Manage Energy, Not Time ⏳
What is energy? Is it electricity flowing through cords or transmitted wirelessly?
I’ll call energy the capacity to act—a feeling. I am energized when I feel pumped, ready, sometimes excited, sometimes calm. New Agey folks talk about energy and vibration, and some hardcore left-brainers write them off. I do both of these. I’ll try to explain it so we can hopefully all understand.
Have you had conversations that leave you feeling drained, like you want to sleep? Or ones that have you excited, feeling like you can run a marathon? Draining conversations drain my energy. Energizing ones boost it. Even though I don’t necessarily get energy from the sun or eating food to burn as fuel in these conversations, there is energy moving around.
I read a lot of productivity books and blogs, yet few of them speak about managing energy.
The term “energy” feels too woo-woo, so people avoid it. It seems esoteric and less concrete than other productivity concepts like OKRs, bottom line, roadmap, KISS, and more. It’s tough to wrestle. If you wrestle a pig, the pig likes it, and you get dirty. Lucky for us, I enjoy playing in the mud. 🐷
The current frameworks I’ve found are all about prioritizing tasks, chunking, KanBan, Agile, Waterfall, Scrum, and 8 million acronyms shoved up your butt. Why is managing energy as vital as other productivity frameworks? If my car is out of gas, the destination is irrelevant. I won’t make it until I put more gas in the tank. Or, if I’m driving on a flat tire, I may reach the destination, but it’ll take much longer than on a working tire. Energy is the same.
Without it, I can’t do anything. If it’s limited, my speed goes down. The energy framework is different. It’s binary and is incredibly simple. Some things give me energy. Some things use energy. The job is to begin noticing what gives me energy and what takes it away. Once I notice, then I can be a better allocator of my energy.
One of my BHAG’s- big, hairy, audacious, goals, is to quantify happiness. How evil! Part of it may seem twisted. Perhaps it is. But, the reason behind my thinking is rooted in a simple idea. We humans are highly programmable robots. There’s a quote I love that says, “humans aren’t unhappy because they desire to be happy. Humans are unhappy because they desire to be happier than their neighbors.” Keep this in mind. Comparison is the death of happiness. Often if I’m unhappy, it’s because I compared myself to someone else. Or, if I haven’t:
- Slept enough 😴
- Eaten the right foods
- Meditated 🙏
- Worked out, or done something other than sitting for a few hours.
- Gotten outside
- Gotten some action in a while- a hug, kiss, sex, etc.
- Done something just for the fun of it 🎉
Paul Chek has a lovely framework for this that he calls “The Last 4 Doctor’s You’ll Ever Need.”
- Dr. Diet 🥗
- Dr. Quiet 😶
- Dr. Movement 🏃🏾♀️
- Dr. Happiness 🤗
These are your internal doctors, parts of yourself. Often if I feel bad, it’s from ignoring one or more of these doctors.
How can I notice my energy?
- The qwantify app is a decent tool I’ve used in the past. It pings me at a regular cadence and then asks a preset list of questions to see how I feel. Social scientists call this “measuring affect.” It’s automagic, so I can see how I’ve been doing without extra work overtime.
- Set an alarm to go off every 30 minutes- When the alarm goes off, write down what you were doing, and any circumstances you feel are relevant. Don’t do this while sleeping! Assuming you sleep 8 hours a night, this will give you 32 alarms in a day. Yes, it is a pain in the ass. Trust me. The upside is that every day you’ll end up with 32 data points. Multiply that by 7, and after a week, you’ve got 224. That’s a lot! I don’t recommend doing it for more than a week because it is pretty damn distracting.
- Make a spreadsheet and track as you like. This is a DIY method. I’d write down things like- where I was, who I was with, how was I feeling, what was I doing. A single one of these can be game-changing. For example, when I do a cold plunge, any thought in my head vacates immediately. Despite the cold being uncomfortable, it often makes me laugh and smile. I don’t know why, and I don’t care. Smiling is a great reward.
How do I decide what to do after all the tracking?
After a week or so, I notice patterns. Then, I can begin making conscious adjustments. I’m not going to tell you what specific adjustments to make. A helpful question for me is, “how does this serve me?” For example, I know that eating junk food is “bad for me.” But, that fails to address how it serves me. Often it serves me by allowing me to disconnect from painful feelings. What a fantastic tool! I can stuff something in my mouth and not feel sad anymore.
