If you explore your inner world a little deeper, you'll notice that your motivations and drives are not like an on and off switch. When you don't feel motivated, it's because you're forcing yourself to do something that's just not where your mind is that day. Instead of forcing yourself, go with the flow. Pay attention to what feels energizing and exciting that day, at that moment. You'll still get things done - maybe just not in the order you want.
And if you need just to do nothing and rest, then do that... because that's what will help you bounce back into productivity when you're ready to resume. And this is the biggest difference between managing your energy vs. managing your time.
You have been conditioned to think in terms of time. College students take pride in staying up late to study as if staying up is an achievement in itself. Ambitious people often boast about working 14-15 hours a day. That sounds like an accomplishment because you equate time spent with hard work and hard work with success. If only the equation of life was that simple.
I love Brad Aeon's Ted Talk on the philosophy of time management. In his talk, Brad talks about the value of time - not from the perspective of time being about money or getting more done, but rather the actual value of what time affords you. He talks about changing the very fabric of how we look at the time - and its direct impact on our happiness, satisfaction, and motivation. Not surprisingly, the very same things that impact your productivity and long-term success.
Now, of course, that's not the focus of this article, so I won't be going into the philosophy of time or time management. But I hope that by now, you have started to see beyond the shiny facade of the time management world.
Time management vs Stress
Contrary to what you might have believed your whole life, time management does not always help reduce your stress and lead to success. In fact, it can at times have quite the opposite impact.
This might be a shocker because what attracts most people to time management is being efficient with their time, so they can feel less stressed about their work. When I asked you all on Instagram about what helps you reduce stress, the top answers were spending quality time with loved ones and engaging in hobbies or self-care.
And it makes sense. You want to better manage your time so you can be efficient and cram more work in less time, so you can do these other things that make you happy. Makes sense, right? But this is where it gets tricky. I want you to think back to a day when you felt super productive and got a lot of things done at work. And when you came home that evening, did you feel energized to go do something special with your family and loved ones, or did you want to sit on the couch, pour a glass of wine, and binge Netflix?
If you identify with the latter, then you know where I am going with this. The thing with time management is that it’s all about getting more done in a short amount of time. But this kind of consistent pressure and bouncing from one task to another is extremely tiring for your brain.
When you expose yourself to this day after day, your stress levels start to increase. Your cortisol levels begin to rise, which engages something called the HPA axis in your body, making you feel physically and mentally tired. It's your mind's way of telling you to slow down. But when ignored, these changes in your body reduce your productivity further and slowly lead to burnout.
Despite having experienced this, we still like to believe in time management because it's such an elegant concept at its face value. Get everything done quickly and efficiently, and then go on vacations with your family, parties on the weekend. Have success and leisure all by simply managing your time well. It has a ring to it, doesn't it?
And it's that dream that all the time management gurus keep selling us on, and we keep buying it. And when it doesn't work, what do we do? We go back and find a different time management strategy, just to hold on to the dream we have been sold on.
The longer you keep going through these cycles, the more you believe that they work, and the deeper you sink into the trap. After all, it's the time you spend on lavishing the rose that makes you appreciate it. It's a basic psychological phenomenon that the more time you spend on something, the more you get attached to it.
A recent found that the commonly shared time-management strategies can increase a person's stress level by a whopping 42%. On the flip side, a 2007 Harvard study showed that managing one's energy use and expense can help a person be more productive and help them be happier.
And we all know that being healthier and happier makes you feel more in control, regardless of the pressures you might be facing. And this is precisely what time-management strategies, despite all their fancy promises, fail to deliver.
Time management vs Energy management
As we peel off this facade of the time management world, I hope you are ready to look at productivity through a new lens. It's not about managing your time; it's about embracing your motivational flow and regulating how you spend your energy.
Keeping the end goal in mind will help you stay motivated in the long run. On a day-to-day basis, regulating your energy, which I call energy management, will help you stay productive and make daily progress towards that end goal.
This energy management is very different than time management. It doesn't matter if you spend 2 hours reading a book chapter or 40 minutes - it's still a chapter. If you can produce the same result in 6 hours that you typically do in 12, which one is better?
