Manage your energy, not your time: How to work smarter and faster

September 10, 2021 - 31 min read

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There always seems to be more to do than time permits.

Even when you know how to manage your time, it can often feel like it isn’t enough.

But time management isn’t the only way to manage work. What if you were to manage your energy, not your time?

Let’s cover the origins of this concept and how you can start to manage your energy instead of your time.

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The 4 key management principles for performance

Time vs. energy: are you prioritizing the correct resource?

5 successful people show how to manage your energy, not your time

How to start managing your energy and not your time

Manage your energy, not your time, and become more fulfilled at work

The 4 key management principles for performance

Jim Loehr is a performance psychologist and author. Tony Schwartz is an American journalist and business book author.

Together, they co-authored The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal in 2003. This book is key in explaining the concept of energy management.

In The Power of Full Engagement, Schwartz and Loehr make the argument that people need to match their energy to a task in order to excel. To them, managing time isn’t nearly as important as managing how you invest your energy:

“Every one of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors has an energy consequence. The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet, but rather how much energy we invest in the time that we have.”

In the book, they discuss four key management principles that help people drive performance. This is what they say:

1. For full engagement, we need to draw on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy.

2. Since energy capacity diminishes with both overuse and underuse, we should balance energy expenditure with renewal.

3. We must push beyond our limits in the same way elite athletes do in order to build capacity.

4. Specific routines for managing energy called ‘positive energy rituals’ are important for engagement and performance.

Time vs. energy: are you prioritizing the correct resource?

The traditional way to manage your time is to divide tasks that you need to complete and assign a specific amount of time to get the work done. For example, you give yourself the goal of completing three reports in two hours.

But what this method doesn’t consider is your energy. 52% of employees feel burnt out, and the obsession over time management could be partly to blame for this burnout.

While time is a finite resource, energy works differently.

Energy is a renewable resource, but only up to a certain point. Scheduling every minute of free time to increase productivity may seem like a good use of time, but it doesn’t account for the need to replenish energy.

Some tasks also require more energy than others. High-energy tasks and multitasking can’t be done productively when your energy is already eaten up by a surplus of things scheduled in your day.

Over time, a lack of energy can cause a dip in productivity, even when there’s more than enough time to get the required tasks done.

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5 successful people show how to manage your energy, not your time

Managing energy instead of time isn’t just a theory. Many highly successful people carefully protect their time so that they have the energy and bandwidth to think creatively and increase their resilience.

Here are five examples of successful people and what they do differently from other high-performing professionals.

1. Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is one of the richest people in the world. And one of the things he does is schedule days in his calendar where he has nothing specific to do.

This means no meetings to attend, no phone calls or checking voicemail, and no errands. He believes that sitting and thinking is a much more important practice than filling out every minute of his day with tasks.

2. Kamala Harris

As a way to manage her energy, Vice President Kamala Harris always starts her day with exercise. She does this even if she didn’t sleep much the night before.

For her, exercise provides focus and energy. It allows her to better enjoy the rest of her day and maintain a work-life balance.

3. Bill Gates

Just like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates understands that you’re in control of your own time and energy. In fact, he learned this from Buffett himself.

Before, he used to manage his time by stuffing in as much as he could into a given day. But now, he believes that sitting and thinking is a much higher priority than filling every minute in your schedule.

4. Jeff Bezos

To Jeff Bezos, the time he values most in his day is the time he spends doing nothing.

He sets his first meetings no earlier than 10 am because he values the time he has to just putter around. That valuable time with his family is his first priority in the morning.

By doing this, he protects his energy levels and can maintain the necessary bandwidth to get stuff done.

5. Anine Bing

Fashion CEO Anine Bing values mindfulness as a part of her daily routine.

She makes it a point to start her day with meditation. This is because she knows that taking the time to be still and intentional with her thoughts will only make her more productive with the rest of her day.

Her meditation practice gives her the energy she needs helps her remain present in her other tasks.

How to start managing your energy and not your time

Think that managing your personal energy would work better for you than time management? Here are five steps you can use to start managing your energy instead of your time.

1. Start by setting your boundaries

No one knows your energy limits better than you. By setting boundaries for yourself, you simultaneously protect your energy levels and motivate yourself to achieve your goals.

Greg McKeown covers this extensively in his book Effortless. He explains that you can create boundaries for how little or how much you want to accomplish in a specific day, depending on your priorities.

For example, let’s say your priority on a given day is to develop a story for a magazine as a journalist. You can decide never to conduct fewer than one, or more than four, interviews in a single workday.

Setting these boundaries for yourself can help you stay accountable for your goals while helping to prevent burnout. You have some room to adapt depending on how much energy you have in a day.

And you can still stay on track, even on days when energy may be low. There’s always the next day to get more done.

