Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

How to start managing your energy levels instead of your time

The amout of energy you have should determine what you do

Most of us have been following a steady daily rhythm: getting up somewhere between 6 and 8 in the morning, working from 9 to 5, spending the evenings at home. In school, it was similar: school starts in the morning and ends at lunch or in the afternoon. Most business hours fit into that pattern (at least in western countries). Not even the fact that we can communicate worldwide with little delay at all hours of the day has changed much. The inherent problem presents itself at a closer look. We are expected to be alert, awake and productive at certain times.

We are managing our time, assuming that we are equally effective throughout the day — even though we know we are not.

You should instead start to observe your energy levels throughout the day and change schedules, meetings and work accordingly.

If we know when our energy levels are high (and how we can achieve those levels), we can plan much better, putting tasks that require creative energy or decision making in those “high times”, while moving work that calls for routine into areas with lower energy.

There are three steps involved: first to identify your current energy levels, second to plan your day accordingly and third to balance out the levels, changing them according to our wishes.

1. Observing energy levels

You will notice that there are certain times of the day when you feel full of ideas, ready to go and brimming with energy. Working on creative tasks, making decisions and seeing the larger picture are all easy in these high-energy times.

It doesn’t matter whether these high-energy times are in the morning for you, or late at night. It seems trendy to “get up early to get things done”, but it really is a matter of personal choice. If you work late on high-energy and consequently sleep late, you will ultimately achieve the same results.

Then there are low-energy times where you feel like your head is full of sawdust and thoughts are slow and low. For some of us, these states are in the mornings (before coffee maybe) and often right after lunch. In those times, we don’t want to think so we surf, play games on the smartphone and stare at the work like it’s ancient Egyptian (or if you happen to work as an archeologist, like it’s quantum mechanics). It’s of little use to force active engaging work in those times.

And finally, we have times where we need to relax and actually switch off to do nothing, putting energy back into your body. It’s important we honor these times as well, giving us enough time to regenerate and rejuvenate.

You can keep a journal or calendar to track your energy levels, simply mark the times of the day when you have higher energy, lower energy and periods of relaxation. Of course, you can also add additional levels and states, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll keep it at three levels.

This is how my day might look, but I give myself the freedom to observe and respond accordingly:

2. Plan according to energy levels

After you have observed your energy for a while, you can plan accordingly. If you have a rough idea of when you can expect certain energy levels, put the tasks you have into those times.

For high-energy levels: creative work (coming up with novel ideas), creative team discussions, making difficult or high-risk decisions, planning for mid-term and long-term, actively learn new content, make presentations and pitches, thinking and reflecting, experimenting and trying new things, writing to-do lists.

For low-energy levels: routine work, maintenance and cleaning, working through tasks that have clear goals and processes, writing correspondence and emails, reviewing what you learned, writing invoices.

For relaxing levels: eating, sleeping, sports, outdoor activities, meditation, social times, gaming, shopping, movies etc.

3. Optimize your energy levels

When you start to put tasks into the appropriate energy levels, you should see an increase in actual work output.

Doing 30 minutes of creative work in a high-energy level will be as effective as trying to do the same work in 2 hours when you have lower energy.

One important thing to do in high-energy times is to plan tasks for low energy. That is why I put “writing to-do lists” in the high-energy time: planning is much easier when you have an overview. The actual grunt work can be done in times of lower energy — provided the tasks don’t require much mental energy themselves.

There are many strategies to start the high-energy times, some recommend getting up early, some start with sports, a certain diet or another ritual. You can try any of those and use the ones that fit into your lifestyle.

There are indicators that what you do in your relaxation time determines how easily you can start high-energy levels. Sports, sleep, healthy eating and meditation seem to contribute to triggering and extending your high-energy times.

If you feel that your high-energy times are short and exhausting, take a look at your food intake. High-energy work requires lots of mental energy, which is ultimately body energy. Look for proteins and slow-release carbohydrates that will provide long-term nutrition instead of short bursts, like those from simple sugars.

Another important factor is to look at your habits and shift them around if neccessary. One example: commutes are often seen as “dead time”, but might in fact be a golden opportunity to do high-energy work. If you are in your car, you have space to think and could use voice dictation to get ideas down. On a train, the time could be spend reading and learning — depending on how you feel.

If you notice that you are awake early anyway, your head full of ideas, then get up and use that burst of high-energy, even if it lasts only 20 minutes!

Remove distractions from your high-energy times, especially email and non-verbal communication. If you are working on something in your high-energy time, give yourself the time to fully immerse, focusing on this particular task. External inputs like emails, messages and menial tasks will fight for your attention, but they can easily be answered in times of lower energy. I wrote another article about getting into a high energy state in the morning by keeping a distance from other people’s ideas.

Use your relaxation periods well. They might be able to recharge energy fast: light lunch and 15 minutes of meditation might put you back into a high-energy state, whereas heavy lunch and scrolling Facebook for half an hour might leave you sleepy and uninspired.

You can relax more actively by spending mindful time on your pastime activities. These might include meditation, cooking and eating consciously, focusing on sports and your body, taking baths with calm music or doing outdoor activities.

Passive relaxation is more mental consuming, watching TV or scrolling social feeds, surfing aimlessly and eating just to feed yourself. The quality of your resting period is likely to influence the quality of your productive time!

But as I mentioned above, you have to find what’s best for you, there will be no golden solution for everyone.

To wrap it up: be aware of your energy levels and try to plan your day accordingly.

It will help you achieve better results in shorter time. You can try different habits to trigger and maintain higher energy states, but most important is listening to yourself in the process.

Thanks for reading! Let me know how your daily energy levels look!

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 296,127+ people.

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