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The gist: Learn why time management and calendar blocking don’t make you feel more productive, and how to use energy management to get back on track.

your energy is less flexible than your calendar or to-do list

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.

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.

Work brighter with energy management

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.

So in this episode of the Brighter Broadcast, we’re digging into getting started managing your energy instead of your time and tasks.

Welcome to your introduction to energy management! (Or as I like to call it, spoon theory for non-spoonies and spoonies alike 😝)

(Pssst – want a copy of the Airtable template I personally use to track my day and understand my energy? Get it for free here!)

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.

Recommended Reading: That Stress You Feel? It’s a “Mental Load” of Invisible Work That Needs Talking About

That’s where energy management comes in.

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 “techniques” 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 really 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.)

Getting Started with Your Own Energy Management

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?

And you’re just sitting there, staring at the same paragraph, wondering why is it taking so long to write this one paragraph?

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.

This is where all the unlearning I mentioned before comes into play.

Using an Energy Management Tracker

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.

(Pssst – want a copy of the Airtable energy management tracker I personally use? Get the template here!)

Adapt Your Schedule Accordingly

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.

Ways to Quickly 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 Work Brighter Clubhouse‘s energy management challenge.)

Unlock your energy

You can’t fully harness all your energy, let alone channel it towards a productive and positive day, without first understanding your own energy.

But once you start paying attention to it, you’ll be able to make changes that make your work SO much easier.

Have a question about how you can do that? Comment on the YouTube video and let me know!

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