If everyone has the same number of hours in the day, why do some people seem to get so much more done than others? We’ve heard all the platitudes about everyone having the same 24 hours and time being a finite resource. And to get more done you’ll hear the same advice: wake up earlier or use a Text Expander to skip a few keystrokes. Yet deep inside, we know that this won’t put a dent on our endless to-do lists. Instead, we need a new approach to time management: you should manage your energy, not your time.
Start with your energy map
Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr pioneered the concept of managing your energy in their 2003 book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. It’s a simple idea. Our energy fluctuates throughout the day. So why not match your best energy with your most productive activities?
To illustrate the concept of managing your energy (versus your time), let’s use my work day as a case study. As a father of two young kids, I have the most energy right after I wake up, meditate and work out. As the morning progresses (and the coffee kicks in), the energy continues to increase. Around lunch, my full tummy makes me lethargic and my energy starts to wane. Then at around 3 pm, right as I go for that cookie or Diet Coke, my energy violently plummets. Here’s what this looks like graphically:
You can try this for yourself using our free Energy Map Tool. To use the tool, estimate your energy level (on a scale of 1-10) for each hour of the day. You don’t need to be precise, but just ask yourself: “On an average work day, how do I feel at this given hour?” You’ll input your energy level into each hour of the table and it will dynamically create your energy map.
Managing your energy, not your time: 4 principles
In The Power of Full Engagement, Schwartz and Loehr emphasize that while “the number of hours in a day is fixed, the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not.” And our energy can be broken down into four categories: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
Once we understand these energy types, we can balance how and when we use our energy. Then we can learn how to use positive energy rituals to restore our energy.
Managing your Emotional Energy
How often have you heard someone say the phrase, “I’m in my head.” That phrase implies exhaustion and agitation – both precursors of burnout. Loehr and Schwartz define Emotional Energy as self-confidence, self-control, interpersonal effectiveness and empathy. Managing your energy centers around learn emotional regulation, which include:
- The Scarcity Mindset
- The Inner Critic
- The Envy Trap
First, there’s the scarcity mindset. This mindset arises from the dangerous belief that you’re always one mistake away from a personal catastrophe that could ruin you. A typo in a presentation might make you scared of losing your job. Or not hitting your revenue target might make you feel like you’ll be broke and without shelter. In all of these cases, your fight-or-flight reflex goes on overdrive, causing you to waste precious energy on a set of outcomes that are likely non-events.
Next, there’s the Inner Critic. This negative self-talk is always reminding you that you’re not doing enough and that you’re not deserving of the good that comes towards you. Like the scarcity mindset, it can be triggered by a one-off negative event. Or it can arise from lingering self-confidence issues arising from childhood, unhealthy relationships and trauma.
Finally, there’s the Envy Trap. When you compare yourself to others, you’re inevitably going to compare their greatest hits to your greatest shortcomings. Particularly in the era of Instagram and Personal Brand Influencers, people with seemingly a lot more than you are everywhere. And this comparison (whether you seek it or not) is draining. It engenders self-doubt, resentment and eats at your sense of self worth.
These examples only scratch the surface of how Emotional Energy can be depleted. Managing your energy (and not your time) begins with identifying these sources and working with therapists, healers and coaches to limit and then ultimately restore this energy.
Managing your Mental Energy
Mental Energy acts as “the conductor” of our everyday lives enabling us to organize and focus our attention. Loehr and Schwartz define Mental Energy as creativity, mental preparation, visualization, positive self-talk and effective time management. Unlike Emotional Energy, it involves using the logical parts of our brains to make short-term and long-term decisions. Managing your energy (as opposed to your time) means efficiently and effectively acting upon your tasks, projects and goals.
Here’s a powerful visualization to manage your Mental Energy, called Ideal Ordinary Week (described in this post):
Imagine a rich benefactor enters your life. This benefactor offers to pay for your entire family’s living expenses for the next two decades. Your mortgage. Their school. Your life insurance premiums. How would you spend your days?Via Ali Abdaal
It turns out that in this hypothetical scenario, there are a lot of hours to allocate:
Even if you allocated 14 hours a day to sleep, fitness, family, friends and self-care – guess what – you’d still have 10 hours of “activities” to allocate each day. (Plus, in this scenario the concept of “the weekend” would fade away, so you’d have 70 hours of activities to allocate each week.)
Managing your Mental Energy means that you are living in alignment and are free of internal conflict. (After all, internal conflict drains you of your energy). Now you may scoff at this exercise by saying “This will never happen to me, so what’s the point.” But I promise you that there will be clues in this exercise. You’ll discover clues about what excites you. And clues about what makes you come alive. And by leaning in to these clues – even for 10 minutes a day – you’ll tap into powerful stores of Mental Energy.
