Education & Career Trends: Manage your energy, not your time!

5 min read

Edition: November 27th, 2021
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

It’s so important to see work as a function of energy, not just time. (Image Credit: Canva)
  • Excerpts from article by Nick Wignall, published on

Productivity problems that look like time management problems are usually energy management problems in disguise. We don’t procrastinate because we lack time — if anything, research suggests that having too much time makes it more likely that we procrastinate.

Instead, we usually end up procrastinating on our most important work because we’ve wasted our best energy on less important work. Technically, this is called precrastination — obsessively working on less important tasks as a way to avoid more important, if challenging, ones.

All that’s to say, being productive has much more to do with energy than time. It’s a lot easier to do your best work with your best energy. So instead of trying to endlessly slice and dice your schedule according to newer and more complex time management tactics, focus on optimising your energy instead.

Here are a few tips to get started:

1. Identify when you hit peak creative energy

  • Some people jump right out of bed ready to start working deeply and creatively.
  • Others don’t really get revved up until the late hours of the night and some people have their best energy right after an early afternoon siesta.
  • It doesn’t really matter when your peak creative energy comes.
  • What matters is that you understand when it comes and optimise your work around that time.
  • If you’re not sure, take a few days or a week and track your energy levels over the course of the day.

2. Prioritise your work according to your energy requirements

  • Responding to emails is important but it doesn’t take much creative energy most of the time. But writing a first draft of a new article takes a lot of creative energy.
  • The point is that it’s important to be clear on which tasks require which kind of energy.
  • Because if you’re not clear about this, it’s very easy to end up wasting your best, most creative energy on tasks that don’t need it and then having little leftover for important work.

3. Schedule tasks around maximising your creative energy

  • Once you understand when you have the best energy and what tasks require the most creative energy, you can plan your schedule around maximising the overlap between those two.
  • Avoid doing activities that require a high level of focus and creativity at the end of the day when most of your energy has been depleted by other tasks.
  • Based on a clear understanding of the work you need to do and your own energy levels, figure out the best time to maximise your creative energies.

4. Guard your creative energy ruthlessly

  • Of course, even if you know what your most energy-demanding work is and when your peak creative energy is, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to align them.
  • It’s all too easy to let things intrude upon your peak creative time.
  • When you have something else important or exciting, it’s easy to rationalise why you should make an exception.
  • However, exceptions tend to be slippery slopes: once you start making them it gets increasingly easy to keep making them.

5. Get used to saying “no” by reminding yourself of your values

  • ‘Fear of missing out’ is a thing. It’s hard to disappoint people. And it’s painful to give up exciting opportunities.
  • That’s a big part of why we all struggle so much to set boundaries and say no.
  • It’s hard because there are very real downsides to saying no and being ruthless about protecting your most creative time and work.
  • It’s nearly impossible to consistently set healthy boundaries around your creative work unless you make it a deliberate practice to remind yourself of your core values — the things that really matter most to you.
  • Protecting your creative energy is harder than it seems. And it’s arguably too hard to do so consistently unless you tap into the power of your values by regularly reminding yourself of the whys behind your most important whats.

6. Work as a function of energy, not time

  • The returns on highly-focused creative time are exponentially higher than every other time.
  • It’s so important to see work as a function of energy, not just time: the output on two hours of low-energy work pales in comparison to that of two hours of high-energy work. It’s an hours to energy comparison!
  • Of course, real life happens. And for all sorts of reasons, we can’t always control all our work as well as we’d like to.
  • Still, to the extent that you can, given your circumstances, think about your work — especially your creative work — through the lens of energy, not just time.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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