Manage Your Time, Manage Your Energy

Time management is one of the most valuable, yet overlooked, habits we have to make our days more organized, and one that contributes to a day with more energy.

When you’re figuring out how to manage your time, remember to include time for eating and sleeping, meditating and grooming, relaxing and playing, socializing and shopping, working and learning, exercising and deep breathing, and the other things you do with your time. They are all important parts of your day!

One way to manage your time more efficiently is to use a time management tool (TMT). You can get fancy with apps and online calendars, forms and books designed specifically for managing your day, or even just about making lists. Whatever you choose to use, it isn’t a “honey do” list, it’s a focusing tool. Don’t keep a mental list of what you need to do each day. Write down what’s important so that you free your mind to accomplish your activities. It’s the recording of the to-do items that keep you on track, focused, and being effective with your time and energy. This is one way to avoid forgetting things. It’s worth the bit of extra effort.

Be sure to list the people you need to be in contact with, the things that you absolutely have to get done — anything that’s so important that you can’t go to bed until it is done, and your top projects and some steps you can take to move each project forward. Projects are things you want to accomplish, but which aren’t particularly time sensitive. If you have spare time in your scheduled day, after accomplishing the items you planned on, you can fill in your day with additional activities to move a project or two forward.

Given our chaotic schedules it’s surprisingly easy to forget even important things. While trying to get everything done, we let those butterflies or glittery objects steal our attention — so we end up multi-tasking, or doing lots of things at one time, badly. Research is showing that multi-tasking is counter-productive, another good reason to focus on one thing at a time.

Focus is the key to getting things done, and done well. And using a TMT helps you get and keep that focus because it helps you to stay purposeful by conquering your distractions. Each decision you make in a day burns your precious stores of glucose, your brain fuel. Multi-tasking, in addition to being inefficient and not being purposeful, consumes and depletes glucose, partially because it requires lots of frequent decisions (multi-tasking is a series of decisions made to change activities).

All that glucose burning increases bad decisions and actions, and leaves you exhausted and depleted. Aha, one clue to your energy problem! When you deplete your glucose supply, your memory is impaired, you lose your self-control and willpower, and your decision making gets bad because you use only one criteria and not the full array of options for making decisions.

One ritual we’ve lost through the years is that of sitting down in the evening to read our mail all at one time. Now we read it erratically, maybe as it comes in. These changes have introduced what I call the “butterfly” or “sparklies” effect — the things that distract us constantly, if we let them. Sending communications is as disruptive as receiving them.

These distractions drain our energy, waste our time, introduce chaos and “noise” to our lives, and generally add to our work load. Each distraction not only wastes time, but also depletes glucose. Each change takes a moment for gear changing. Each change burns glucose. It’s no wonder we have a national energy crisis! It’s no wonder so many people think we are too busy to get everything done in a day they want.

Blocking your time is one proven way to get more done and burn less energy, leaving you more energy and time each day. Sounding good, having more energy and time? This is another aspect of time management: organize your time so you can do like-kind activities in blocks of time. Put enough time blocks together and you have a productive, energetic day.

Being still too long, whether you are working or vegging, interferes with important bodily functions like breathing and circulation. Consequently, you probably aren’t getting enough oxygen for your two most important organs — your brain and heart. Inadequate oxygen in your brain causes sluggish thinking, poor decisions, and sleepiness.

Here’s your new habit: take a 10-minute break every 50 minutes so you can move around, get a drink of water, and do some deep breathing exercises to rejuvenate your heart and brain. This will get your circulation and energy flowing.

Along with hourly breaks, take an extended break to get food, fresh air, and exercise every four hours. This kind of break may make you feel as if you are wasting time because you think you have way too much to do. Many scientific studies have shown that you work better — accurately and productively — when you are fresh. With more breaks, you feel less exhausted by the end of the day. Bonus! Adopt this habit and you’ll find your energy level getting stronger.

When you take your breaks matters. Several years ago, I took a class that recommended taking 10-minute breaks every 50 minutes. I tried that for a couple of weeks, but felt like that frequency was too short and they were interrupting my creative flow. So I changed them to be 20-minute breaks every two hours with the thought that it all averaged out. By the end of that month I was back to not taking breaks at all through my day.

It occurred to me years later that I just wasn’t being as productive as I had been those first few weeks of the class when I was taking more frequent breaks. Ironically, I was more productive with 10-minute breaks every 50 minutes than I was with 15-minute breaks every 120 minutes, and way more productive than not taking breaks at all. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing! And you get to benefit from my accidental experiment.

Maybe you don’t go to a “regular” job. Maybe you do housework, or have hobbies that fill your time. It is still important to take regular breaks. This information still applies to you.

If you run short on time-in-a-day or energy, these habits of time management and taking frequent breaks are critical for you to adopt.

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