Stop managing your time and start managing your energy.

Throughout my life, I’ve always been fascinated with the behavioral skills it takes to be happy in life and successful in your life and work. There’s plenty of content across the web and in Barnes & Noble to help answer that for you. Let’s not go down that road.

There’s one topic in particular, though, that productivity gurus have wrong … time management. We’ve all read countless articles and books about the art and science of productivity, all following the approach of how to work and where to work. We hear “clear your desk, clear your mind”, practice yoga, listen to ambient music, knockout the biggest task of the day first thing, and the topic du jour … calendar blocking. All great advice.

If all those aren’t working for you … take a different approach. It’s the only way I could figure it out.

Energy management.

I’ve shifted the paradigm. I took all my chips off time management and doubled down on energy management.

The key to happiness and productivity is to know where you get your energy.

I stopped asking myself how do I get the most out of these 8 hours … this 40-hour week … and started asking myself “how do I get the most out of my energy?” When you approach your life and work that way, here’s what you find:

  • Life stops being a Monday — Friday, 9 to 5. Sometimes it’s more when energy is high, sometimes it’s a lot less while you need to refill your tank
  • Vacations are rarely pre-planned; they are taken when they are needed to refuel
  • I’ve become better at planning a manageable workload over a given timeframe
  • The feeling of failure from not sticking to your calendar block is gone, eliminating a whole source of anxiety

You’ll see from my energy grid above how I pair certain tasks and activities with various levels of energy.

5 am — 6 am: Get Right Time #1

This is my time. I use it however I wish. Sometimes I just relax and watch some cheap TV, occasionally I read, when the weather’s nice I sip coffee on the porch, eat breakfast. If I’m backed up on laundry or cleaning, I do it. Sometimes I sleep. It’s cool, it’s my time.

6 am — 9 am: Productivity Sprint

A looooong sprint, but my energy bank is full and I can endure this long. This is working email until there are no longer action items in my inbox, writing proposals, analyzing reports, crafting outreach emails — all things I can package together into bursts within the sprint.

9 am — 12 pm: New Business Meetings

I spend nearly every morning taking 2–3 business development meetings with prospects, attending morning functions, and networking. Here’s why: I’m a pretty strong introvert and to tackle this many meetings takes a lot of energy for me, which means I need to do it while my energy bank is full.

12 pm — 4 pm: Emails/Texts, administrative tasks, then strategy

By this time, my socializing muscle is exhausted and its time to rest a little. My morning emails have replies, a whole other batch of people have been in touch, and there’s lots of administrative work to do (entering data, sending cards/gifts, coordinating proposal and contracts, forecasting and reporting). These activities are integral to how I approach my work and they fill my energy tank back up by limiting socializing and completing tasks. The extra boost of energy opens my mind for big picture strategy work.

4 pm — 5:30 pm: Workout

For most of my life, I was a morning workout person. It seemed easier to knock it out first thing before the day took over. That’s how time management people think. I’m an energy manager. Knowing that I’m zapped socially and lots of tasks have been completed, this is a perfect time to refocus my energy inward and into a workout. It’s solitude. I stopped fighting the notion and the gurus who said you need to wake up and workout to bolster productivity throughout the day. For some, great. But don’t do it because that’s the best time, do it when your body craves/needs it.

Evening: Get Right Time #2

I always eat directly after the workout. Then it’s community service work and organizing to dos for my morning work session. As we get closer to the weekend, it’s more time with friends and enjoying time away from work — the tank is running low and needs replenished.

9:00 pm — 10 pm: Sleep Routine

This one is simple. I’m usually so physically tired that relaxing isn’t an issue. I doubt many of the people that are highlighted in the “10 things the most successful people do every night” articles in Forbes will ever admit to this, but I’m not afraid to … I watch cheap TV. The mindless comedies where I can escape into the simplicity of the humor and shift my ever-running mind to a calmer, more positive state. The Office, Family Guy, and the like.

No crime shows at night, they give me nightmares.

The advantage of energy management over time management is you eliminate an entire source of stress and anxiety that accompanies thinking about your work in terms of hours/days/weeks. Time is on-going and out of your control, you can’t add hours to the day. But energy is fluid — a challenge in itself — but it’s something you can monitor, learn over time, and use to become your best asset.

(A nod to Keith Speers for introducing the energy grid. Also to Brian Kight for our quick email chat a few nights back to put this all into perspective.)