First Published: February 22, 2021  | Last Updated: February 22, 2021

The gist: Energy management needs to come before any other productivity strategy or system. To explain why, in this post we compare energy management vs. time management, project management, and task management.

Energy management is more important than time management.

Energy management is more important than project management.

Energy management is more important than task management.

Energy management is more important than almost any other productivity strategy, and in this video I'm laying out why.

You've probably heard me talk about energy management before, because I freaking love it. It has been so revolutionary to my life, work, and well, energy.

But guess what? You're gonna hear some more now.

Today, I specifically want to focus on why energy management is so important and needs to be prioritized above implementing any other productivity or self-care strategy.

About energy management

If you're not familiar with the concept, energy management is the idea of managing your work and your productivity around your energy levels.

This is opposed to, say, time management organizing your productivity with your calendar at the center. Or project management where your productivity system is most focused on the project level.

It means recognizing that your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day, and arranging the rest of your productivity systems AROUND energy management.

Think of your productivity or your self-care, whichever you're struggling with most, as a system of different strategies and techniques.

Most approaches consist of just a bunch of strategies thrown together randomly into like a ball of yarn. You may have one approach at the center, one thing you focus on the most, but in most cases, it's just a random ball.

drew barrymore unraveling a ball of yarn

But when you really focus on and prioritize energy management, your system becomes more organized, with that strategy at the center and others branching out from it.

It's like untangling that ball of yarn and crocheting it into something with more structure.

Managing your energy also means recognizing that your energy levels are finite and only semi-predictable.

And that there are multiple types of energy.

There's physical energy, mental energy, creative energy, emotional energy, social energy, and probably more if you gave me more time to think about it.

And if you're chronically ill or disabled and thinking, "hmm, this sounds like spoon theory..." it is! It is like spoon theory! 🥄

I like to say that while spoon theory is just this special language for our community, energy management is essentially a universal version of that language that also applies to abled people in addition to disabled people. Making life easier for everybody!

So now that we're clear on what I mean by energy management, let's talk about why it needs to be prioritized over other productivity systems.

Start tracking your own energy

If you're ready to start your own energy audit to use energy management to make work easier, download our free energy tracker:

Why energy management needs to come before time management

In general, the reason energy management needs to come before anything is because it's as much of a self-awareness exercise as it is a productivity tactic.

Learning your energy levels requires learning about yourself, and when you know yourself better, you can apply these other strategies to your life better.

For example, let's look at time management.

If your primary productivity technique is time management, like calendar blocking and stuff like that, the success of the entire time blocking system hinges on being able to accurately estimate how long different things take for you.

But how long a task takes for you depends on your energy levels.

Have you ever tried to do something that you know should take 5 minutes but instead it takes an hour?

Like, when I was in college, it would take me twice as long to walk to my morning classes as it would to get to my afternoon ones because my physical energy was low in the mornings and I wasn't able to walk as fast.

Or, if I try to record videos when I'm feeling low on social energy, it's hard for me to string sentences together and I have to repeat each line 4 times as many times as normal just to get my lines out.

The time depends on your energy. ⚡️

So if you're trying to manage your time without a good grasp on your energy management, it's not going to be as accurate or efficient.

You're going to run out of time on tasks you don't have the energy for, and if you're living by your calendar, that means you're moving onto the next thing not having finished what you planned.

Why energy management needs to come before project management

Now that we've covered energy management vs. time management, let's look at it compared to project management.

First of all, being able to plan and manage your projects requires being able to plan and manage your time, so it's kind of like a chain or hierarchy. Everything builds on each other, starting with energy.

lego stack building on top of each other

Also, knowing how to plan projects, especially knowing how to stack them on top of each other and manage multiple projects at a time, requires knowing your energy.

For example, I have figured out through trial and error that when I'm doing my monthly planning, I can handle 2 big-ish projects that require multiple types of energy. Or I can do 1 of those and 2 or so smaller more creativity-focused projects, or up to 4 small admin projects.

So I know when I'm pulling projects from my quarterly plan to schedule into specific months and weeks, I need to sort of assemble those lego pieces accordingly.

Like, the month I'm recording this I'm also working on updating one of the courses in the Work Brighter shop, the energy management one actually. And that's a bigger project.

That requires admin and tech work, or what for me is shallow work, as well as the deeper work of script writing and video creation and cheat sheet design and stuff like that.

So I didn't plan any other high energy projects this month, instead I'm working on smaller things like updating my email marketing software's backend setup, which will only take an afternoon or two.

If I tried to say, update two courses in one month, or update one course plus batch video content for my YouTube channel, I would run out of the right kinds of energy and end up finishing nothing, despite how theoretically well-planned the projects are.

Because energy management needs to come before project management.

If you organize your work around projects, they'll stall out when you run out of the kinds of energies needed.

Whereas when you have that foundation of energy management first, you can make sure the projects you're working on complement each other in terms of energy.

So like, when you're low on creative energy for the one project you need that for, you have something else you can switch to.

Start tracking your own energy

If you're ready to start your own energy audit to use energy management to make work easier, download our free energy tracker:

Why energy management needs to come before task management

The same thing is true with task management.

I'll keep this point brief because most of the reasoning has already been explained in my points on time management and project management.

Basically, without energy management, you just don't know how completing a task is going to go. 

But let's look at what that looks like if you're using tasks management as your main productivity strategy.

So you don't know how long it's going to take. And like I said earlier, if you primarily organize your work around your calendar, that means on tasks you don't like the energy for, you're going to move onto your next time block without having finished your work.

But if you primarily organize it around tasks, working without energy alignment might look like going to write an email you think will take five minutes.

But because of a lack of the right energy, you're still there writing the same email an hour later, other things you'd planned with your day be damned. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

How to get started managing your energy

So if you previously focused only on things like time, task, or project management, how do you go from that to laying a foundation of energy management first?

There are three basic steps.

The first is to conduct an energy audit by tracking your energy throughout the day for a week or two. I have a lot of resources on this for you if you're interested.

We have other videos on this, there are free tracking spreadsheets and worksheets available on our website, and Work Brighter is even coming out with a free mobile web app later this year to make tracking even easier.

Once you've conducted an energy audit, you want to analyze the info you tracked and start looking for your natural rhythms and patterns. The idea here is to discover your body's natural cycles throughout the day and where you might be fighting against them.

And then finally, once you've done that you can start tweaking your habits and routines to make adjustments that take better advantage of your natural rhythms.

Manage your energy, not your time

But of course, all of that starts with deciding to prioritize energy management, so hopefully the reasons I've laid out have convinced you.

If you're ready to take the next step

Start tracking your own energy

If you're ready to start your own energy audit to use energy management to make work easier, download our free energy tracker:

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