Time Management – There’s No Such Thing

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We can’t manage time

In my work I spend a lot of time on helping customers to improve their business productivity, this, of course, includes time management. On Thursday I will publish a new video on how you can use “To-do”-lists to help ease your mind and better manage your time. Now, if you think about it there really is no such thing as time management, we all have 24 hours, no more no less. The real challenge is to manage what we do during this time.

We can manage our energy

I recently finished an Executive MBA at London Business School. During this 2 year program, I did a lot of reading. One of the articles that really made a lasting impression was an article from Harvard Business Review in 2007 by Tony Schwarz and Catherina McCarthy called “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.” I warmly recommend that you read the full article. The basic idea is that we all have four sources of personal energy: physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy and spiritual energy. Though our time is finite, our energy is not, it is renewable. So the good news for all of us overachievers is that if we just succeed in managing our energy more effectively, we can get more done in the 24 hours we are all stuck with.

Physical Energy

I’ll start with the physical energy because this is the one I think we’re most familiar with. This is the energy that is linked to our body and the wellbeing of our body – our sleep, diet and exercise. Since most people know what to do, even if they don’t always do it, I’ll just mention a few things that I try to follow rigorously to keep my physical energy as high as possible.

    • Always start the morning with breakfast. No matter what my day looks like, whether I have a breakfast meeting scheduled or not, I always make sure to have breakfast. I eat pretty much the same thing every weekday morning, no more no less –this includes hotel buffet breakfasts!
    • Eat less more often – my mother always says “eat like a baby”, i.e. every third hour. Our body can only make use of limited amounts of energy from food at a given time, so it’s better to eat less more often. I also find that if I refuel with some sort of fruit or nuts between meals, I don’t eat as much when I sit down for lunch and dinner.

  • A short walk is better than nothing at all – ideally, you should work out at least three times a week. But a short walk is better than nothing at all. If possible, instead of walking on a treadmill, take a walk outside. I attended a seminar by a brain surgeon a few years ago who told us that when we are inside, and in particular in offices where there are a lot of straight lines and 90-degree angles, our left, logical and more dominant hemisphere is triggered. When we go for a walk outside in nature where there are no natural straight lines or 90-degree angles, our right, more creative hemisphere is activated.
  • Sleep at least 7 hours every night. Also, make sure to wind down 30 minutes before you go to bed. I realized that closing my laptop and going straight to bed is the worst I can do. If I’ve worked late, I make sure to have a cup of red tea, read a bit in a book or go for a walk to clear my mind before going to bed.


Emotional Energy

If we get frustrated, irritated, anxious or experience some other form of negative energy, our performance declines. In addition to draining our energy levels, we are also less able to think clearly. Even though we are unable to control what happens around us, we are able to control how we react to external events. Understanding the impact that these negative emotions have on us is a good first step, learning what you can do to control your emotional energy is the next step. For some people, it might help to take a “time-out” and practice heavy breathing. Something that I find very useful if something happens that really upsets me, is to look at the event through, what Schwartz and McCarthy call, different “lenses”. For instance, a few months ago my computer crashed and I didn’t have a proper backup (I know, this is horrible, I should really know better). I was very upset and it drained a lot of my energy. In order to cope better with the situation I tried looking at it through the “wide” lens – regardless of whether or not I’m able to recover my data, what can I learn from this and how can I grow? Looking at it from the “long” lens I asked myself, how big of an issue will this be in 6 months or a year? Another lens that helps if you are upset with someone other than yourself is the “reverse” lens, how does the other person see this and in what ways might that perspective be accurate?

I also feel that it helps to write things down when I’m upset about something. How bad is this really, what is the worst thing that can happen? When you have it all laid out in front of you it doesn’t seem so abstract and frustrating.

One great way to boost your emotional energy is to express appreciation to others. This could be in any form – a call, an email, a handwritten note or a hug. The beauty with this is that it’s a win-win situation because both the recipient and the receiver gain emotional energy from this.

Mental Energy

Last week a journalist asked me what my number one productivity advice was. I told her, “to be present and focus on the task at hand”. All too often I see people unable to complete things because they are distracted by a phone call, an instant message or email. Technology is great and it can save us a lot of time, but we also need to be disciplined in how we use it. Every time we try to multi-task and switch from one task to another we waste time. According to Schwartz and McCarthy, this “switching-time” increases the time needed to complete a task by 25%. It is important that you are disciplined enough to funnel your focus at one task at a time, this means turning off email notifications and switching your mobile to silent when you need to finish a report. If you’re constantly interrupted by people coming to your office – book a conference room and don’t tell anyone where you are!
Another aspect of renewing your mental energy is by taking proper breaks. As humans, our body functions in so-called “ultradian sprints” or “ultradian rhythms”. This means that we are naturally focused for 90 to 120 minutes, and down for about 20 minutes. This rhythm repeats over the 24 hours of the day. So when you work, try to think about these “sprints” and make sure to take proper breaks during the “down” period.

A good recommendation is to try to do your “creative work” early in the morning. For instance, I try to schedule my writing directly after breakfast (now I’m writing in my pajamas…)

Spiritual Energy

The final form of energy source is the spiritual energy. This is really about what gives you meaning and purpose in life. If you’re doing work that really matters to you, you will naturally feel more energized to do it. In order to access this energy, you need to have time for reflection. Personally, my time for reflection was during my Executive MBA, this is when I really started to ask myself what was most important to me, both in my personal and professional life. For me, this journey of self-reflection led to the startup of this business, the answer to what empowers me was to share my passion for technology with as many people as possible and have a positive impact on their development. Every time I get a comment on how one of my videos or articles has helped someone, I’m filled with new spiritual and emotional energy.

I know that everyone does not have the luxury of working with something they’re passionate about. But there are other ways in which you can renew your spiritual energy, one is by living your values. If for example consideration is one of your key values, but you constantly run late to meetings, schedule an extra 5-10 minutes in your calendar before each meeting to make sure that you are on time. Do you have kids? Make sure that you make time to spend quality time with them – this is a great way of increasing your spiritual energy!

Habits require less energy

For those of you who have read “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” by Robin Sharma you know the power of habits. A habit is something we do without even thinking about it, like brushing our teeth or the way we ride a bicycle. If something is a habit, it will take a lot less will-power and energy to execute. The exact number of times you need to do something before it becomes a habit is somewhat unclear, I’ve seen somewhere around 16-21 times to every day for a month. The exact number doesn’t matter, start out by making something into a daily ritual and continue until it becomes a natural part of your daily routine. For instance, mark a 15-minute appointment in your calendar every day and dedicate this time to self-reflection or expressing gratification to other people. Instead of doing it at your desk, go for a walk or sit in the window and look outside. By doing that you are renewing your multiple sources of energy at once!

(If you have difficulties reading this article, you can access the full article here)