Time and Energy — Aligning What You Do with How You Feel
How much of your daily schedule is out of your control?
Many of us may feel that our time is not really our own, that we have responsibilities that drive what we do on a day-to-day basis. But if we take a closer look, we’ll likely find that we have considerably more control over our schedules than we realize. At first glance, our schedules may be a densely populated mish-mash of work-related appointments (meetings, calls, travels), family commitments (doctor appointments, sports and school events), and, if we can fit them in, personal activities (hobbies, exercise, time with friends). If we prioritize them at all, it may be based on who is yelling the loudest or what the crisis is at the moment. However, it is possible to be intentional about our time, even for (especially for) the busiest of people, and if we are intentional, we may be able to cut back on some of the activities we feel we must do and schedule our activities for when we will be able to perform at our best.
Rethinking our daily routine
The nine-to-five work routine or close variation that most of us follow is based on the historical requirements of industrial workers—clocking in in the morning and clocking out in the evening. But the fact is that our level of productivity may be high in some parts of the day (or night) and low in other parts. Almost no one is consistently productive throughout their eight-hour workday. We can incorporate this fact in the way we organize our time by observing when we are most productive and scheduling our activities accordingly. If our ability to focus wanes in the late afternoon, we should avoid activities that are routine, mundane, or dry during that period. If our energy is high early in the morning, we should block out time to knock off a big portion of our to-do list during that time. If we have creative energy just before lunch, we should plan to do our writing or idea development at that time. A good familiarity with how we work can help us do the work when we’re ready and make us more productive and happier.
If we’re lucky enough to have greater flexibility within the structure of our day, we might even take care of some of our work or personal tasks in the evening after dinner, very early in the morning before normal working hours, or in the middle of the night (if we’re night owls or insomniacs). If we’re able, we might spend time with our children when they’re available, such as when they get home from school in the early afternoon, and then pick up work again when they go to sleep.
Getting away from thinking about our day as a big inflexible chunk and being open to engaging in different parts of our days when it makes the most sense will allow us to plan our lives to flow more naturally with our own rhythms, and we will become more productive and less stressed. Of course, for many, time is not flexible. Many people do have to be at work during typical working hours, and some of our family activities are structured and scheduled. But despite these limitations, shifting things around and aligning with the ebb and flow of our energy and focus is still possible.
Being specific about our time requirements
Before we think about organizing our activities according to the timing of our energy and focus, we need to first examine our daily activities and organize them into categories according to their priority. We need to be fully aware of what is required of us versus what we do because it is asked of us or because it’s what we normally do. For me, if an activity doesn’t fall into my six priority bins, it doesn’t make the cut (see Busy). Time is a precious commodity, and we should guard ours like we would anything that is valuable. Once you have pared down your activities into requirements (your actual requirements, not others’ versions of what is required of you) and binned them according to your priorities, take all the activities that didn’t make the list and cut them out of your life. Be polite but firm to those who are asking or demanding your time for activities that aren’t a priority and let them know that you don’t do that kind of work. Don’t invent some excuse, or these demands will keep popping up. Carve them out of your life for good.
Aligning your energy with your time
Once we have the activities that we would like to keep, we need to schedule them in our day at times when they will likely have our full energy and attention. But before we do that, we have to do some self-assessment. Healthy and robust knowledge of ourselves can help us in so many ways (see Identity), and creating a life in which we spend our time intentionally and purposefully is a key component to a happy, meaningful life. You can do this by developing a pattern of your own energy and focus flows, noticing the times of day when your energy is higher, when you’re feeling creative, and when you’re focusing well. Make a note of these times and be mindful of the pattern.
We can do the same things with our daily activities but from the perspective of requirements. Again, we start with being mindful of what we do with our days, noting which activities require creativity, energy, and/or focus. Take note of these too and develop categories of what is needed to perform each activity well.
With this information, we can schedule our activities according to when we are most likely to perform well. Aligning what we do with when we are best able to do it can make us more productive, happier, and less stressed.
We all have our own rhythms. We just have to learn the right dance.