As demands from your workplace keep increasing, you find yourself invariably putting in even longer hours. With more and more organizations favoring working from home, at least on a near-term horizon, this has become increasingly difficult to manage. A blurred line of work and home life separation decreased social interaction and teamwork, difficulty with motivation are only a few of the side-effects of working from home that high achievers and performers have to deal with as they combat perpetual exhaustion and tons of distractions in today’s working lifestyle. But working from home is here to stay. It is somehow going to fit into the ‘future of work.’ Experts predict companies moving towards a hybrid work environment, combining remote work with office work, to combat some of these side effects. Will it help? It’s too early to say. But today, solely putting in an increased number of a largely fractured time to honor your commitments at work is eventually going to lead to declining levels of engagement and burnout, which takes its toll on you physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Most people, including me (for a very long time,) looked at time management as an antidote to our woes. The approach usually starts with, “I don’t have the time…,” or “Where can I find the time to… ?” This largely puts you in a chicken and egg situation, where you don’t really have the time to manage time. While time is a renewable resource, in the short term you get 24 hours each day, in the longer term, it is a finite resource.
The core mistake we make when we think we are managing our time, or wanting to manage our time is that we assume we are equally effective throughout the day. Culturally, we have been sold this idea since we were kids. Our schools start at 8 or 9 in the morning, your work typically ranges from 9 to 6 during which you need to tackle your meetings, schedules, operational tasks, and creative activities all-in. Motivational and productivity gurus, the world over, spread their advice of waking up early in the morning. If you want to do a side hustle, you need to do it late nights or over weekends. In short, we are expected to be alert, awake, and productive at certain times as a universal rule.
None of this really works. Because if it did, we’d all be ultra-happier and super-productive. When you look at the lives of CEOs and executive leaders, they realize that time-boxing activities aren’t the way to growth, success, and vitality. Instead, they focus on observing their energy levels throughout the day, identifying patterns, recognizing the cost of energy-depleting behaviors, establishing rituals to protect, renew, and expand their energy tanks, and designing their day and schedules around their energy levels. Elliot Weissbluth, CEO of HighTower Financial Services starts his day at 4 AM with a cup of coffee followed by an intention-setting exercise, while Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, wakes up around 7 AM and heads straight for a physical newspaper. Josh Sowin, CEO of Brainjolt, a viral content company uses the golden hour to sit outside and write down the four most important things he’d want to accomplish for the day. Matthew Lang, the managing director of Sony in South Africa plans a 20-minute walk in the afternoon. It is that time he gets his best creative ideas, he claims. Jason Grunberg, VP of marketing at Sailthru says, “It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day of answering emails, reviewing work, and producing components of short-term needs. My calendar runs my world, so I set aside time to think every week about the bigger picture. I’m attuned to the time of day and week when I’m my most creative, so I make sure to set this time aside to explore the ‘what if’ and tackle larger challenges.” Scott and Missy Tannen, founders of Boll & Branch find themselves passing the green beans and focusing on what matters the most to them — their family at 6 PM, a time when most other leaders and executives are still going strong. John Doherty, founder and CEO of Credo says, “Test your calendar to find when you’re most energized and then build your day around that.” After conducting a regular audit of his routine, he now plans all his in-depth tasks for his afternoons and strictly avoids calls and meetings after 4 PM.
If the world’s most important and busiest people are able to focus on auditing their energy patterns and schedule their day around their energy for better results, I am sure you can do some tweaks and improvements to your daily schedule as well.
The first thing you need to do rather than working on auto-pilot and externally-driven schedules is starting to pay close attention to the way you feel during certain times of the day. Start noticing when you feel full of ideas, raring to go, and brimming with energy. Also, observe the periods where you feel slow and low, and your head feels all fogged up. Identify the type of foods you generally eat — the ones that make you feel heavy and sluggish, and the ones that boost your moods and make you feel good, the amount of time you spend outdoors, and your sleep patterns. You don’t have to change anything yet but simply identify with some personal observation for a couple of weeks how your energy ebbs and flows throughout the day. Jot down your observations daily. This will help you get a true snapshot and you’ll get a good understanding of your energy levels and how your body feels during any given part of the day. Over the course of 2 weeks or so, you will be in a position to identify a pattern in your energy levels so you can start planning or reshuffling your day according to your energy levels.
1% Daily Leverage
Global leaders and CEOs usually have full leverage on scheduling their day around their energy levels. As individuals and high achievers in our own capacities and levels, we may or may not have that kind of leverage to tweak our daily schedules. But rather than going for an all-or-nothing strategy, which will do you more harm and than good, what I’d recommend is following the principle of 1% leverage. On a daily basis, ask yourself, “What’s the 1% of my schedule that I can leverage and optimize today?” Start making small tweaks to your daily schedules by shifting not more than 1% of your existing schedule. This way you are gradually reclaiming your energy levels and aligning your daily activities against them. Just making 1% tweaks every day will make you about 37 times more effective, reenergized, and productive over the course of a year.
