#46: Which One to Manage: Time or Energy?

Hey friend,

In previous Mektups, I talked about deep work and multitasking. These two are correlated, and I wanted to return to the theme from a different perspective: time management vs. energy management.

The idea of not multitasking is about maxi­mizing the effectiveness and outcome. Meanwhile, having focus and deep work is about the quality of the outcome and personal satisfaction with the process and that outcome. Having a focus state and reaching desired results are not straightforward. When we want to grasp how many concurrent tasks, projects, and initiatives we are "focused on" at a time, the very first thing we do is look at our calendars. We search for unnecessary meetings to reduce distractions and scan project boards to see how many tasks we juggle simultaneously.

Especially in leading roles, calendars are cluttered with meetings, and we quickly fall into—what Paul Graham says in his famous essay—manager's schedule. Our most effective action then becomes moving meetings here and there to create an hour or two to focus on "the important" stuff. Regardless of the manager's or maker's schedule, we often try to optimize our time because that's what the system focuses on: eight hours per day should produce the maximum outcome. When we follow the system without thinking and reflecting, we usually become miserable.

How often do you feel you're "done" after work in a week and don't want to do anything besides mindlessly watching a movie or going to sleep? When was the last time you had some brain power after work to grab a non-fiction book or read the article that you saved on your reading list a week or two ago?

In many conversations I had, it's apparent that many people have no energy left in the evenings. Also, their energy often depletes after 4-5 hours of shallow work (4-5 hours of deep work is the max we can do in a day). And that's something we need to change—you and me. I include myself because I sometimes feel the same.

A few months ago, I felt lost while trying to start a new initiative at work. I was moving a few meetings to create two hours of uninterrupted time so I can work on it. After a few failed attempts, I came across Cate's article about energy management (you can see my comment under that post). Then, I realized I had time but no energy to run the initiative at all. I stopped chasing it even though I knew the initiative's outcome would bring positive results for the company and me. Yet, it could have drained my whole energy and motivation.

These days, I'm focused on managing and maintaining my energy together with my time. Before I take any extra responsibility, begin a new initiative, start a new project, or say yes to a "quick question," I ask myself, "Is this something I can spare some energy for even if I have time?" I follow up the "Yes" answer with, "Do I want to spend my energy on this thing? Is it going to deplete my energy or energize me?" Once I know the answers, it's clearer whether I should take that extra responsibility.

Learning about energy management was life-changing for me. Before, it wasn't easy to differentiate between two pieces of work I wanted to do and decide which one to pick up. It was challenging to say no. These days, I can say no more easily, even if I have always wanted to do that work.

The questions I ask myself are not the only things I do to maintain my energy during the day. I aim to say less, "I'm just done; I want to sleep," at 5 pm. To do that, I started using techniques and tools like Headspace and Reclaim.ai. I'm not going to dive into details in this Mektup; that will be the topic for the next one.

Meanwhile, think about how you maintain your energy. Observe yourself during the day to figure out what sucks your energy or gives you more. Be aware of how many days you say, "I'm done for today; my brain is not working anymore." In the next Mektup, I want to share a few more techniques to help you.

Until next time,


P.S. Did you fall into the productivity scam?

P.P.S. I didn't publish anything in the last two weeks because I was sick.

Newsletter Last Updated: Dec 13, 2022