how to plan your time using energy

How to plan your time based on energy [PMP #234]

There are all sorts of techniques we can use and considerations to make when planning our time; how urgent is the work, what needs to be done first, how long do you need?

Well, I’d like to add one more consideration to the mix:

How much energy do you have?

I’m going to use the word ‘energy’ to represent how much effort you can apply to your work right now. In other words, how much actual energy you have but also how you feel in the moment. Are you motivated to work? Are you ready to focus or is something else distracting you?

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Depending on your energy and how much effort you can apply to your work, this will help you decide what you should work on.

High Energy » When you’re in a high energy state and you feel motivated, focussed and ready to work, that’s a good time to start working on a task or project that requires deep focus and attention.

Low Energy » If you’re lacking in energy, maybe during a mid-afternoon slump or towards the end of the working week, that’s a good time to work on tasks that require less effort. e.g. miscellaneous admin, answering email, returning phone calls, anything you need to do that’s quick and easy where you don’t need to think as much.

Even if you’ve planned your day differently, if you’re lacking in energy, there’s no point in trying to work on something that requires more effort.

How to increase your energy

In an ideal world, we’d be able to maintain this high-energy state all the time. But this isn’t realistic. When you find yourself lacking energy, the best thing you can do is to take a break. A bit like how we sleep at night to recover for the next day, we need to take breaks during the day to maintain our energy.

  • Go for a walk » This may not sound like a break but if you work on a computer all day (like me) then going for a walk is an excellent way to take a break. I go for a walk pretty much every day at lunchtime. This allows me to get some exercise, stretch my muscles, especially if I’ve sat down a lot, and get some oxygen to the brain. I find it’s the perfect way to reset and boost your energy for the afternoon.
  • Caffeine! » Obviously you don’t want to overdo it, but a caffeinated drink like tea or coffee can be a good way of boosting your short-term focus.
  • Step away from your work» Getting some space from your work for 15 minutes helps me to transition from one project to the next. I’ll often go downstairs, get a drink and say hello to my boy (if he’s home) to take a quick break. This little break helps me to transition to a new task with more energy.
  • Meditate » If you can make 10 minutes to mentally reset this is a great way of getting back some energy before you continue work. If I haven’t meditated in the morning, I’ll sometimes do this halfway through my walk. Afterwards, I can get back to work feeling a lot more energised and ready to go.
  • Stay hydrated and eat well » You already know how important it is to stay hydrated and to eat well but I’ll repeat it here as it’s relevant to the topic. Keep a bottle of water on your desk and make sure you eat well during the day. Stay clear of sugary snacks and don’t overdo the caffeine.

How to plan your time using energy

When you’re planning your day or week, I like to block out time for the projects and tasks I need to work on using my calendar. This helps me to plan my work while keeping in mind my energy levels:

  • Schedule breaks into your day » I schedule breaks on my calendar. For example, I have an hour blocked out every day at 12 for me to eat lunch and go for a 30 minutes walk. I’ll also leave 15 minutes of empty space between my appointments or tasks which is time I can use to step away, get a drink and mentally reset before I move on to the next task. My advice is to schedule your breaks to be little and often. I know that I can only work for 2 works straight before I start to fatigue. Ideally, I take a break every 90 minutes or so. This is where methods like the Pomodoro technique that encourage you to break for 5 minutes every 30 minutes are quite useful. This is a bit short of a work sprint for me but I appreciate the idea.
  • Update your plan based on your energy » Sometimes, despite all your planning and good intentions, you can sit down to work on a project only to find you have zero energy. If this is the case, sometimes it’s best not to force it. If the work isn’t urgent, I’d prefer to postpone it and work on something easier and come back to the project later when I can do it justice. Because I’ve time-blocked my work, it’s simple enough to move my blocks around and work on something easier.
  • Identify tasks using energy » In your task manager, it helps if you can easily identify low vs. high energy tasks. I use a colour coded tagging system to show the duration of a task, ranging from 5 minutes (green) up to 120 minutes (red). So if I need something easier to work on, I can simply pull up all the smaller 5, 15 and 30-minute jobs I need to do.
  • Learn your energy levels » When you are more aware of your energy levels, you can start to plan accordingly. I find the best time of day for me to work on high energy tasks is mid-morning; after I’ve gotten through my email and morning admin but before lunch. After my mid-day break and walk, I’m then able to schedule another 1.5-2 hour block of focussed work in the afternoon. I also know that Friday afternoons are a terrible time to work on a project. For me, Friday afternoons are when I start to check out for the weekend. Instead, I use this time to do a weekly client review with my colleague and plan the upcoming week.

I hope this article has prompted you to be more aware of how you feel during the day and use this to plan accordingly. If you have any tips or tricks you use to maintain your energy and plan accordingly, let me know in the comments below!