Your time is a finite resource. So no matter how good you get at managing your time, you can’t get more of it.
By Nicole Belanger (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)
Learning to manage your time is essential as an entrepreneur. The process of prioritizing tasks, gauging the time needed to complete those tasks, and arranging them throughout the work day is an important part of maximizing productivity. But the problem with time management is that time is a finite resource. There are 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, and 364.25 days in a year. No more, no less -- and it never seems like enough.
Enter energy management: the renewable productivity resource. As Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project, writes in the Harvard Business Review “the core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource,” whereas “energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed.”
As an entrepreneur, you have sacrificed a great deal in the name of doing things differently and living life on your terms. Now it’s time to reap the rewards of your hard work by reclaiming your schedule, and your energy.
Energy Management vs. Time Management
In 2013, Chris Bailey graduated from university, turned down two lucrative job offers and embarked on a year-long exploration of productivity, aptly named A Year of Productivity. Although his findings may not be revolutionary, they are still a wake-up call for our to-do list-loving culture. Bailey explains the three core elements of productivity: time, energy and attention. The problem, he tells Lewis Howes, is that “people have the tendency to throw more time at their problems when they should be throwing more energy and focus at them.”
This catch-all response of simply allotting more time to our work is not sustainable in the long-term. While a young, childless founder may have spare hours in the day they can fill with work, that same entrepreneur might find themselves strapped for extra time a few years down the road when they have a child to take care of or an elderly parent to support. The beauty of energy management is that these strategies can be adapted for our changing life circumstances -- unlike time, we can manufacture energy.
Research has also found that there are major costs to health and productivity when we simply throw time at our problems. At The Energy Project, Schwartz and his team have spent several years working with organizations of all sizes to create sustainable workforces. Through their work, they have found that blindly increasing work hours “leads to declining levels of engagement, increasing levels of distraction, high turnover rates and soaring medical costs among employees.”
Give Yourself Permission to Have Your Own Rhythm
If your peak hours for creativity and problem-solving are from 7 to 9 a.m., why are you answering emails and scheduling meetings during that period? Whether you acknowledge it or not, your body has a natural rhythm that is unique to you. But if you are one of the people who blocks out that body intuition and forces yourself into a conventional schedule, you are (unfortunately) in good company.
From exercising to cognitive work to creative play to communication research has found that there are particular windows of time in the day that are conducive to certain activities. That said, researchers also acknowledge that body clocks can vary wildly between individuals.
One of the kindest things you can do for yourself is to give yourself permission to tune into and follow your internal clock. And before you protest by saying “I don’t have that much control over my schedule! I have a family to care for and a team to manage,” ask yourself how much of that objection is valid -- and how much is taking the easy way out. One of the first steps towards better energy management is the creation of boundaries to protect your energy. This can be as simple as saying no to draining activities that you have a choice in or letting staff know that you will not book meetings during periods of peak energy.
How to Re-Charge Your Energy
After researching energy management, I have come to the conclusion that there two interrelated cardinal rules of the practice:
- To manage energy, you have to have energy to manage
- You can’t draw down on your energy indefinitely without replenishing
According to Tony Schwartz, you have four sources of energy: your body, your emotions, your mind and your spirit. Each source of energy has its own ways of being depleted and replenished -- sleep, nutrition, alone time, etc. Schwartz advocates for creating rituals that correspond to each of these sources of energy in order to make recharging routine. Rituals, he explains, are “highly-specific behaviors done at precise times so that they eventually become automatic.” This could involve going for a walk after a meal, moving locations based on tasks to be completed, or simply deep breathing.
One of the best ways to get acquainted with your natural rhythm is to experiment. But to know when to replenish, you need to know when your tank is running low. In this culture of ours that alternately advocates for working through the pain and numbing out with work, we often can’t hear (or aren’t listening for) the subtle whispers of our body. The signals that it’s time for a break. These signs are powerful tools that will help you keep your energy management strategy on track.
Be An Energy Management Role Model
One of the reasons that many people have such a hard time breaking out of conventional ways of working and living is that going against the grain can be hard. It requires creativity, a willingness to explore, and maybe even reshaping some of the systems that we operate in. But if more of us start reclaiming our schedules -- and our energy -- it won’t be so unusual any more. Entrepreneurs create new realities and bring new visions to life with their products -- why not with their work schedules?
How will you recharge your energy today?
About the author: Nicole Bélanger is a writer turned coach and speaker who is dedicated to helping others find and live by their authentic definition of success. A two-time TEDx speaker, her writings on personal development, entrepreneurship, and careers have been published in Levo League, Business Insider, Women 2.0, Urban Native Magazine and Huffington Post Women. She tweets at @nskbelanger.