Allocating Your Energy

Back in the day, when I first began paying attention to maximizing my productivity, I was meticulous about tracking my time, right down to the minute. At the end of each week (each day, each moment, if I wanted to), I knew precisely how much time I had spent on each of the tasks, projects, and goals I was pursuing.

(Years later, when I worked for a big-name public relations company and was required to log my time in 15-minute intervals, I scoffed at the sloppiness and inaccuracy of their system. Today, there is highly-accurate and easy-to-use software for logging time.)

It was many years more before I began to realize that managing my time was helpful, but managing my energy was vital.

This is because you can log a lot of time when your energy is low. But during those periods you can’t – and shouldn’t – work on any tasks, projects, or goals that require your best efforts. Those best efforts depend on you exerting your best energy, and that level of energy is available for only a portion of the hours you log.

Think about it like this: Some of the time you’re trying to get things done you’re smart, you’re inventive, you’re passionate, things go quickly and smoothly for you, and you get a lot done in a relatively short time. However, at other times you’re slow-witted, dull, and disinterested, things go wrong and need to be done more than once. During these times you plod along at a snail’s pace and finish – if you don’t quit in the middle – way later than you originally hoped.

All of us go repeatedly through these kinds of ups and downs. You can’t avoid them. But you can learn to apply your “ups” to your most important, most demanding opportunities, and save your routine items and maintenance chores for your inevitable periods of low-energy.

Here’s how to do this:

Track Your Time and Energy

It makes sense to track how much time you devote to the various tasks, projects, and goals you’re trying to accomplish. But the time you spend on each of these is only part of the data you should record. You also need to keep track of your energy level: how smart, inventive, passionate, and driven you feel at any given time.

For me, it’s all about the “flow” state. When I’m “in the flow,” my capabilities are at maximum and I get a lot more done per minute than when I’m not.

So while you’re logging how much time you’re spending on each task, project, and goal, keep track of your energy level, as well.

Notice Your Energy Patterns

Most people lay down fairly clear patterns of high, medium, and low energy. For example, some people feel their best early in the day, and lag as the day wears on. Others have periods of high energy at particular times, such as before they break for a meal, or midway through the afternoon. A few people shift into a high-energy mode whenever they start a new task, project, or goal, and somehow lose that feeling as they get a firm grasp on what’s to be done or when they begin to approach the finish line.

Your pattern may be one of these, or it may be entirely unique.

That doesn’t matter as much as accurately recognizing your pattern, so you can capitalize on it.

Allocate Your Energy

Once you recognize when your energy is highest and lowest, you can begin to schedule your tasks, projects, and goals to optimally fit your pattern.

Start by scheduling your most important work for your times of highest energy. Then work down the two lists – times of energy, and work to be done – allocating your work of higher importance to your times of higher energy.

However, there’s a caveat here: Because your energy is not run by the clock – it’s easily influenced by many psychological, physiological, social, and environmental factors – you should not be rigid about adhering to this ideal schedule. It’s better to “check in” with yourself from time to time and, if you’re not feeling up to whatever important task you’ve penciled into your schedule for this moment, kick it down the road. Instead, spend the time doing something that requires whatever level of energy you actually feel at the moment.

(Do I need to admonish you not to “kick it down the road” too far? You obviously don’t want to put off your important work any longer than you need to.)

(Through this discussion of work “importance,” of course I recognize that urgency counts as well. But it’s unproductive and ultimately fruitless to let urgency dominate your schedule.)

You’ll find that managing your energy in this way produces even better results than simple-mindedly managing your time, like I once did. By applying your best efforts systematically to your most important work, you’ll dramatically increase your level of productivity and success in both your work and your life.

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