First Published: March 13, 2019 | Last Updated: April 12, 2021

The gist: energy management is the foundation of everything Work Brighter teaches and advocates for, so this guide breaks the concept down for you.

In Mindy Kaling’s first book, she says “There is no sunrise so beautiful that it is worth waking me up to see it.”

And that line is just one of the reasons I love Mindy Kaling – the woman knows her energy management.

Mornings aren’t worth it to me either, but it has less to with sunrises and more to do with productivity. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Because I know a quick scroll through Instagram or a walk through the bookstore’s personal development aisle might have you thinking you can’t be productive without waking up at 5am. 🙄

But waking up early because a book told you to, is classic working smarter.

And if you’re new around here, this community is founded on the idea that you can do better than working smarter.

We’re all about going beyond working smarter to start working brighter instead.

Because productivity alone isn’t enough if you’re not paying attention to things like mental health and self-care too.

And the foundation of everything Work Brighter teaches and advocates for is energy management, so this guide breaks the concept down for you.

“There is no sunrise so beautiful that it is worth waking me up to see it.” - Mindy Kaling

What is Energy Management?

Personal energy management is about remembering to not just look at not just, “what do I technically have room for in my schedule?” But also, “what do I have the energetic, physical, and mental capacity to do right now?”

It’s really that simple. Most people don’t have any trouble understanding the concept, the problem comes with actually doing it.

What can make it difficult is:

  1. Actually remembering to do it – it can feel like an extra step at the beginning of your planning when you’re getting used to it.
  2. Really understanding your own energy levels and work enough to plan your days accordingly.

Understanding your own energy can be kind of frustrating because we’re told all these black & white productivity myths that we need to unlearn first.

Like, a lot of us assume that like, we’re "supposed" to be morning people, we "have" to do the hardest stuff first, and things like that.

So right now a lot of us are working really out of sync with our own energy.

Energy management fixes that.

It’s also great for getting your physical and mental health in balance with your to-do list, which if you’ve followed my personal stuff at all, you know is a challenge I’ve been working on.

When I was first diagnosed with GERD and an IBD in 2015, I had an extremely hard time reconciling the changes in my own energy from day to day, depending on how my stomach and digestive system was flaring.

It was through energy management that I recognized and accepted my reality.

(A million thanks to the therapist who first told me about Spoon Theory, a metaphor used to explain energy & chronic illness. While anyone can benefit from energy management, with chronic illness it is CRUCIAL.)

Why Use Energy Management?

When most people talk about productivity, they talk about things like:

But if that’s all you’re working on…if those things are where you START improving your productivity…they’re going to be useless.

Yep, I know it’s controversial, but I don’t think task batching is some productivity cure-all! ¯_(ツ)_/¯

It’s not that those things don’t help, it’s just that they’re all part of step 2, and no one’s talking about step 1.

Julie Andrews and the von Trapp children would be ashamed!(“Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start…” 🎵)

All the productivity “best practices” ONLY help you out long-term if you have a strong foundation of energy management for them to stand on.

All the productivity “best practices” ONLY help you out long-term if you have a strong foundation of energy management for them to stand on.

Otherwise, you’re not planning those time blocks and batches for times that work for YOU. You’re choosing them based on someone else’s advice, schedule, personality, and strengths… And then wonder why they don’t help.

Digging deeper than those quick tips and learning to manage your energy before your time and tasks is a perfect example of working brighter instead of smarter.

When you’re just looking at how many things you have on your to-do list, what’s on your calendar, and how many hours you’re “booked” for the day, you’re not getting a full view of your work ability for the day.

Because you’re not considering the mental and physical energy involved in that.

But using energy management in combination with other time and task management tactics will give you a more well-rounded view of your productivity and state of mind.

Take the first step to managing your energy

As you're about to learn below, the first step to managing your energy is being more mindful of that. Tracking it for a few weeks is the BEST way to get to know your energy better, and we have a free tracker to help you.

Getting Started with Energy Management

Incorporating energy management into your productivity or self-care toolkit is fairly simple, which is another reason why it's such a shame more people don't.

At its most basic, it's simply noticing your energy as you work.

3 ways to manage your energy

Noticing Your Energy Levels

The most important part of managing your energy before your time and projects involves understanding your energy patterns, and how much energy your different activities take.

Some tasks are high energy, some are low energy.

You want to complete them accordingly.

For me, high energy tasks are things like video, other types of content creation like writing, or calls.

These tasks might only take 15 minutes when I’m really revved up and energetic and feeling focused. But if I try to do them when I don’t have enough energy, they can easily take 5x as long.

