Jun 28, 2022
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You only have a certain amount of hours in the day to get stuff done. Everyone feels the pressure to be productive. However, forcing yourself to work on tasks that don’t match your energy is a recipe for disaster. This can lead to a downward spiral that eventually results in burnout.
In this article we’re going to look at the importance of managing your energy, not your time.
Most people only have 8 hours a day to get their work done if they’re lucky. However, realistically if you count your productive hours, it’s likely that the number is a lot lower than 8. In between commuting, grabbing lunch, speaking with colleagues, running personal errands, or any number of other distractions, you’re probably lucky to have 3-4 hours per day.
Time is a finite resource. We all wish we could find more time, but that’s impossible. However, the constraint of time being fixed should be a good thing for our productivity, but we have to use it wisely.
The misalignment between how many hours you’ve got to do work, and your actual productive hours can lead to overcommitting, failing to meet expectations, overworking, and eventually to burnout. Recovering from burnout can be a long, physically and mentally exhausting journey, one in which many people never fully recover from.
With time being a finite resource, we need to be smarter with how we choose what do work on.
One of the most important considerations when choosing what to work on is, does this task match your current energy.
Attempting to work on a task that does not match your current energy level means that you are going to be less productive than if you chose a matched task because it requires more energy and effort to complete a task that is a bad fit.
For example, if you’re trying to work on a creative task, but you’re already feeling the effects of decision fatigue, completing the task is going to take much longer. Forcing yourself to stare at a blank canvas isn’t going to make the magic happen.
Similarly, if you are energised and ready to work, concentrating on routine admin tasks is a waste of the opportunity. You should be making the most of your current high energy levels to tackle your most important tasks.
If you are regularly working on mismatched tasks, you are going to be less productive than if you had chosen what to work on more wisely. This can lead to a downward spiral, depression, guilt, dissatisfaction with your work, unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, distraction, and being miserable.
Another important consideration is that your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day.
A lot of people find that they have the most energy in the morning, and so it’s best if they work on the most important tasks earlier in their day. On the other hand, some people are night owls and find that they do their best work late into the evening, especially if that means they have less distractions.
In either case, you will find that your energy levels likely drop the longer you work. For example, if you’ve been productive all morning, you will probably find that you have any energy slump in the afternoon after lunch.
An interesting opportunity arises when you start to consider your energy as an equally important aspect of choosing the right thing to work on next. Whilst time is a finite resource, energy can be restored through certain actions.
Of course, the most obvious way to restore energy is through rest, typically sleep. However, there are many other restorative types of task you can use to raise your energy levels.
For example, many people find that they have more energy after exercise or spending time outdoors. It might seem counterproductive if you’re feeling stressed about meeting deadlines, but going for a walk at lunch instead of eating at your desk can be the difference between a productive and non-productive afternoon.
Managing your energy, not your time can be the difference between being productive, or spiralling into burnout. Conscious decisions about how you choose to invest your energy is critical to getting the most out of your time.
Firstly, you should recognise energy depleting actions. Do certain tasks leave you feeling drained, anxious, or stressed? Is there a way you can delegate them, seek help, or seek to limit their damage?
You should choose your tasks based upon your current energy level. If you’re feeling tired, or stressed, don’t attempt to complete complex, or creative tasks because you will end up wasting time procrastinating. You are better off using that time to productively work on less intensive tasks.
Similarly, if you feel like you have a lot of energy and motivation, don’t waste the opportunity completing simple tasks. You will get a dopamine hit every time you check off a simple task, but you’re wasting the opportunity to move close to your goals.
Matching your tasks to your energy is the only way to get more done with less effort.