A good diet – I used to live on fast food and cheap, pre-made “manufactured” foods that were quick and convenient. This is killing me slowly, but surely. It wreaks havoc with your brain, your gut health (also known as your second brain) and your sleep patterns. I learned a while ago that if I consume even a small amount of sugar after 6pm, I will not sleep as well that night. My legs will twitch and keep me awake. I will not sleep as deeply, and I will feel the effects of this all day. I can handle caffeine just fine, any time of day, but the sugar gets me and throws things off. I don’t do it often for general health reasons, but if I do decide I want to drink a soda, I will do it at lunch instead of dinner. I use a supplement called Athletic Greens, which is a whole food supplement that offers a wide spectrum vitamins, minerals, and even probiotics. This is not a paid endorsement, I am just a client, and love the product. I think it is appropriately named as “nutritional insurance”.
3. Personal Awareness – The things I mentioned above that I set my day up for are not necessarily universal, and you will need to experiment a little to find your own groove. When I was in college, I would schedule all my classes late morning to early afternoon, but that was mainly because I wanted to be up late doing, you know, what college kids do. ;-) I never realized the impact this had until I did things differently for a while, and saw the benefits I was missing out on. Could I have continued in the same fashion through college and long after? Of course, and probably gotten by doing it. But I am not about mediocrity, just getting by, or any of the “settling” crap. I want the most I can out of myself and life, and so I made the changes and have been so much better for it.
4. Personal Discipline – It takes a fair amount of discipline to experiment to find better ways to do things, and then even more discipline to make changes and stick to them. The good news is, this is a learned skill just like anything else. In fact, I think it is like a muscle, where the more you exercise it, the better and stronger it gets. Start small, and build up. Just like you wouldn’t go to the gym and rack up 300 pounds on the bench press your first time working out, you wouldn’t want to make radical changes that would be hard to stick to with your scheduling habits, either. If you are not a morning person, don’t think you schedule a bunch of classes or early morning meetings and I’ll “learn to deal with it”. The penalty for this error in judgment can be high, and it is avoidable with just a little better planning. Ease your way into that lifestyle, step by step, and then you have a real shot at making that work. Remember, you are trying to install an operating system for the long haul, you do not need to solve all your problems or annihilate your bad habits by the end of the week. Pace yourself.
5. Write a To Do list every day – While this falls closely in line with point #4, I did want to list it separately and give the topic it’s due attention. I function so much more effectively when I write a list of things I need to do. Even simple things, that I am likely to remember to do, I still write a list just to be sure. If I am in need of a rest day, and should do little to nothing productive, I will still write a list that reads Relax, Lounge, Sauna, Stretch and other “recovery based” activities. Its a good reminder that this is the focus of the day, and if I do a good job of this, tomorrow I will be back at full capacity to tackle everything that needs done. If I have a lot to do, I write out the list and then prioritize it based on the time slots I discussed at the beginning of this blog. Menial tasks are pushed into the afternoon, creative and things of high impact or importance are done before noon. Every time I accomplish a task, I am sure to scratch it off the list. The little endorphin hit helps my momentum, and I can visually see that I am making progress.
When you learn to figure out your Energy Management, your time management will follow and also improve drastically. All of these things blend together, and so the more you focus on each of the above, the faster and more effectively you will see things progress and change. Be happy with step by step progress, you cannot do all of this in one shot and think it will stick. This is why crash diets don’t work, it is too much of a radical shift in habit to be able to be adhered to. Doing things in a controlled and planned out fashion will greatly assist in you making changes that will stick. Be diligent, and the world will bend to your wishes. Well, at least more so than it does right now…
I wish you luck in your endeavors.