All too often we think about our output at work in terms of hours.
“I’ve done eight hours work today; last week I did 50 hours of work”.
In reality, it took you 50 hours to do your work. The time you put in is your cost – not your output(!)
The goal here is to get more output from your cost – to get more work done in the same (or ideally less) time. To do this, stop thinking in terms of time management, and start thinking in terms of energy management. Energy is what enables you to get more from your time – and that you can manage.
So what specifically can you do?
It’s first important to understand your mental energy as a variable. It fluctuates every day throughout the day, and much of it is predictable. Reliably, most people feel that their mental energy is greatest in the morning, but then it slumps after lunch, often referred to as the two o’clock dip. It then comes back reliably between around 3pm and 6pm.
1. Own your mornings.
If you can spend the first 60 minutes of your day in a nonreactive state, working on your most valuable tasks, your whole day will probably be better.
Given that most people’s natural biorhythms means that they have a greater energy reserve first thing, use that to your advantage. What you don’t want to do is to waste the morning by outsourcing your energy on other people’s stuff and then focus on your high value activity after lunch. That just wouldn’t make sense. Between 9am and noon, your brain is probably hotter than any other time in the day. Capture it, protect it, utilise this spike in mental energy, and make sure you’re working on your priorities.
2. Have more breaks throughout the day.
Not only does your brain oscillate in the circadian predictable rhythm, it also oscillates in what are called ultradian rhythms, which are is around every 90 minutes. In practical terms, what does that mean?
Have a break about every 60-90 minutes. Don’t feel the illusion of productivity that you get from sitting at your desk for two or three hours, thinking you’ve done so much work, because you probably haven’t. A large meta-analysis done last year found that the most productive 10% of employees worked for 52 minutes, and then had a 17 minute break.So have lengthier, more regular breaks than you’re probably having.
Ideally you want to get up and shut the computer down. Go for a walk or have a chat about something non-work-related with someone. The important thing is to shift your brain state, and the more you can shift your location, the easier it that will be in order for you to return to work afresh.
3. Learn to switch off.
If energy is a variable and a limited reserve, there’s no use in working later into the evening. Decide on a deadline after which, you stop working if possible. Often I hear people say they really struggle to switch off. And yet, they’re still on their email or their phone in the last 60 minutes before they go to bed, meaning that your brain never gets a chance to switch off.
Depending on your daily schedule, agree with yourself a realistic time for you to pack up. and remind yourself that your energy tomorrow is dependent on you getting some recovery today. Whether it’s six o’clock, seven o’clock, or an eight o’clock deadline:, think in terms of when specifically you turn off your applications, and consequently start to re-energise. And that doesn’t mean just sleep, but get some of your evening back.
I hope that helps and remember to be kind to your brain, treat it like a muscle and give it the rest it deserves so that it can re-energise.
Best of luck,
3 point review
- Energy is a variable, and it predictably changes throughout the day. If you are someone who feels your energy is greatest in the morning, own your morning, and allocate your most valuable tasks to your brain when it’s at its best, most likely between nine and twelve.
- Have more, regular and longer breaks than you currently have.cMake this a minimum of one in the morning between 9am and 12pm, one for lunch, and then at least one in the afternoon as well, roughly every 60 to 90 minutes.
- Give your brain a break when you get home, or whatever that means to you. The last couple of hours of your day should be more in recovery, mode than they are in not activity mode.