Taken from this lens, I have gained a much deeper understanding of my “bad behaviors.” I had a therapist who once told me that there are no positive or negative emotions. Emotions aren’t hierarchical. They are our internal wisdom made manifest. This is by far my favorite way to frame this. There’s always a lesson. Even Victor Frankl dives into this in his classic novel, Man’s Search For Meaning. He gets into the idea that sometimes the lesson is as simple as- “how can I learn to suffer with dignity?”
I analyze my behaviors with a binary. Does this give me energy, or does it drain energy? Some things that may energize me may drain you, and vice versa. For example, I get pumped to learn Portuguese. This task gives me energy, and I need to learn the language because I’m in Brazil. I have a goal to study it for 3 hours per day. I break it into chunks around breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even though I am performing labor while learning the language, I feel pumped after a study session. It is a dream-affirming activity.
This gives me juice if I transition into something not as energizing but still necessary, like paying the bills. When I say dream-affirming, I mean that it’s an activity aligned with the bigger picture vision for my life. Dream affirming activities give me energy. If you’re feeling drained frequently, you likely don’t have enough dream-affirming activities in your life. If you’re wondering, how do I find my dream, that is a beast of a question! I tackled it a few weeks ago in case you missed it
. Yes, I have used all resources listed there. This is important to me.
Your dream is up to you. It may be dynamic. It can change over time as you change. That could be a book, so to spare you, use the Japanese concept, ikigai
(cool mega graphic linked), which means a reason for being.
I can’t always do energizing things. This is where scheduling and prioritizing come into play. When do I perform best? Ideally, I when it’s “game time,” whatever that means. It could be a sales meeting, big presentation, creative task, or something else. Schedules and lives vary.
I try to set up my schedule so that I’m energized when I need to be.
For example, I recently scheduled a challenging conversation in advance. Due to time zone differences, the first available slot was 10:15 pm. This was a death trap. While I was not looking forward to the conversation, I knew that it would go terribly if it began as I was trying to go to sleep. I waited a few more days until I could have it at 8 o’clock.
If there are activities where I don’t need to be energized, like repetitive, menial tasks, like answering emails, I try to do these when I’m at low energy. If I need to go back, I recharge. This is why the Pomodoro technique can be so powerful. It is simple: work for 25 minutes, then take 5 minutes off. The key to succeeding at Pomodoro is to focus intensely when it’s work time and break when it’s break time. If I half-ass either, I fail. Pomodoro is one energy management tool. There are others.
- Talks with friends
- Alternating energy giving and energy taking tasks
If I did all the hard stuff back to back, I would do it poorly. Instead, I break it into chunks and take breaks when I need to boost my energy. Let’s say I write a 2-page essay when I’m tired and grumpy. It might come out like trash, and I’ll scrap it. A better option may be taking a power nap, meditating, walking outside, then diving into the essay. Often a small energy boost is all I need. And I’m not the only one.
Some executives have known this for a while. They delegate tasks that leach their energy and focus on ones that boost it. Of course, they have their required duties as well. If your job is demanding, you have to be physically prepared. If I eat an unhealthy meal, I get a food hangover, and my performance suffers. You may not be an executive, but you do have wiggle room. If you’re doing something draining for long enough, you will experience burn out. That may be a sign that you need a break or that you need a major life change. Only you can decide.
As always, thank you for your precious ENERGY and attention. Tomorrow’s story is the Theory of Localized Vitamin D. 🌞
PS- something that gives you energy is energizing. Something that takes your energy is “enervating
.” I hear the former a lot, but not the latter, yet everyone knows how enervating feels. Perhaps “draining” is a simpler way to say it. I thought to work “enervating” into the piece, but it felt like an excuse to say a confusing word, so I didn’t. But, I still wanted to share with you wordsmiths, hence the PostScript.
PPS- shoutout to Jeremiah Lee
and David Vargas
for reading drafts of this. They are part of the writing community I’m in, Compound
. Jeremiah’s website has some elegant design navigation, and David is working on making Roam better. Show them some love! 💖