One of my colleagues recently sat down to a detailed discussion with me around time management. “I know what needs to be done. I know why I don’t do some things. And I need a way to manage my time better so everything gets done. I see you and no one knows you are working but things get done. How do you do that?”
The typical time management concerns
The way he articulated his concern led me to think about if this was really a time management problem in the first place. We turned the discussion into a coaching conversation with me helping him clarify his own purpose through simple questioning.
Through that conversation, we were able to establish one very important fact: That time is only as important as what you do with it. The effort you invest and the outcomes you generate.
This completely redefined his problem into one of managing energy rather than managing time, making us wonder if time management was really an outdated concept now.
Problems with conventional time management approach
I have been in personal effectiveness training and coaching for a few years now and time management never ceases to be on the list of skills to be mastered. From the most junior entry level professionals to the most senior executives gracing an organization’s C-suite. And by the time most people participate in a coaching session or a workshop, they have typically tried most tips – making to-do lists, monitoring their progress, setting aside time for key tasks, delegating, using productivity apps on their phones and computers. Yet, most feel these are clichéd and “didn’t work for me”.
In all fairness, a tool is only useful if made the most of by the individual. Tools, frameworks, techniques can all be made to work, but they are never going to work on their own.
And that’s where I find, rephrasing the problem as an energy management problem rather than a time management problem does the trick. It shifts focus from behavior or skill to a shift in mindset, in the long run, leading to far more sustained behavior changes.
So, what is energy management anyway?
Throughout the day, we spend energy on certain activities and gain energy from others. This energy can be physical energy – energy gained from food, energy spent during a workout; or mental / emotional energy – energy gained from reading a stimulating book, energy spent in resolving a conflict with a partner.
Energy management is about creating a balance of energy gaining and energy spending activities over short, medium and long periods of time.
Without this balance, gaining excessive energy and not spending enough can make me restless, distracted and hyperactive while spending too much energy without recharging can fatigue me out, make me unhappy or depressed and lazy or inactive.
What makes energy management an interesting perspective?
The fascinating part about shifting to the energy management approach from the more familiar time management one is that energy management breaks several shackles that bind time management; starting with the concept of finite time.
Number 1: Energy is limitless
Unlike time that will always be limited to 24 hours in a day no matter how much we wish it were 36 or 48, energy is limitless. There is no ceiling on how much energy I can gain. And the only limit on how much I can spend is how much I have. So I can keep spending energy as long as I keep refueling regularly. This simple idea breaks the biggest and most constraining problem with time – that we never have enough. Now, with energy, we have as much as we want
Number 2: Energy can be gained
Time gets spent. No matter if you do things you love or things you hate, you only lose time. How can I gain time? Perhaps by doing what I am doing faster. And the rush to do things faster leads to stress and sometimes a drop in quality of output. With energy on the other hand, I am gaining energy every time I do something I enjoy! Engaging two hours weeding in a garden can be deeply energizing if I am passionate about gardening. This energy that I gain can then be spent on any energy spending task that I would otherwise have put off
Number 3: Energy adds meaning
Energy gained needs to be spent. It is impossible to hoard energy as it is to hoard time. So suddenly now, activities I don’t enjoy or quite abhor, but might be important actually become meaningful since they allow me to spend energy completing important tasks pushing me to go back to an energy gaining task to refuel. Unlike with time management, I don’t put off boring tasks anymore. Nor do I compromise on my personal needs and passions in the face of other important tasks. One cannot prosper without the other, restoring balance in my life
Number 4: Energy allows for self-exploration
Thinking of energy management makes me start wondering what might give me energy and what might take my energy away. I want to explore things I haven’t done before. I am a lot more conscious of how I feel before, during and after any experience or interaction. Did I lose energy or gain energy? This helps me prioritize and also ensure I weave together a more meaningful basket of activities over any period of time
Number 5: Energy sparks creative time management
When I know what leaves me feeling energized, I want to find more time to pursue those things. Writing energizes me. I want to find more time to do it. At the same time, I realize the need to spend energy by stepping out of my comfort zone. So I look for which of those activities outside of my comfort zone will offer best use of my energy? How can I find more efficient ways of some non-negotiable energy spending tasks? I don’t enjoy cooking for long hours. Neither do long conversations with several people appeal to me. So I start thinking about how I should prioritize between cooking and conversations? Which one gives me more bang for the buck, how can I find more efficient ways to have meaningful conversations and cook healthy, tasty meals, possibly spending the same amount of energy but using up less amount of my time
The conversation we had made a profound impact on my colleague. He went away thinking very differently about how he wanted to increase his productivity and accomplish his goals by using the energy management lens before applying time management techniques. In the past fortnight he has made significant changes in his life, at work and outside, for greater productivity and meaning.
If this lens appealed to you, start off with doing a few simple things yourself. This can be your personal reflection exercise this evening. Should take you about 20 minutes.
- Write how you feel on top of a blank page – too much energy or too little energy?
- Make a simple, two-column list of all the energy gaining things and energy spending things you typically do. Does this reflect the deficit you started out with on the top of the page?
- What can you do to correct the deficit and restore balance? Note down initial ideas
How do you think this lens of energy management is going to change your approach to life, productivity, meaning and time?
Leave a comment below.