Why Time Management Is A Myth (and what you can do instead)
Time management is a common problem for everyone that works, either as an employee or entrepreneur. The Daily Grind turns us into little robots depending on coffee and sugar to keep going. Time management is a myth, and here is what you can do instead.
The Daily Grind
You wake up before you’re ready to, and immediately the race is on. Hurry and get ready, out the door, to that meeting, into those emails, through the to-do list. Down coffee in the morning, something else sugary and caffeinated around 3:00, and possibly again at 6:00 as you stare at the load of work you want to try to accomplish in the evening hours. You fall in to bed well past the point of exhaustion, but you’re still kind of amped up, so you scroll through social media on your phone until your eyes are bloodshot and the clock says you’ve got to get up and start it all again in six hours. Or four.
Sound familiar? To counter the load of work, personal commitments, and nagging desire to have some fun activities punctuate the endless onslaught of obligations, we often turn to short-term energizers (like caffeine and sugar) and the promise offered by productivity hacks. Both of those have their place, but neither offers a true solution.
At the end of the day
It’s no wonder our lives look like this. We are programmed from day one to want more, to believe we have to be more, and that the most successful people believe in a mantra that “there will be time for sleep when you are dead.” At this speed, death may be a relief that comes sooner than you’d prefer.
Our work environments are also usually set up for us to work a continuous 8-10 hours (or more), with the expectation of constant productivity, and a workload to match. However, the average worker is productive less than three hours a day! The rest of the time is spent rather unproductively.
Time management workshops and articles focus on tricks like wrangling in email, batching your time, removing distractions, organizing your to-do list, and scheduling important tasks on your calendar. These are all really helpful tools. But these tips often miss the big picture. No matter how organized we are, or dedicated we are to the schedule we created, our personal energy does not stay on high-speed all day long. When we focus on managing our time, we are often like dogs chasing our tails. This is especially true when we treat our bodies as machines that are fueled by junk food and Facebook.
Instead of managing our time, we need to begin to manage our energy. The field of human performance shows that energy management allows us to be more effective in less time, giving us the space to enjoy the things that matter the most to us. As humans, our energy has natural cycles. During our high-energy periods, we can become uber-productive, get into flow or deep states or work, and accomplish far more than we can in twice the amount of low-energy time. What we create in high-energy states is more inspired, innovative, are far more satisfying than what we force ourselves to trudge through in our low-energy states. That means, we get more done in less time, and the end product is higher-quality.
The trouble is, we tend to operate in ways that deplete our energy and don’t have effective practices for restoring our energy, so we continue in this zombie-cycle of forcing ourselves to crank out work that doesn’t have the punch it could if we were living and working at our fullest potential. There are 3 main steps to energy management: fueling, restoring, and aligning.
To manage energy, we need to have energy! Think about a car. If you were to put unrefined, dirty gas into the tank, it may drive for awhile, but the engine is going to get filled with gunk that causes poor fuel efficiency, mechanical problems, and overall performance challenges that mean you are not going to get where you want to go very quickly or at all. But if you fuel that car with clean gas, and take care of regular maintenance, it can run smoothly for many, many years. Think of yourself as a car.
Fueling ourselves means, feeding our bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits in ways that fill us up for the long-haul. The easiest thing for people to understand here is food and drink. A sugary coffee drink may give us a quick jolt, but it usually also plagues us with a crash in energy not too long after. Whereas, a balanced meal with a low-glycemic value can give us a steady source of energy for hours until you refuel with another balanced meal.
But energy also comes from non-physical sources as well. Being mentally stimulated (think about the high you get when you geek out on a new topic that totally enthralls you) is an important source of intrinsic motivation and fuel; relationships that feed you act as emotional nourishment; and, spending your time and efforts aligned with your unique purpose gives you the spiritual food you need for high energy.
Besides not fueling ourselves well, we also don’t restore well. Professional athletes are “on” for a season and rest during the remainder of the year (that doesn’t mean they sit on the couch and eat potato chips! On the contrary, they know how to let their bodies and minds rest while also nurturing and taking care of them). Most of the rest of us are “on” all the time. But rest is one of the most powerful tools we have to aid growth, and high-performance. Rest, including vacations, down-time, and sleep are necessary for cementing learning and generating creative ideas. Dr. Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist at the University of California, Berkeley says “You can’t pull an all-nighter and still learn effectively”. This is also part of why tech companies like Google have been integrating meditation into their work cultures.
Once we are fueling our bodies for increased energy, and restoring them regularly, we can focus on what we do with that energy. Though you will likely have more energy more consistently, you need to use it wisely for maximum impact. The first step is to understand your energy cycles (hint: you are probably not high energy from 9-5, despite conventional work hours). For me, dawn is my Sedona (a place made famous by new-age followers for its “energy vortexes”). My husband on the other hand, lights up around 10pm. Many a morning have passed when I kiss him “goodnight” as I am getting up to start my day!
If you know when you have the most energy and when you are best able to lose yourself in tasks, then you can place your most important tasks of the day during those times. Then, you can strategically schedule breaks in between to restore and refuel.
The other important part of aligning is to ensure that what you are doing matters. It is likely that 80% of what you do doesn’t make much of a difference toward your most important goals. So, learning to hone in on what matters most is critical, then learning to let go and say no to the rest will allow you to exponentially increase your impact!
Learning to manage your energy can change your life. When I first learned about this concept, it was sprung on me and a hundred other attendees at a 3-day professional workshop where we were deprived of morning coffee, afternoon cookies, and were instructed to do many of our breakout sessions during brisk walks outside. People were downright pissed the first day. I was craving my afternoon sweet treat something fierce. But then something happened on day two: we started our sessions at 8am, and I found myself alive and energized still at 8pm, when I would usually be a total zombie from a day’s worth of sitting, learning, networking, and at times wanting to poke my eyes out from boredom. Since that time, I have re-worked my life,integrated these concepts into different organizations I have worked with, and guided individual leaders on making meaningful changes to their lives. When we give power to people to come alive and step into their potential, performance and achievement soars, and people are filled with greater satisfaction and sustainability in their lives and at work.
After nearly two decades of executive leadership in entrepreneurial nonprofit organizations, I did two crazy things: took a year-long international sabbatical and became an entrepreneur myself. Now I spend my time studying Spanish and uplifting the power and importance of putting people first. I started Full Potential Ventures to unlock exemplary professional development and engagement opportunities for socially-minded individuals and organizations. I believe personal and professional leadership has the power to transform how we live and work.
Follow Jessica on Twitter @EngageAndAct