Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Turning Energy Into Time

If you are anything like me, then you likely find yourself overloaded with more things to do in a day than can possibly be accomplished.  We use technology more to stay on top of things, and to keep in touch with everyone, than to free up our time.  We try to cram as much as possible into our workday, to be as productive as possible, in the vain hope that perhaps we won't have to work late or take work home to catch up.

Is it little wonder then that we are always on the search for the latest tool or tip that helps us manage our time more efficiently?  After all, that's the real issue, isn't it?  Not having enough of that precious commodity - time.  Or... is it?

Maybe, instead of continuing to work at managing our time and tasks more effectively, we need to reframe our thinking.  The issue with time is that it's finite.  No matter how you do the math, there are only 24 hours in a day.  Instead of learning to manage your time more efficiently you have to learn manage the Energy you bring to your tasks.

Much of the early research on energy management comes to us from the world of sports, but it is just as applicable to our day-to-day work lives.  Heck... to our lives in general!

As a professional athlete, it is essential to understand exactly what it takes to achieve consistent, peak performance.  Research has shown that though it is important to hone the technical skills each athlete brings to their respective sport, it is essential that they maximize the Energy output in order to increase performance.

We may not be operating our daily lives at the same physical level as professional athletes, but the machines we're using to accomplish our work (our bodies) are the same.  The challenge for us though, is that we are typically asked to 'perform' for 8 hours a day, a minimum of 5 days a week, without the benefit of the knowledge or training that athletes receive.

A key training method of elite athletes is known as Periodization, first introduced by the early Greeks.  Periodization is the concept of improving performance through balancing periods of activity with periods of rest.  Consider your typical work day though.  You likely...

  • Wake up to an alarm clock blaring at you
  • Race through your morning routine to get out the door as quickly as possible to beat the traffic
  • Move from one task to another, one meeting to another, with no pause
  • Take lunch at your desk so you can continue to work... you wouldn't want to 'waste' time!
  • Race home, work tucked under your arm
  • Fix dinner
  • Spend time with the kids (that all-important 'quality' time!)
  • Squeeze in a little more work
  • Collapse in front of the television to 'vegetate'
  • Drag yourself to bed so you can get up tomorrow to do it all again!
Where was the rest, the renewal, in your day?  Oh... right... it's called vacation and it doesn't come daily, it comes annually!  We live in a world where 'busyness' is worn like a badge of honour and where renewal and recovery get ignored.  However, our ability to be fully engaged at work, to be optimally productive, depends upon our ability to periodically 'disengage' successfully.

Building moments of recovery into your work day will enable you to engage in your tasks more fully and passionately.  Research has clearly shown that productivity increases when people build in periods of renewal into their work day.  Even though they are 'breaking' more, they get more done than those choosing to work 'flat out'.  Some of the most creative thinkers (such as daVinci and Einstein) were strong advocates of breaks, to allow their subconscious minds to work out the problem at hand.

I have clients that will not schedule any meeting exceeding 90 minutes in length, without scheduling a break, recognizing the link of our energy levels to our body's natural Ultradian Rhythms.  And... really... most meetings run needlessly long anyway!

Consider breaking your day into 90-120 minute blocks of time.  Rather than fighting these natural body rhythms, defer to them instead.  A break needn't be long in duration for it to provide you with enough of a rest for your energy and focus to improve.  Potential ideas for workday renewal breaks?
  • take a walk
  • read a chapter of a book, or listen to one
  • listen to music
  • do some light stretches
  • prepare and eat a light, healthy snack
  • work on a puzzle, crossword, sudoku
You get the idea!  Whatever activity would work best for you and relieve you of some of the physical and mental stress you've experienced so far.  Allow your mind to switch gears, take a break from the task at hand, so that it can be more focused when you return.  Odds are that the solution to the problem you were stuck on before the break, is waiting for you upon your return!

(if you are interested in learning more about the idea of Managing your Energy to increase your time effectiveness, send us a blank email with Energy Ebook in the subject line.  We'd be more than happy to forward you a pdf of our ebook... enjoy!)

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