Keep in mind that you may need to adjust those boundaries over time.

For instance, if you find that one interview a day is too little time to keep your momentum, you may decide to increase it to two.

You could also find that you’re capable of increasing your maximum number of interviews per day without feeling burnt out. On the other hand, you may find it necessary to decrease your numbers too.

Perhaps three interviews are as much as you’re able to take, even on the best of days. Or maybe one interview over a two-day period is enough to keep the momentum going for your work.

2. Include rest and recovery in your plans

When managing your energy, it’s important to think about downtime and recovery. These shouldn’t be an afterthought. Instead, they should be planned out so that they’re part of your schedule.

While it’s true that recovery takes up valuable time that could be otherwise used to work on tasks, it’s an invaluable part of a routine for high-performing people.

Time isn’t what matters most when you’re concentrating and focusing on managing your energy. Instead, your energy levels are what matter the most. There’s a reason why leaders like Buffet and Gates schedule downtime in their days.

When you give yourself time to rest, you’ll replenish your energy levels and become more productive when you’re back at work. You’ll also improve your well-being and experience more positive emotions if you’re rested.

Because of its benefits, rest and recovery can be an important part of mental fitness.

Keep in mind that it’s important to add this rest and recovery time directly into your schedule. This is important if you tend to get distracted by work.

Treat your rest and recovery time just like you would a doctor’s appointment. Even if you’re running behind on other tasks, resist the temptation to work during your scheduled recovery time.

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3. Schedule time for deep and inner work

There may be days where you’ll need to attend meetings back-to-back. But doing this over the long-term isn’t sustainable if you want to accomplish great work. This is why scheduling designated time for deep work is important.

Deep work is an uninterrupted period when you can fully focus on high-impact work.

Deep work requires a lot of energy, but you can be much more productive when you’re fully focused on what you’re doing. Make sure to schedule your deep work at a time when your energy is highest.

Here’s an example. If you have more mental energy in the morning, try scheduling a two-hour block for deep work before lunch.

The length of time you’ll need for deep work should depend on your energy. For instance, if you find yourself exhausted after doing deep work for three hours or more, make sure to protect your energy by scheduling in shorter periods.

Remember that you need to manage your energy to have some left over for the rest of your day. Longer hours won’t always mean better deep work.

In addition, you should also set time apart in your day to do inner work. When we typically think of work, what we are thinking of is outer work, such as work tasks. In contrast, inner work explores our inner world and personal experiences.

Though it does require energy, inner work is important for understanding ourselves. By learning more about ourselves, we can better manage our energy levels. Therapy and coaching can teach us how to do inner work.

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4. Keep a journal of your energy levels

Unlike time, energy isn’t a constant. Everyone has 24 hours in a single day. But energy levels will vary from person to person and from day to day. This is true for emotional energy, physical energy, and mental energy.

There are several factors that will influence how much energy you have.

To help you better manage your energy and get more done, keep a journal of what energizes you and drains you. You can track these elements in your work life and personal life. This can include:

You can track what gives you negative emotions as well. Managing negative emotions can take up a lot of your energy.

Keeping a journal will serve several purposes to help you manage your energy. First, you’ll become more aware of what you can realistically accomplish, depending on what your day looks like.

Here’s an example. Let’s say teamwork takes up a lot of energy for you compared to solo work. After too long in a team, you begin to have difficulty concentrating.

If you have several tasks that require teamwork in your day, you’ll know that you need to schedule more breaks and take it easy for the rest of the day. This will make sure that you can be productive during your teamwork.

Second, you can make changes in your lifestyle to maximize your energy levels. For example, if you find that doing exercise energizes you, then you can schedule more time to work on your physical health every morning.

And if you discover that long and infrequent breaks don’t work for you, you can take shorter, regular breaks instead.

Keeping a journal can also help you keep a pulse on your core values. What do you really value and want to spend energy on?

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5. Learn to delegate

Once you know what energizes you and what drains you, you can better plan your day to make the most of your energy.

One of the things you can do to improve your energy management is to delegate when you can. This is also good to develop your leadership skills.

You won’t always be in a position to delegate. There are some tasks that you’ll be required to do at work, no matter what, especially if you have an entry-level position.

However, you can discuss with your colleagues to see if they have energy needs that complement yours.

For example, let’s say you work in quality assurance and bug regression drains your energy. If you have a colleague who gets energized by bug regression, you may be able to delegate to that person and help them with other aspects of their work that drain them instead.

Manage your energy, not your time, and become more fulfilled at work

By managing your energy instead of your time, you can not only become more productive but also more fulfilled in your work.

You’re in a better position to accomplish your goals when you’re not overworked and exhausted.

With BetterUp’s coaching platform, you can learn how to better manage your energy and increase your performance at work. Request a custom demo to see how it can work for you.

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Published September 10, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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