It’s not that time management is bad. It’s just that some methods tend to put you in a box and twist you to become a productivity automaton. Truth is, we are humans and we work differently from robots.
I’m a big fan of productivity tips, hacks and methods and had my fair share of exposure to them. I have found many of them to be quite useful like coming up with your Most Important Tasks (MITs) for the day, batching my work (grouping similar tasks together and doing them batchwise), writing the usual to-do list, setting my timer to 1 hour to focus and concentrate on my MITs and just working on something for 2 minutes to overcome the initial inertia to get started.
On the flipside, while the usual lot of time management methods focus solely on your key resource – time – they do forget the other variable – energy.
It’s true that we need to be prudent and resourceful in the way we manage our time, since all of us have a fixed amount of it. However, we should not forget the energy variable which is also instrumental in our levels of effectiveness and productivity.
So, let’s talk about energy management.
Energy can be split into 2 key components – Physical Energy (PE) and Emotional Energy (EE).
PE (hands) is used for any form of physical activity – running, walking, shifting furniture, playing with the kids, walking the dog, commuting, etc. And EE (head and heart) is expended in endeavours like brainstorming, making creative work, dealing with people, negotiating a deal, thinking out of the box, troubleshooting clients, running meetings, etc.
And just like time, we have varied and limited amounts of PE and EE in a single day.
The key lies in how we manage our own levels of PE and EE.
Step 1: Let’s understand how PE and EE work
“How do I distinguish between the two of them?” you might ask. It’s not that difficult. Let’s look at these examples to make things clearer:
- You are at your first day of work. You had a good night’s rest, a good breakfast and you’re excited and looking forward to meeting the team and getting started on your first project. – High PE, High EE
- You had a packed weekend. Even though you got your 8 hours of sleep, you wake up and your head is spinning. After a proper breakfast, you sit at your desk but you are still in a daze. – High PE, Low EE
- You grab a cup of coffee and give your head some time to warmup. You are now able to think more clearly than 1 hour ago. – Increase in EE
- You went for a tour of the various departments and got to see the different aspects of the company. You went into the field as well. Not much thinking to do today, but your body’s dead tired. – Lower PE, Higher EE
- On the second day of work, there isn’t much to do physically (you’re in your office the entire day) but your boss passes you some past projects and case studies for you to familarise yourself with. Then there was a strategy meeting in the middle of the day. And you got to sit in to observe how your colleague negotiated a deal with a big-ticket client. Your mind is stuffed and saturated for the day. – Higher PE, Lower EE
- On the following weekend, you were invited to play as the goalkeeper for your company’s inter-department soccer tournament. You haven’t done sports in a while, so your body is trying to keep up with the other players. However, you accidentally scored an own-goal while trying to save a ball. And that made your department lose the match. Your body’s terribly exhausted and your morale is dented. – Low PE, Low EE
Step 2: Let’s sort out our tasks according to how little/much PE and EE they require
The image below is a quadrant that allows us to separate our tasks.
And these are examples of tasks which fit in:
- Quadrant 3 (High PE, High EE required): Travelling to multiple sites to meet and negotiate with several clients.
- Quadrant 4 (High PE, Low EE required): Helping your department to physically file and sort stacks of documents.
- Quadrant 1 (Low PE, High EE required): Running and organising a product launch meeting.
- Quadrant 2 (Low PE, Low EE required): Performing simple and general administrative tasks.
So look at the list of things you need to do for the day, week or month and sort them out according to how much physical and emotional exertion they demand.
Step 3: Observe your levels of PE and EE throughout the day
Take a step back and observe how your levels of PE and EE change throughout the day.
Like other morning people, do you start off mentally energised and alert during the early parts of the day, and then taper off as the day progresses? Or do you begin cold at first and warm up from mid-day onwards?
Knowing how your body and mind behaves and performs through the day will definitely help you in prioritising the tasks you have for the day.
For instance, if you are a morning person with higher PE and EE in the day, you could then start the day off by tackling the mentally draining and challenging work first, and leaving the repetitive and menial duties for later.
Step 4: Test this by putting it to work
The best techniques will not bring you any benefit unless you put them into practice and adjust them accordingly to your own working style.
So try the energy management technique for a week or two and tweak it to suit your own needs. You could also implement it side-by-side with the MITs and batch working techniques to get the best of both worlds.
Go for it!
I hope that you found this article and technique useful. If you have, share it with your friends and leave a comment below on how it turned out for you.
Image courtesy of Felix Meyer.