The focus on timing over time management is great progress in crafting a more constructive conversation around productivity. But time isn’t the whole story.
The advice that comes out of works like Dan Pink’s book When? The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing is helpful in that it recognizes not everyone has the same body clock, and that works for me may not work for you.
That said, much of the advice around timing still views productivity in the construct of linear time: when becomes a function of time of day, week, month, or year.
This ignores a crucial element of productivity: Energy.
Energy is the Linchpin of Productivity
My experience has proven to me that energy is a more important factor than linear time, and a crucial aspect of timing.
The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, provided the research that confirmed my experience with this. The subtitle of their book says it all: managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal.
In observing my patterns, I’ve discovered that I don’t always have the same energy at the same time of day.
Whether you’re a lark, an owl, or a third bird, is not the only relevant factor. We don’t wake up in the same body every day. There are a lot of things going on in our physical systems and external world that can impact our energy.
I see very few women writing about productivity, and here’s something the men in this space don’t talk about: for women, natural changes in hormone levels that occur in connection with our monthly cycles can impact fatigue and energy levels.
This is a real thing and it’s time we put it on the table and talked about it openly. We are all adults. We can acknowledge basic biology, without succumbing to the false belief that this basic fact of life somehow makes women inferior, right?
How to Account for Energy Fluctuations
Once we acknowledge that energy is a key factor in productivity, the question is how to account for our natural energy fluctuations to gain some measure of control over our productivity.
Here are a few steps.
(1) Create Awareness
Awareness is always the first step.
I’ve found that to optimize my productivity, I must be aware and alert to my energy levels.
Start by monitoring your energy levels both are related to the time of day, month, and year, and as related to activities and other factors.
By tracking my patterns over several years, I’ve learned that on certain days of my cycle I will need more rest.
I also know I have less energy in the winter months and tend to be more active in the summer.
(2) Create a Flexible System
When I was healing from a brain injury a few years ago, I learned that I needed a system that allows me the flexibility to work with my available energy on a given day.
One way to incorporate flexibility into your schedule is to identify low energy tasks that you can do that will move you forward on a project.
By tracking my energy, I know which days of a month and even which days in a week I will need to incorporate extra rest. On those days I try to allow extra room in my schedule to take a nap, or do things at a slower pace.
Instead of judging myself or feeling bad about needing a nap, or having it derail my plans, I’ve planned it into my day.
(3) Reframe Productivity
Sometimes this low energy work may appear to be unproductive or procrastination. But it often can yield a big payoff in the immediate future and in the long run.
Remember that progress is often achieved in small steps, and that often the most important work doesn’t look like hustling.
Allowing your body and mind to rest and recover is not slacking off, and it’s not weak. It’s wise, it’s healthy, and it’s often the most productive thing you can do.