Next, we’ll look at prioritization as another lever for better managing your energy. After all, we know the feeling of looking at a list of 100 tasks and not knowing where to begin. (How’s that for an energy sink?!?)
Prioritization can start simple by using flags such as High / Medium / Low. We recommend adding more nuance, to look at the impact of your tasks by using our $10K Work Framework. This framework starts with the premise that not all tasks are created equally adds the lens of personal leverage into all your activities.
Prioritization and leverage are a form of energy management as they maximize the output per unit of work.
Managing your Spiritual Energy
Managing your energy (and not your time) is also a deeply introspective process, that involves connecting to your deeper purpose, your deeper “Why.” Loehr and Schwartz define spiritual energy as:
Balancing a commitment to others with adequate self-care. The capacity to live by our deepest values depends on regularly renewing our spirit – seeking ways to rest and rejuvenate and to reconnect with the values that we find most inspiring and meaningful.
This spiritual connection is beyond the scope of this blog post, but one can use a series of questions (aka $10K Questions) to better connect with something larger than ourselves. Some of our favorite reflection questions are:
- How would I spend my time if I didn’t have to work for money?
- What does success mean to me?
- If I had 1 year to live, what (would I change?
- How would I like people to think of me?
- Am I playing the right game?
- What is happiness? (And am I happy?)
- When will I know that I have enough?
- What would I want my eulogy to say?
- How would life be different if there weren’t criticism in the world?
- What would I like my life to look like, 20 years from now?
- Who am I?
Managing your Physical Energy
Finally, we get to the fun part. Managing your energy (versus your time) starts with managing your physical body. The book was written long before the revolutions we’ve seen in sleep, nutrition and exercise (and thus can feel a bit dated). Here’s the highest-impact (i.e. the 80/20 approach) for each category.
Exercise and Recovery:
- Mix of interval, strength and endurance training
- Flexibility and mobility
- Massage therapy
- Heat and Cold based-therapy
- Eating whole foods
- Develop metabolic health (through glucose regulation)
- Managing inflammation
- Intermittent fasting
- Moderating alcohol consumption
- Targeting 8 hours
- Digital and smartphone hygiene
- Temperature regulation
- Moderating caffeine and alcohol
This is by no means a comprehensive list, yet provides a starting point for restoring your physical energy. The list is endless and you can dive into a crowdsourced list of reset rituals:
Managing Energy vs. Time: Putting it all together
So how does this apply in practice? Let’s return to your energy map. There are three indicators to look for:
Step 1: Identify and protect your high-energy zones
Psychology researchers have found that people can focus on average 4-5 hours each day. Look at your energy map. Do you have more than 4 bars at level 7 or above? Once you’ve identified these zones, you must protect them ruthlessly. Use calendar blocks, anti-distraction software, airplane mode, whatever it takes to use those 4 hours for strategic thinking and your highest-leverage $10K Work. If you’re on fire in the mornings, please (we beg you) do not spend those hours responding to Slack messages.
Step 2: Identify your low-energy zones
Now look for dips below level 5. If you’re a morning person, these may be at the end of the day. This is the time to batch your low-value, $10 Work. Put on some headphones and get to Inbox Zero, pay those bills and reorganize your Notion workspace. (Heck, we encourage you to even grab our preferred cocktail, a Skinny Margarita.)
Step 3: Can you transform your low-energy zones
Here’s where it gets interesting. What separates energy from time? Time is finite and cannot be replenished. Energy is (theoretically) infinite and can be restored. In this step you’ll run a self-diagnostic to see if any of your low energy zones can be flipped into higher-energy zones.
This is where you can lean into the other categories and look for triggers and causes. For example:
- The heavy Italian hero you had for lunch could be replaced with a salad with healthy fats (avocados) and protein (fish)
- There’s a certain type of 1:1 that zaps you of your energy – can you move it around?
- When you need a cookie for that afternoon boost, could u swap it with a brisk walk (or some burpees)?
- Where can batching similar activities remove the friction of context switching?
A last word on managing energy, not time
All frameworks will be on a collision course with the pragmatic realties of your life. Your boss (or clients) may not care about your energy map. But you can always start with a small act, like protecting your 25 minutes of high-energy thinking time twice a week. (If your life doesn’t allow that, there’s a lot more introspection to do!) And like stretching, slowly start tweaking at the margins until your days (then your weeks, then your years) come into beautiful alignment. And watch your energy (and then productivity) soar through the roof.