Like, have you ever hunkered to write a blog post or an email, and you’re so exhausted that this thing that you know should take 30 minutes, takes hours and hours instead?

If you’ve ever experienced that, then you’ve experienced your energy management being out of sync with your time management.

And there’s a good chance that you’re out of sync because you’re following one-size-fits-all productivity advice.

Tracking Your Energy

We’ve all been told things like “everyone’s most focused in the morning” and “batch as much as possible.” They’re well-intentioned, but way too general. Not EVERYONE is most focused in the morning, and not everyone should batch everything.

That can be hard to accept, but through a few weeks of tracking your energy, your own peak hours and productivity patterns will become obvious.

Here's an example of how tracking your energy in an Airtable base and form would work:

Aligning Your Schedule with Your Energy

I mentioned that calls are some of my highest energy work.

I’m a classic introvert, so a 30-minute call is like a 30-minute cardio sesh in terms of energy exerted (and sweat produced 😬).

So even though batching your calls is a really popular productivity tip, I don’t do it anymore. For me, it’s poor energy management.

When I used to batch my calls and meetings, I would schedule four half-hour phone calls in one day. So it’s not even necessarily a lot of time. But even though it was just 2 hours of phone calls and meetings, it would wipe me out.

Oh my God, it would be awful. I’d be so exhausted afterwards. I started calling them “productivity hangovers,” because they felt so bad they needed a name.

And it was all because I wasn’t taking energy management into account.

Remember that your brain works like a muscle. And just like you can overexert your other muscles during exercise, you can overexert your brain at work.

It really is just so much easier when you plan around your energy first and your time and your schedule second, third, etc.

More examples of this come from the members of the Work Brighter Clubhouse.

They were working on a novel and trying to get their daily word count out of the way in the morning, like so much traditional advice says to. But once they tried managing their energy and doing this creative work at night instead, it felt easier and they were better able to sink into the routine.

Other Clubhouse members have used energy management to adjust their own work hours, workout routines, and the time they make for their passion projects.

Take the first step to managing your energy

As you're about to learn below, the first step to managing your energy is being more mindful of that. Tracking it for a few weeks is the BEST way to get to know your energy better, and we have a free tracker to help you.

Ways to Improve Your Energy at Work

Once you start tracking your energy, how can you make quick adjustments to improve it? What should you be looking out for?

Before we part ways for the day, let’s go over a view ideas:

  • First, you can start grading tasks on a scale from “draining” to “energizing.” Where things fall will be different for everyone.
  • Next, look for correlations between your energy levels and your mood throughout the day. Again, this isn’t as one-size-fits-all as mainstream advice makes it out to be.
  • Set limits. Once you know how something affects you, you can set boundaries around it. For example, I know I should only book 1 call/appointment per day.
  • Finally, build your ideal day from scratch based on what you’ve learned about yourself. Quick adjustments are great, a full makeover is better.

(Want a set framework and timeline for doing this? You can find both inside The Energy Effect, our self-paced course for taking control of your own energy.)

My Example: Unmiraculous Mornings

For an example of energy management in action, let's look at the evolution of my mornings.

I have a chronic illness that makes mornings difficult on the best day, and horrible if I’m flaring like at all, even a little bit.

So trying to base my morning routines off some book that promised to help me work “more miraculously”? (Which, by the way, I have tried it, so I can knock it.)

That actually made me WAY less productive.

I learned this this the hard way, from years of trying to do my most important work during my objectively “worst” time of day.

But once I started getting a better handle on my chronic illness and mental health, I realized how much that didn’t make sense. I finally realized, “why was I making things harder than they needed to be?”

It would literally take twice as long to do things like content creation in the morning, compared to when I waited until the afternoon.

And it turned out, I was really really freaking creative at night. But when I was waking up early, I’d be too tired by then to harness that creativity.

By managing my energy before I managed my projects and to-dos, I started actually working at my most productive times of day, and work got soooo much easier. 🙌

I was able to work less while getting the same amount of work done and get it done better at that. 

THAT, my friend, is the difference between working smarter and brighter. 🦄

Unlock Your Brightest Energy

Those 3 steps are all it takes to start managing your energy. And come on, one of them is NOTICING. Another is thinking. So they're not hard steps.

All it takes is to get started.

And if you need help with that, we've got it.

When you're ready to start managing your energy, we have a free tracker to help you with step 1, and a self-paced course to guide you through the whole process.

Ready to discover The Energy Effect?

If you're ready to start managing your energy to work brighter, we have a simple, self-paced course that will walk you through a 4-week process of auditing, analyzing, and adjusting your energy patterns.