How to Be More Productive: Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time

People believe that if they put in longer hours, they’ll be more productive and achieve better results. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs speak about working as much as 16 per day. This is similar to saying that the longer you hit a wall, the more likely it would break.

But once you read this article, you may begin to understand that working longer hours doesn’t necessarily help you succeed, in fact it might make you lose.Working longer hours may increase stress and harm you emotionally, mentally, and physically. It may lead to reduced levels of concentration and a lesser quality of work.

It is not about quantity of the time you put into your work, it’s about the quality.

To understand how to manage your energy to be more productive, first we need to know the four sources of energy that determine our success.

Sources of Energy

1. Body: Gives You Physical Energy

Our physical body is the primary storehouse of energy we have. We can increase physical energy in our body with:

  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Sleep

If you don’t take care of these three essentials, you’ll easily get exhausted and find hard to manage your emotions, focus your attention and be more productive.

So stop skipping breakfast, which nutritionist often call the most important meal of the day. Start prioritising your sleep by shutting down all electronics two hours before bedtime. And finally, exercise at least three to four times a week to keep high energy levels.

It’s also important to audit how you eat if you want to be more productive. Eating smaller meals and taking light snacks every three hours is better that eating gluttonous meals twice a day.

Another great strategy is to take a 20-minute long walk in the afternoon. It not only gives you energy but also makes room for creative ideas to come. This is because while walking the problem-solving part of our brain, the left hemisphere, takes a backseat and the creative right side takes over. As a result, we can see the bigger picture and take imaginative leaps.

2. Emotions: Determine The Quality of Energy

It’s essential to feel good to do good. If you’re feeling negative, it’s hard to be effective. But if we work long hours and have to deliver on relentless demands from our job or business, we tend to slip into negative emotions multiple times a day. We slip into fight-or-flight mode when we face stress and get irritated and anxious.

Falling into such emotional states drains our energy and not only hampers our progress at work but also affects our relationships.

Three powerful rituals to defuse negative emotions.

  • Deep Breathing
  • Express appreciation
  • Change the story running in your mind

Deep Breathing – Breathing deeply is a great way to “buy time” and be more productive. Inhale deeply down to your diaphragm and exhale slowly. Box breathing, in which you inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, and exhale for a count of 4, is a great deep breathing practice and is even used by the Navy SEALs. Deep breathing can instantly turn off the fight-or-flight response.

Express appreciation – When we engage in gossip or criticize, we build tension and anxiety. When we appreciate things or people, we build positive energy. There are many ways to express appreciation – thank you note, email, on the phone, or just do it in person.

Change the Story – An event is never negative in itself, it is our perception that makes it so. Usually, when anything bad happens, people tend to think they’re the victims. It’s important that you tell the most hopeful and empowering story to yourself after such event occurs.

For example, if your boss finds your work is not upto the work, you can look at it as an opportunity to grow and ask him for constructive feedback. Don’t blame your boss for being unappreciative for your work unless he expressed it explicitly.

An easy way to change your story is to view it from a different lens than the victim lens.

There are three lenses to look from and here are the questions to help you get access to each lens:

  • Reverse Lens: What does the other person think about the issue and in what ways it might be true?
  • Long Lens: How will I look at this situation in six months?
  • Wide Lens: If I forget about the outcome of the event for a moment, how can it help me learn and grow?

3. The Mind: Focus of Energy

The mind is the source of everything you do. Positive thinking leads to positive outcomes like healthy relationships, successful career, good physical health, and negative thinking leads to negative results. So it’s important that you leverage the power of the mind to be more productive.

1) Say NO to Distractions: The first thing to do is to cut out all distractions while you work. Do just one thing at a time. Don’t check your email when you’re making an important presentation. Multitasking is the enemy of quality work.

As a matter of fact, it takes a person 30 minutes to return to the flow state once they are interrupted while working. So do your best to block all distractions from other people and also don’t switch tasks while working.

To be more productive, become less available for people. If you need to check email, use dedicated time blocks. Use dedicated time blocks for all distractions that you need to attend to.

2) Choose High-Return Activities: Pick the tasks that will give you the highest returns in the long-term. This may include learning a particular skill or building your network. People have a tendency to think for the short-term and you can use it to your advantage.

4. The Human Spirit: Energy of Meaning and Purpose

It’s important to work hard but without selling your soul. Don’t settle for a career that doesn’t fulfill you. Of course, not hundred percent of your work can be fulfilling since in any job or business, you have to do your chores. But a significant part of it can indeed be fulfilling and help you be more productive.

To draw energy from the human spirit, we need to know our priorities and integrate relevant activities in three categories:

  • Doing the work you love and do best
  • Giving time to important areas of life: work, family, health, serving others
  • Living your values in daily life  

a) Doing What You Love and Do Best

In your work, find the experiences when you felt the happiest, the most fulfilled, inspired, and effortlessly absorbed. Remember at least two such experiences and then find out what made the experiences stand out and what talents you used.

If creativity was the game-changer for you, then build a ritual where you do creative work every day. If leadership made you feel unstoppable, focus more on such activities on a daily basis.

b) Giving Time to Important Life Areas

Work is important, but it is equally important to give time to family, exercise every day to be fit, and give back to society once in a while to be of service.

c) Living Your Values in Daily Life

Tony Schwartz, the CEO of The Energy Project, says that

“People tap into the energy of the human spirit when their everyday work and activities are consistent with what they value most and with what gives them a sense of meaning and purpose. If the work they’re doing really matters to them, they typically feel more positive energy, focus better, and demonstrate greater perseverance.”

Know Your Values

To know your values, identify the times in your life when you were the happiest. Then identify the times when you were most proud. Identify when you were most fulfilled. Then deconstruct these experiences to find which factors made them remarkable. These factors will point to your core values.

But there’s a shortcut too. Ask yourself, “What are the qualities that I find most off-putting in others? What you hate in others is what you love in yourself. So it is a great way to find what you value.

Once you know your values, integrate them in your daily activities to be more productive. If achievement in work is your core value, do one task per day that helps you grow your career in the long run. If nurturing your family is your core value, schedule quality time with family every morning and evening.

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