How I Work Less and Accomplish More (by Managing My Energy)

It’s really hard to find decent productivity advice these days. Most of the productivity ‘gurus’ are self-proclaimed and offer techniques that aren’t backed up with any evidence.

I actually struggled with those people for the past two years. I was trying to find a way to be more productive (work less and accomplish more) but and was trying out these ‘techniques.’ Nothing worked, however.

Until finally, I found something that did work. I’ll share what I found with you in this post.


Why Energy Is So Important

One day I accidentally stumbled upon a book called “The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, not Time is the Key to High Performance.” I recognized the truth in the title because I knew that I had a lot of time and yet, I haven’t had the energy and the will to make use of it. I finally found why most ‘time managing’ and productivity techniques were bad (more on that later).

Going back, the principle I’ve learned in that book is the most powerful principle that I’ve learned (and implemented) in my life. Managing energy, not time is the key to productivity. That is the principle.

I later found that the author of the book (Tony Schwarz) was also a guest blogger for Harvard Business Review (one of the most reputable magazines for top CEOs in the world) and that energy principle has been applied at many big companies like Pepsi Co, Proctor & Gamble and so on. He has a lot of free articles that offer priceless advice on productivity.

Okay, so that’s all about the book author. I thought it important to mention my story because it will probably resonate with you very well. Managing your energy, not your time, is a very important principle to grasp and I don’t think you’ll reach your full potential (in terms of productivity) if you don’t start implementing it in your everyday life.

Now that you realize that you need to manage your energy, not your time, how do you get started?

How to Become More Energetic

I’ll mention a few basic principles you need to grasp to start managing your energy:

  1. Live your life like a sprinter, not like a marathoner. This is the most basic principle you need to grasp. What’s the difference between a sprinter and a marathoner? As a sprinter, you run for a specific period of time and then take a rest. You then start running again fresh. If you’re a marathoner, you don’t take any breaks, but just run for a long period of time and reach your final target (some marathoners don’t make it) and are very exhausted. The basic principle of managing your energy is to work for a specific period of time (anywhere between 45 and 90 minutes) and then take a break (usually 1/3 of the time you were working, so if you work for 45 minutes your break would be 15 minutes). While you’re working, forget about multitasking and interruptions. If you get frequent phone calls, turn off your phone. Eliminate potential interruptions. These things can interrupt your workflow. Also, while you’re resting, don’t check your email. That’s not resting. One important thing here: not doing anything does not necessarily means you’re resting. There are certain activities that might refill your energy tank, like meditation and yoga, walking or exercising. If these activities help you relax, then do them and return to work again after the time is up.
  2. Stick to the fundamentals (get proper sleep, cardio-vascular and weight exercise, positive mood). All of these things are very important and can have a significant impact of your energy. There have been many studies that show that even a small deprivation of sleep can lead to a huge loss of energy through the day. Also, many studies show the benefits of regular exercise on your health. What about your mood? When you’re in a negative mood, many of your responses are ‘fight or flight’ and you can’t really think clearly and rationally or for the long run. Negativity also deprives you of energy (just look at your past experiences). Positivity helps a lot in productivity. In my personal experience, positivity helps me a lot.
  3. People are creatures of habit. You can’t change overnight. I bet that 60-90% of the things you’re going to do today are the same things you did yesterday (or the day before yesterday). We are creatures of habit. Our free will is not unlimited…which is a good thing, if you ask me. By properly understanding our limitations, we make more informed decisions. The first step to overcoming a problem is becoming aware of it (although I wouldn’t call the fact we’re creatures of habit a ‘problem’).

Getting Started

Okay so what can you do here? A good first step is to learn a good way to establish new habits.

Let’s take one example: Suppose you want to read a book for 30 minutes, five days a week. Now, if you say to yourself: “I’m going to read a book for 30 minutes, five days a week.” What are the chances you’re actually going to do that?

Very slim. You need to be more specific. What about that statement: “I’m going to read a book for 30 minutes, Mon-Fri.” That’s better. Now, let’s make it better: “I’m going to read a book, Mon-Fri from 3:00-3:30PM.” Great, we’re making progress.

The next step would be to find books to read for the next two to three weeks so that when the next Monday comes, the only thing you actually need to do is to pick up the book and start reading! The key is to eliminate every thought for the plan and set up things so you exactly know what to do.

