First Published: February 22, 2021 | Last Updated: March 11, 2022

The gist: Energy management needs to come before any other productivity 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 also more important than project management.

And energy management is more important than task management.

Because energy management is more important than almost any other productivity strategy. 

And in this post and 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 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.

First, let's back up...

What is 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 the approach of, say, time management. Where you're organizing your productivity with your clock time and calendar at the center.

Or project management, where your productivity system is most focused on the project level.

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

Other systems encourage you to change your energy according to your schedule. Energy management systems encourage you to change your schedule according to your energy.

Maybe a visualization will help:

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.

But when you really focus on and prioritize your 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.

different types of energy chart

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 this special language for our community, energy management is essentially a universal version of that language that applies to abled people in addition to disabled people.

Making life easier for everybody!

It's like the curb cut effect of productivity.

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, like time management or project management.

Energy Management vs. Time Management

In general, the reason managing your energy needs to come first 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, using calendar blocking and tactics like that, the success of the entire 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?

It's a mistake so common it has a name: the planning fallacy.

And one of the many contributing factors to it?

The time that something will take depends on the energy you have for it. ⚡️

So if you're trying to manage your time without a good grasp on managing your energy, 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.

Understand Your Energy Levels

If you're ready to start using energy management to make work easier, download our free energy tracker to get started!

6 strategies for staying productive with chronic illness

Energy Management vs. 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.

energy management pyramid

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. That stall out can then easily lead to burnout.

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.

Energy Management vs. Task Management

The same thing is true with task management, as it's a subset of project 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, without managing your energy as well..

In that case, 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.

If you primarily organize your 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.

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 there, to laying a strong foundation of energy management?

There are three basic steps.

Step 1. Conduct an energy audit

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 free energy trackers 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.

Step 2: Identify rhythms and patterns

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.

Step 3: Make Adjustments as needed

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...

Banish Productivity Hangovers with The Energy Effect

Stop trying to change and work against your natural energy rhythms and patterns, and start working WITH them. 

The Energy Effect is a self-paced course that will guide you through tracking, understanding, and adjusting your daily habits to better harness energy management.

the energy effect