Improving your productivity and work outcome is essential for the Self Mastered Individual, be it in the form of higher speed or higher quality. In working to optimize your productivity, all attempts will be futile if you do not take into account the importance of working and planning according to your energy levels, and to manage your energy throughout the day. Identifying, planning and learning how to manage your energy levels may seem obvious in hindsight, but it isn’t so easy to apply and maximize.
Every individual has different energy levels throughout the day, and organizing and planning your daily tasks according to them is the key concept of learning how to manage your energy. The core idea is to identify the different moments of your day when your energy is higher and lower, plan for creative and difficult tasks when you are most energetic, and work on the more menial and repetitive tasks when energy is lower.
It seems like an easy and basic idea to understand, right? Well, it’s an easy idea to understand, but that does not mean it’s easy to apply, and it takes a lot of fine-tuning to truly optimize it.
The first step in organizing your day around your energy levels, thus enhancing your productivity and making the most of them, is actually identifying your energy levels.
The first step towards developing a system to manage your energy is to identify your varying energy levels throughout the day. Many will already have a good idea in their minds of when they are more energetic and productive, i.e., more productive during the second half of the morning and straight after lunch, but less productive at the start of the day and at night-time.
If you do not know when you are more or less productive and energetic throughout the day, observing and documenting your energy levels for a week will be enough time to have a good understanding of them.
Divide your day into hours, and write down in a notebook or on a spreadsheet the different tasks you’ve spent working on through them. It doesn’t need to be picture-perfect, nor should you log every five minutes of your day, it’s only the first step in identifying when you usually work and when you usually don’t. By the end of the week, you will have a rough idea of the usual time you spend working, on social media, being entertained or procrastinating, working on less productive tasks, etc.
Not all tasks are created equal.
Never mind your field of work; if you are self-employed, an entrepreneur, work in an office, etc., tasks vary according to their difficulty, creativity and time spent to complete them, among many other variables. Identifying which tasks are of higher priority than others is up to you and the mental models you decide to use for optimization, but you should have a rough idea of which tasks are more important than others, and which tasks are easier to complete than others.
Once you have a beginner’s outline of your energy and productivity levels, it’s time to organize your tasks according to them. With time you can learn to identify and manage your energy levels more efficiently and optimize even further, but first, we need to implement a system that works. Only once it works you can worry about making it more efficient.
For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that after a week spent tracking your work, you observe that your energy levels throughout the day look like the following (you can obviously decide to divide your day in different ways and different time zones according to your field of work):
Now that you have an outline of what your day looks like, you can proceed to manage your energy levels and organize your tasks according to them. It’s worthwhile repeating that you don’t need the most perfect and detailed map of your day, just a somewhat accurate understanding of your day.
Tasks that need more creativity to perform or are harder than other tasks and require deep focus and attention should be “allotted” for the different times throughout the day when your energy is at its maximum. According to the above example, creative and difficult work should be done from 10 am to 12 pm, and then from 14 pm to 15-16 pm (there is certainly room for flexibility and it depends on the progress on the task).
Menial and more repetitive tasks should be taken care of when the energy levels are at the lowest, which would mean before lunch from 12am to 1pm, and at the end of the work day from 4pm to 5pm. The reason for undergoing menial and repetitive tasks when the energy levels are at the lowest is due to their nature of demanding less brain power and being “easier” to complete.
A key aspect of productivity is organization and planning, something that can be done throughout the times of the day when your energy is lower. Every day should be started by already knowing the tasks you will be performing, which is why it’s essential to plan with days ahead (or even a week ahead), and why you should make the most of your high energy levels for the difficult tasks.
By focusing on planning, organizing and repetitive or easier tasks for when the energy is lower, you can focus on profound work or more creative tasks when your energy is higher, which will guarantee a better use of your energy and will lead to a better management of your time. Once you know how to use your energy more effectively, it’s paramount to understand how to create a higher energy throughout the day.
An aspect of managing and working according to your energy levels that should not be underestimated is maximizing your base energy, maintaining it and avoiding those aspects and habits which drain your energy away. Working to increase your natural energy levels will lead to a workday with more high-energy time zones, which can lead to an increase in productivity if managed right, and an overall better impact on your work and life. Simply put, your life will be better if you have higher energy overall.