What About You

How do you get more energy? Share your tips in the comments.

Image by Newsbie Pix

Comments

  1. Steve says

    Good ideas, but not all that new. It sounds like you had bad luck with finding the right time management books.

    “The Now Habit” by Neil Fiore, a self help book for procrastination, places a lot of emphasis both on mono-tasking for short periods of time and taking breaks as well aggressively scheduling in fun activities to keep energy up.

  2. says

    Some helpful tips you have there. Thanks!
    I’ve been struggling, for months, to juggle 3 clients a day. No matter what I do, no matter how much time I have, it seems like at the end of the day, I barely touched the surface. I have a lot of distractions, which I am slowly trying to get rid of, but I still can’t finish everything I need to do by evening.
    I am going to put your advice to use, and hopefully, I improve.

  3. says

    Sounds good. Sounds like an extension to GTD (“Getting Things Done”).

    I’m hoping to add support for mechanisms like this to the loggingit.com site, with a feedback indicator which tells you how you’re doing.

    Stephan

  4. says

    It’s interesting how expending energy – up to a point – can actually give you more energy rather than less. Digging into a new project rather than noodling it over endlessly, will create the energy you need to move forward, just as going for a brisk walk at that sleepy mid-day point of a conference will energize you for the afternoon sessions.

    The trick for most of us is getting started, just getting moving in the first place… so I very much like your suggestion about removing all the planning and thinking parts in advance, so when the time comes to act on a new-habit resolution, you’re ready to jump right in!

  5. says

    Yes, energy management is just as important (although in my experience, not necessarily more important) than time management.

    My biggest productivity challenges come from either being easily distracted and losing track of the time, or from putting off large tasks because just the though of them saps my energy. To combat this, I like to break large tasks into smaller pieces, and schedule my time with a daily calendar.

  6. says

    This is definitely an interesting approach to time management and productivity. :) You’ve got some interesting points there, but personally I don’t think energy management is my problem when it comes to productivity. It’s usually distraction that keeps me from focusing on my tasks.

    But anyway, good job!

  7. says

    I’ve heard lots of positive feedback about this book and have had it on my Amazon wish list for about a year now. Time to finally get it and try it out. I’m a productivity junkie :-)

  8. Dan says

    For implementing GTD you can use this web-based application:

    Gtdagenda.com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    Comes with a mobile version too, and with an Android app.

  9. says

    Thanks for the tips! I felt that all your points made sense and I see no reason why not to try some of these. Keep the good articles coming!

  10. says

    Many years ago I had a conversation with a professor who was also a marathon runner. We were talking about what it would take to get good services for my son with a disability. She had just finished competing in a marathon the previous weekend and the winner was done 2 hours before she was.

    She interviewed her and the winner said exactly what you are sayiing, in order to win–you need to sprint the entire race.That was always inspirational to us.

  11. Darko says

    @Steve

    Neil says:

    “procrastination is a habit — it’s not caused by lack of organization or lack of time management skills.”

    This is what Tony Schwartz is AGAINST. He says time management is, basically, BS. ENERGY management is the key to performance. You can have as many time as you want but if you have 0 energy to use that time, then nothing will happen.

    Neil and other self-help gurus assume we have unlimited free will on our hands – the truth is that we are creatures of habit and our free will is limited, and in order to form a habit, you need to to the same thing in the same time on the same place, usually more than 30 days (that means 30+ times).

    There were some good stuff in Neil’s book, like that ‘should’ and ‘must’ (I recall CBT talked about that, self talk..but that has nothing to do with habits), when you brush your teeth you don’t say I SHOULD or I MUST brush my teeth you just go and do it without thinking, that’s the whole point with habits.

    The ideas in Tony’s book are 100% new and not re-hearsed like you said.

  12. says

    I always find working out helps me to improve my energy levels. If i have a big project i will make time to get away and run on the treadmill or push some weight around to get the blood flowing

  13. says

    I think along with energy management you have to have time management also. The tips you gave on how to get started is helpful and I agree most people are creatures of habit.

  14. says

    Great insight! Managing your time to manage your energy is crucial. Working non-stop can be dreadful to your mood. You can get things accomplished more if you take a rest at certain times of the day.

  15. says

    Nice idea!

    I really think time management does not help me too much, let’s apply Energy management as well as Time Management hope can improve.

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