Not only is it more productive and efficient - It creates a self-fulfilling cycle that keeps improving your productivity. Think about all you can do with that extra time–No, with all that extra energy.
And that right there is a time management trap if you just change how you do things, but not how you think about them. You need to shift your mindset from thinking about the time you spend on something to the energy that the task consumes. How draining that task is - how mentally tired will you be feeling afterward?
Paying attention to these questions will help you plan what you need to recover from the energy you just spent. Do you need to switch to a different, lighter task? Do you need a self-care break? Do you need to call it a day?
Over time, you will also become more aware of where you are spending your energy and if it's worth it. You might decide to devote more energy to tasks that get you closer to your dreams and maybe a little less on things that don't fit into the bigger schema of your plans for life.
Studies have found that a busy and packed day kills creativity, which makes sense. For creative thinking, your mind needs to be free-spirited, stress and pressure-free. Your thoughts need to wander. The neurons in your brain need to build new connections to come up with innovative ideas.
The essence here is that energy is a bigger commodity than time. And you have to be careful about how you spend this commodity and how you replenish your energy. Ask yourself - When you’re working on something, how often do you find yourself striving for perfection–to give it your best? It sounds great, and it feels great, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly why no one ever challenges it. I’m gonna tell you something unpopular - that not every task needs your best performance.
I like to use the business term - Return on Investment. It means anticipating how much return you’re going to get for each investment and investing where you will likely get the best bank for your buck. You can use this analogy in all areas of life by being mindful of the energy you invest in each task. Some things in life just need to be “good enough,” while others do demand perfection.
To be successful in life, you will have to master the art of resource allocation. The resource here is your energy, and you get to decide how you want to allocate it among the tasks you tackle every day.
How to improve energy management for productivity?
So let's talk about how you better manage your mental and emotional energy? And for that, you have to first know where you are currently spending your energy. And second, how you need ways to replenish your inner resources.
Let's start with the first one. Paying attention to where you spend your energy is where the return on the investment idea comes into play. You can get started by paying attention to the most stressful task on your hand. Figure out how much effort it needs. But while doing so, keep in mind that we aren't talking about time here. A task could potentially only take an hour and still be more mentally draining than a 4-hour task.
Tackle these tasks first because the more you avoid them, the more you reinforce in your brain that these are indeed the tasks to run away from. You waste more energy being worried about and avoiding them than the tasks themselves require.
Also, keep in mind that these are often the tasks where you might be going for perfectionism. Let go of your expectations for a while, and just get them done - then you can look it over to see what areas need a bit of polishing. You'll find that often, "good enough" is more than sufficient for such high-stress and draining tasks.
The other part of your energy management strategy is replenishing your internal resources–to recharge your mental, physical and emotional batteries. And when it comes down to restoring yourself, there are only 4 things that you need to pay attention to:
First is nurturing your relationship with yourself. Something as simple as carving out some daily time for self-care can make a huge difference. Check out this video, where I talk about the two kinds of self-care: Recreational self-care and relaxation self-care. Recreational self-care involves things like hobbies or tasks that bring you joy and happiness. For example, playing video games or going for a hike. Relaxation self-care includes things that help you feel calm and disengage from the stressful parts of your day. For example, a nice bath or meditation.
The second is engaging in some soul-nourishing, meaningful conversations. Talking and staying connected with friends and loved ones who make you feel supported and cared for is one of the best ways to recharge your motivation and emotional energy. After all, we are social creatures, so be sure to surround yourself with healthy, loving relationships.
The third is physical recovery, meaning providing literal nourishment and relaxation to your body. Physical healing mostly comes down to 3 simple things: Healthy nutrition and hydration, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep. I talk about the importance of sleep on your emotional and mental wellbeing in this video here. In addition to quality sleep, exercise helps release endorphins in your body that counters the stress hormones and balances out your fight or flight reactions. Finally, nutrition and proper hydration provide literal energy for your body to function properly - physically and emotionally.
And the fourth way to replenish your energy is what the Ted Talk speaker, Steven Kotler, describes as "non-time." Kotler explains non-time as essentially means alone time - Time for yourself to do or not do anything that you want from your non-time. It can be great for self-reflection, paying attention to your thoughts and emotions, or simply practicing being with yourself.