The Time Management Fallacy

I hear a lot about effective time management at work. There is way more to do most days than there can reasonably be done, and the response from management is a pretty consistent “Well. how are you managing your time?” as if that is de facto the problem. Every minute should be managed to get as much work done as possible. I even overheard HR(!) telling an employee that the company isn’t required to give salaried employees lunch breaks, never mind the 10 hour shifts.

I don’t want to suggest that time management isn’t a good and necessary thing. It is critical. However, it is only one half of the equation. Time is fixed, there isn’t a way to get one more or one less minute in the day. However, we do have a lot of control of what goes into that time, and we can maximize the time by managing something else, our energy.

A few weeks ago it was Sunday night and I had a project due on Tuesday. I was pretty low on energy and I was dreading getting through the work. I estimated that it would take me 3 hours. However, I also knew that it really shouldn’t take those 3 hours. I knew that if I were fresh it would take about one hour. So I took the night off. Rather than push through the project and get done at 11 I relaxed, read for a bit, watched something funny on TV, and went to bed at 10. The next morning I got up feeling better and did indeed get the project done in about an hour. It felt good to get the day off to a good start and that positive energy carried over throughout the whole day.

So for the same 3 hours I could have spent slogging through the project I spent 2 re-energizing, 1 working, and at the end I still had some energy left over to carry to the rest of the day. Same time spent, completely different result. All because of energy management.

We all know that we’re more productive and do better work when we are energized, but we are so often trained that we are doing something wrong if we’re not doing something work-related. That mentality will wear you down and keep you stuck. Try this simple exercise, go through your schedule and think about it in terms of energy. How much will each task cost or gain for you? You might be surprised by what you find. You may dread that 3 o’clock not because it’s inherently unpleasant, but because the 3 things you have to do leading up to it all take a lot of energy and you just won’t have much left.

Once you begin to see your schedule in terms of energy, you can begin to manage it. See where the draws are and build in a few moments to re-energize before and after. It’s intimidating to “give up” time assigned to various projects and tasks because we feel so busy, but if you fill that time with things that re-energize you the time will be made up by the quality of your work and the pace you are actually capable of when energized.

Know yourself and what energizes you. Self-care is a critical leadership skill, even if it doesn’t look “productive” from the outside. When you’re driving in a race, sometimes you stop for gas. It would be silly to criticize the driver for ceasing to move forward during that time. Just so, leaders need to make sure they are in top shape a fueled up to handle the day to day ins and outs of business and life.

Reading, hiking, games, and deep conversations are some things that energize me. What energizes you? Share in the comments!

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