When the word natural is mentioned above, it’s on purpose. The idea behind Self Mastered is to modify and manipulate the variables of your life which are under your control, and to create a long term strategy for them to achieve your goals. Consuming nootropics, drugs or stimulants may increase your energy levels throughout the day, or create higher peaks of energy and concentration, but there are costs to using them, which we will not discuss in this article, and they are not a long term strategy to follow. Let’s repeat this to make it absolutely clear: stimulants, nootropics and other things may give you a boost and work for a short period of time, but they are not for a long term strategy, increasing our energy levels naturally is.
To increase your energy levels, the best course of action to take is to understand what the habits or actions that decrease them are in the first place, and then correct them. Related to this topic: This Is What Steals Your Energy.
The ways to increase your natural energy levels are quite simple and they aren’t new: develop good sleep hygiene to improve your poor sleeping habits, improve your diet to provide for the necessary compounds and chemicals your body needs to function optimally and exercise frequently throughout the week.
Poor sleep will make you tired all day, which will affect every single action you take throughout it. Developing good sleep hygiene is consciously working towards sleeping more, improving the quality of your night-time sleep and allowing for a proper recovery, both mental and physical. There are many myths or slogans such as “I will rest when I die” or “sleep is for the weak”; do not pay attention to them, as they have robbed many of life of higher natural energy, relying on stimulants to go through the day.
Poor nutrition will rob your body and brain of the nutrients and compounds needed to function optimally, limiting the possibilities of what you can or not do. Improving your nutrition may not be new advice, but it’s still repeated because it’s still criminally underrated advice, and because it works. Your brain needs to be “fed” appropriately, and a correct nutrition plan will provide for the nutrients it needs, both in quantity and in quality, for it to function optimally. Chances are, you already know what foods or quantities are not beneficial to you, but this article won’t be about them. Improve your nutrition.
Regarding fitness, everything has been said over and over again, and the advice to exercise 3-4 days a week isn’t new, but the concept is still repeated because people continue to ignore it and don’t exercise enough. Exercise 3-4 times per week, and do so properly and with a certain level of intensity to get your endorphins flowing and improve your mood.
While focusing on improving your sleep and rest, your nutrition and your exercise may seem like the usual advice, it’s recommended because it represents the 80/20 rule for pretty much every improvement you want to make in life. They are the pillars everything else is built upon, the basics you need to have a strong foundation for to then go on and work on more detailed aspects of life such as personal growth.
An underwritten aspect of improving your energy levels and correctly managing them is preparing for, managing and respecting rest.
While it was mentioned above, rest is still an underrated concept for much of the self-improvement and productivity literature. Planning for rest when you organize your day is crucial for productivity.
For the purpose of illustration, imagine you have six tasks planned for the day, which vary in terms of time needed to complete each one and in different difficulty levels. You have created an energy management system to organize your tasks according to your energy levels, making sure to focus on the harder ones when you are most energetic and on the easier ones when you are less. You will know by now that plans are never followed through 100% from beginning to end, as throughout the day different random events occur which affect the plan, and tasks may need more time than initially thought to finish.
If your day is planned in such a way that there is no room for an extra task, you may fail to complete or deliver an important task, which can also lead to the following planned tasks being affected. Planning for rest is important because A) it leaves room to focus on emergencies or new tasks, acting as a buffer; and B) it makes sure you do not run out of energy after half of the day, affecting the rest of your planned tasks.
Organizing the day and making sure there is, say, 10 or 15 minutes of rest between tasks can make sure your energy is used properly and that you do not burn yourself too quickly.
Managing your energy levels and organizing your workload around them is a proven and obvious way to boost your productivity. Energy levels throughout the day vary, and every individual has different highs and lows.
Correctly identifying your energy levels throughout the day can be done in a week by documenting your tasks hourly and analyzing them. Creative and harder tasks should be planned for those times of the day when your energy is higher, while easier and more repetitive tasks should be done when your energy is lower.
Planning and organizing for the next day or week should also be done when your energy levels are at the lowest, and rest should be a key aspect of your organizing. Preparing for rest and having specific times for it will lead to an increase in productivity.
The way to improve your overall energy levels is to correct your diet, adopt good sleep hygiene and do exercise throughout the week, advice which isn’t new but it’s the foundations on which everything else is built.