When I audited my energy patterns, I categorized them into 3 periods – periods of high energy – when I am creative, raring to go with ideas, implementing strategies, and showing up fully, low-energy – when I tend to literally dose off on my desk, and bouts of fluctuating energy – the period I really can’t say which side it will sway on a particular day.
My high-energy periods are in the mornings between 10 AM and 1 PM. This is when I am mainly creating or serving. I am writing content, working with my 1-on-1 coaching clients, helping start-ups design presentation decks, thinking and reflecting, planning for mid-term and long-term, experimenting and trying new things. I categorize my important activities in two dimensions: impact and income. Then I prioritize these activities as i1, i2, and i3 making sure not to schedule more than 3 i’s per week. These become my sole focus for that week working on i1 first, followed by i2, and then i3 during my high-energy period. Author Robin Sharma says, “To double your income and impact, triple your investment in personal development and professional education.” I have been using this quote as my mantra for the last 5 years. I also use my high-energy periods to actively learn new content, and connect with my mentors and coaches.
A few things I do that help me stay ultra-focused during my high-energy periods:
- I don’t stay hungry. I start with a nutritious breakfast, mainly consisting of fruits, power-packed green smoothies, and a cup of non-dairy, coconut sugar added coffee.
- I don’t react to people’s priorities. This is not the time I check emails, attend to phone calls, and anything else that could possibly put me in a reactive state.
- I keep my work desk clutter-free. A cluttered desk reflects a cluttered mind.
- I am conscious and wary about attention residue. I don’t juggle multiple tasks.
Afternoons, post-lunch, are extremely low-energy periods for me. I feel sluggish between 1 and 3:30 PM. This period is allocated for routine work, checking and writing emails, working through other operational and backend activities that do not require much mental energy themselves. This is also the time when I sometimes review what I learned, using the concept of spaced repetition.
A few things that help me get through my low-energy periods include:
- A light lunch mainly consisting of green salads or brown rice and lean protein.
- A nap-a-latte, which essentially means gulping down a shot of black coffee and immediately napping for 20-25 minutes. This is a hack I learned from Dr. Michael Breus where he suggests that while caffeine usually takes about 20 minutes to kick into gear during which when you nap will help you feel more rested and alert when you wake up.
- Moving around a lot, including outdoors or simply standing by the window to get some sunlight and fresh air.
My evenings, after 4 PM, are usually my fluctuating energy periods. It is also the most flexible portion of my day. On any given day since I don’t know which side my energy will swing in the evenings, I mainly prioritize outdoor activities, social times, shopping, etc. This is also the time I plan for some entertainment and schedule family time. From time to time, I do feel my head full of ideas, and I use this burst of high-energy to be as effective as I can.
The Ingredients that Bolster High-Energy Periods
After years of learning and experimenting I found that structuring certain ancillary routines and habits in your day will help optimize your energy levels, thereby helping you stay more effective, focused, and in your peak zone. These include creating a morning routine, optimizing your food intake, and managing your sleep patterns.
Your morning routines don’t have to start at 5 AM. While it helped me start my day between 5 and 5:20 in the morning, over the last year, when we were being hit by the corona pandemic, I moved it to 6:30 AM. My morning routines typically revolve around movement, meditation, visualization, affirmations, gratitude, EFT tapping, and reading a book or listening to a podcast or audiobook. My morning routine helps me set the tone and intention for my day, brings in more structure and less stress, and makes me feel in control rather than the other way around.
Last year, before the pandemic began, I also found my health deteriorating. I was low on energy throughout the day. I had turned forty, and realized that it was time to reinvent my health. I looked at my food intake and realized it was pathetic. Around that time was when I heard three people, Eric Edmeades, a nutritional anthropologist, Dr. Mark Hyman, an American physician, and celebrity wellness educator Mona Sharma echo similar sentiments – “You cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet.” Self-care begins in the kitchen and food is the new medicine became my guiding principles to good health and I found my high energy periods prolonging.
Lastly, paying attention to my sleep patterns, and optimizing my rest periods became another way I fueled my body to have immense impact on the patterns of my high-energy periods. Creating a gradually winding down night routine became a foundational aspect of managing my daily energy.
I am sure all of us can do this, in our own limits and capacities. Start listening to yourself in the process. Be aware of your energy patterns and alter your work schedule incrementally. Have a simple morning routine in place, monitor your food intake, and manage your sleep well. Doing this can make a world of difference to the quality of work you produce and to the impact and value you add.
What is your single most takeaway from this article? What energy management routines do you already have in place? Drop me a comment below. My mentor once told me, “If I have $1 and you have $1, and we both exchange our dollars, we still end up with having $1 each. However, if I have an idea and you have an idea, and we both exchange our ideas, we both now have 2 ideas each.”