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Managing Your Energy vs. Managing Your Time

windmills - managing your energy vs managing your time

Have you ever had one of those days where you felt on point? You were motivated to start your day, contributed ideas to move a project forward at work, connected with friends and family, took your dog for a walk, baked cupcakes, read a great book, had a delicious dinner, and went to bed happy and pleasantly tired. Or maybe your day started with good intentions and took a detour by 8:30 am. Truthfully, I've had both kinds of days along with everything in between. But I feel the best when my days are more like the first example. It's not that I've gotten everything done on my to-do list, but that I have balance throughout all parts of my life and connected with things that are important to me.

Why Managing Energy vs. Managing Time Matters

I recently found the work of Tony Schwartz, Jean Gomes, and Catherine McCarthy, authors of the book The Way We're Working Isn't Working. Through their research, they discovered that people work best when they pay attention to these four areas of their lives: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The authors call these "four separate but related sources of energy". As I look at my perfect day, it is a result of using and replenishing all four of these buckets.


Productivity isn't a virtue, it's a means to an end. It's only virtuous if the end is worthy. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton


It seems that busy-ness has a certain status attached to it. We have a finite amount of hours in any given day, but energy is renewable (hence, managing energy vs managing time). According to Tony Schwartz & Jim Lohr in their book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal: "Performance, health, and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy. The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us are not. It is our most precious resource. The more we take responsibility for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered and productive we become."

Let's take a look at the four energy buckets and how we can replenish them.

Physical Energy

This is probably the easiest to define: sleep, movement, food, rest. I like coffee as much as anyone, but relying on caffeine can only get me through so much of any given day. It can be good to pay attention to the signals that your physical energy needs to be replenished - yawning, physical restlessness, difficulty concentrating, crash & burn after lunch.

I would guess that most of us can identify where/when our physical energy dips. If you're like me, it's a little more difficult to add in some kind of self-care to replenish (drink water, go for a quick walk, take an office-yoga video break, take a 15-minute catnap, schedule a day off). The first step is always creating awareness. These self-care activities won't get rid of all of the dips, just want to lessen them a bit.

Emotional Energy

This includes a positive emotional state and includes managing negative emotions. It's not letting situations push your buttons. It's also experiencing joy and challenges and opportunities.

Replenishing activities include practicing gratitude, reframing the stories we tell ourselves, connecting with others, taking time for our hobbies, or practicing mindfulness.

Mental Energy

This includes our ability to focus or bring awareness and attention to what we are doing. There is some research that suggests that we are able to focus for 90 - 120 minutes. After that, we need a small break (usually physical).

Ways that we can replenish our mental energy include writing down our to-do list so we don't expend our mental energy on remembering what we need to do. Instead, we can spend our mental energy on doing what we need to do. (David Allen of Getting Things Done fame calls this a brain dump). One of my favorite focus techniques is 20 minute Pomodoro sprints. I think it's also important to learn what time of day you feel the most mentally alert. Is it morning, is it after a big meeting, is it at the end of the day when you are trying to wrap things up?

Spiritual Energy

Spiritual energy is about significance and doing things that are important to you and to the world. Think values or mission or your "why".

One way to help replenish your spiritual energy is to figure out your life bucket categories.

Adam Grant's quote is a good reminder "productivity isn't a virtue, it's a means to an end. it's only virtuous if the end is worthy".


Are you looking for more ways to learn? Check out these!

Looking for More?

It's not about overhauling everything about your productivity. It's figuring out what works (because there are things that are working okay for you) and asking if we can make it work a little better for you. it's figuring out what you might be struggling with and applying systems and processes. I've used the very systems that I teach in this program. I used to think "I need a deadline to get motivated (and, wow, I'm so focused when that happens)"! I also used to keep Post-it notes stuck to my monitor as reminders of what I needed to do. Now, I've learned a less stressful way to get stuff done. And I'm so excited to share it with you!


I created these tools for you because I always enjoy seeing how other people do things in a step-by-step fashion. I hope these are as helpful to you as they have been to me!


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