Late last week, I came down with a cold. For me, colds never come at the right time. It’s always in the middle of a major project where there’s lots of work to be done and it doesn’t feel like there’s an opportunity to take the time to slow down. But, I recognized that I had a choice. I could force myself to work in my foggy state, which would likely take me two to three times longer to complete the work than if I were healthy and may risk prolonging my cold; or, I could spend some time taking care of myself and getting my health back before approaching the work.
Earlier in my professional career, I would have chosen to push past the sickness and put in more hours to get the job done. Since then, I’ve learned that way of working has a lot of hidden costs to the body, mind, and emotions. And, it uses up more of my most precious resource – time. More recently, I’ve learned to be more productive by focusing on managing energy, not time.
Understand Your Energies
According to Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project and author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, we have four different types of energies we’re always working with – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Physical energy relates to our health and whether we are getting adequate sleep, nutrition, exercise, and self-care. Emotional energy relates to our awareness of our own emotions, the quality of them and the impact they have on our work. Mental energy is how well we can focus on our work. Spiritual energy is how we align our work with our values, what gives us a sense of purpose and how we bring our authentic selves into our work. Any of these energies can fuel you to work or hold you back from work, so it’s important to take stock of what your energy levels are and what is needed to address deficiencies.
Know Your Rhythms
As humans, our energy is naturally cyclical. In addition to the 24-hour circadian rhythm, there is a shorter 90-120 minute ultradian rhythm. These cycles also occur in our waking hours, during which we move from higher to lower alertness. As a result, our brains are wired to focus for 90-120 minutes before they need a break. In addition to our ultradian rhythm, you might find you have other rhythms that impact your energy. Finding these patterns allow us to identify how to work with our rhythm.
Plan Your Day
It’s helpful to plan days according to our rhythms. In our classes, we encourage people to map out an ideal work day. Start with identifying the optimal time to wake up and go to sleep and how much sleep you need. Incorporate your morning and evening rituals and responsibilities. Try including an assessment of your energy after you wake up. Then, take a look at how you can split your work activities into blocks of time with periods of rest. I recommend following the ultradian rhythm, with 90-minute blocks of work and 20-minute blocks of rest. But there are other methods, such as the Pomodoro Technique which uses a timer to break work into 25-minute intervals. And, don’t forget that not all time during the day needs to be scheduled!
Find Your Work Flow
During your work intervals, notice how you get into a flow with your work – what conditions are necessary for you to get into that flow. You might find that you need different conditions with different types of work. For example, if I’m working on routine tasks like preparing class materials, I like to have some upbeat music playing (usually Bollywood); but when I’m writing a blog post, I need it to be relatively quiet. Also, notice what things can cause distractions. For me, email and texts can be a big distraction when I’m writing a blog post, so I will shut down email and put my phone aside during that time. Such little actions form rituals that prepare your mind for what you’re about to do.
Take Time to Rest
It’s easy to let your scheduled rest times get eaten up by work, or by looking at the news and shaking your head at the state of affairs. But, it’s important to actually take the time to rest. Those rest times help you restore your energies. So, get out for a walk, bring back nap time, meditate, or do whatever helps you relax.