Productivity to me means the ability to complete tasks at the appropriate time and in the best possible way. It is a measure of the quality and value of work one does not just the output/work. It’s about the quality and impact of the work one completes, not just the sheer quantity.
The subject of productivity is essential because as humans, we have multiple activities and milestones to accomplish each day. This makes it important for us to manage the outcomes to ensure we meet set expectations. This is not just about getting tasks done. It is also about achieving balance across our personal, professional, social, mental, physical, financial and emotional lives.
However, implementing and executing tasks and meeting deadlines isn’t always a linear journey. Most times, people find themselves struggling with many challenges such as procrastination, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, burnout, etc. These things hamper their ability to get the job done, leading to unproductivity.
There have been extensive discussions and research around time management with regards to enhancing productivity. I have read books, watched youtube videos, read articles and consumed many resources on the subject of time management. With time, however, I began to question the relevance of time management to achieving productivity and here is why. Imagine this. You have 24 hours, a meticulously drafted to-do list, a plan for the day and the best time management apps. But of what use are these tools if you wake up feeling unmotivated and low on energy?
Some motivational gurus might assert that our emotions shouldn’t dictate our work, but I beg to differ. The quality of output when we’re at our best contrasts starkly with that produced when we’re drained, unmotivated, and emotionally low.
In the book titled “The Power of Full Engagement”, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz say that energy is the fundamental currency of high performance and I agree with this. This does not negate the importance of time management, rather I encourage readers to shift their perspective from a time management-centric approach to a productivity approach. This incorporates the intricacies of our human experiences taking into consideration that we are humans with varying energy levels and not machines with consistent energy. In simple terms, I am suggesting that we incorporate energy management alongside time management in our quest to enhance and increase our productivity.
Also, this perspective that I offer is centered on the idea that it is not just the time one dedicates to a task that ensures the successful and excellent execution of that task, but also the energy one devotes to it. This is in line with the concept of focused or deep work where experts encourage people to set out specific times to focus solely on completing a task. This is not to say that certain tasks do not need longer hours but certainly, the less energy you have for a task, the longer it would take to complete it.
So, let’s assume you set out to clean your room. If you were perhaps experiencing low levels of energy and multitasking, it would take you a longer time to complete the task as opposed to someone who has high energy and focus levels.
The Categories of Energy
When we talk about energy, there are four main categories of energy that affect your productivity and they include:
- Physical energy: Ideal state of being physically energized
- Mental energy: The ideal state of being mentally focused
- Emotional energy: Ideal state of being emotionally connected
- Spiritual energy: The ideal state when our actions are in alignment with our values
Managing these different categories of energy requires you to recover and refill after you have expended energy. So, the key principle here is the need to replenish spent energy. Energy management follows a similar pattern to glycolysis – an expenditure phase followed by an investment phase. If you continuously expend energy without recovering it, your output will reduce, causing you to become less productive. It follows the ideology that you cannot pour from an empty cup.
Of course, energy management is not a linear path. It is a dynamic journey that requires you to be self-aware. Just like personal growth is a lifelong endeavor, managing your energy is also not a one-time thing. You would need to spend time learning, unlearning, relearning, observing, analyzing, assessing, practicing, and implementing.
One remarkable feature of the concept of energy management vs time management is that while time is finite (meaning you cannot have more than 24 hours each day), energy has the potential and capacity to expand and increase. This means that depending on how well you manage your energy, you can increase your energy levels/tank beyond the current capacity you have.
Now that we have discussed extensively about energy management, let us talk about the how.
How Can You Manage Your Energy?
- Practicing deep and focused breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is an important way to manage physical energy. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious.” Deep breathing slows the heartbeat and lowers or stabilizes blood pressure thus improving overall physical health and increasing energy levels.
- Eating balanced and healthy meals
- Staying hydrated
- Engaging in regular exercise
- Ensuring adequate sleep
- Taking out time to acknowledge negative emotions like fear, anxiety, self doubt, sadness, anger etc. Also working through these emotions to address the situations causing them.
- Spending time on deeply relaxing and enjoyable activities (high quality leisure activities done outside your devices).
- Cultivating the practice of mindfulness – the ever present awareness of what is going on inside and around you in a non-judgemental observatory manner and responding accordingly.
- Practicing positive self talks and affirmations
- Developing focus and concentration levels.
- Engaging in deep, singular tasks instead of multitasking.
As for spiritual energy, I will not explore its nuances here. However, it is important to note that some activities will refuel certain energy categories but drain others.
For example, you may expend physical energy while exercising but it could refuel your mental and emotional energy.
Conclusively, I must remind you that time management isn’t useless. However, in pursuing increased productivity, you should consider energy management as the primary focus.
Of course, constant peak performance is not sustainable as you cannot always be productive week in and week out. Just as nature undergoes seasons, we as humans also experience winter seasons. At these times, we embrace the state of simply existing so we can shed off the stress accumulated from long weeks of high performance.
It is vital to take out time for breaks from the busyness of life whether it is just a day, a week, two weeks, a month or even a year. Intentionally embracing sabbaticals can rejuvenate, refresh and recharge us for the ever-changing demands of life.
By focusing on energy management, we shift from a fixed mindset to one that acknowledges the fluidity of our capacities. As we learn to dance with the ebb and flow of energy, we unlock the potential to succeed in harmony with our true selves.
Ultimately, it’s the bigger picture that guides us, helping us adapt to different seasons while maintaining our pursuit of productivity and well-being.
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