There are so many great books on time management out there. One of my favorites is The 4-HourWorkweek by Timothy Ferriss, though I don’t agree with his premise, I explain why below. Most of these books fall into a handful of categories. They show: 1. How to prioritize / organize. 2. How to say “No”. 3. Tips and trick on doing more. 4. Having someone else do it. There may be more categories, but ultimately they are all missing the bigger picture because they focus on TIME, as this limited constant and how to jam more stuff into it. Time management, then turns into breaking down this constant and deciding how to manage (what you will do) with those different parts. Really advanced people call this Life Balance… :D
“Its not about time, its about energy.”
Here is the big challenge, it’s not about time, it’s about energy. Manage your energy and time won’t seem to matter nearly as much, in fact with energy you can even create time. We can break down our lives into three areas, not-work, work and sleep. Let's take the last one first.
Sleep – About 10 years ago I went through a challenging time in my life after a death deifying car accident, where I just couldn’t sleep. I read everything I could on the topic and even had a good run with Ambien (personal note: don’t push through an Ambien while your hungry, you’ll destroy the kitchen) I was up at 3 a.m. every day, staring at the ceiling, worrying about getting enough sleep. I would push on from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. trying to get back to sleep.
“If you can't sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It's the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.” – Dale Carnegie
Then I read a quote by Dale Carnegie, maybe one of the wisest people to ever have lived. It was “stop worrying about sleep”, as I remembered it. The full quote is “If you can't sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It's the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.” I was so impressed with the simplicity of the idea I just went with it. I started listening to my energy, if I needed sleep, I slept and if I couldn’t sleep I did something. I no longer worried about getting enough sleep. Learn to listen to your energy and it’s need to regenerate, sleep when needed, do something that generates energy inside you otherwise. BTW, the more energy you generate the less sleep you will need. These days I don’t sleep that much… but I am a sucker for a killer nap.
“What kills energy more (much more) then doing things you suck at or hate is not knowing if or when that will ever end.”
Work – work is the time when you are at work or are working. Generally you have less control over your time when you are at work, even if you love your job. Everyone has different schedules and they needs to meet, collaboration and communication needs to happen and it requires time. During some of that time you get to manage your energy. The key is knowing what gives you energy and what takes it away. I carry a list with me at all times that lists my passions, what I do well, what I suck at and what I hate (I call this alignment). I share this list with the people I work with and I try to keep in my passions and what I do well as much as possible. When people want me to do a suck or hate, I simply let them know that, and that there might be someone else who could do that better. If they want me to do it anyway, I seek a deadline or a light at the end of the tunnel as much as possible. What kills energy more (much more) then doing things you suck at or hate is not knowing if or when that will ever end. You can even, at times, use a suck at or hate to build energy if you know when it will end.
“The trick is to minimize the lows and maximize the highs.”
Not-Work – Not-Work is everything else when you’re not working or sleeping. Despite obligations (which I understand can be enormous) you do have more control over what you do during this period. You should seek to fill at least the early and transition part of Not-Work with as much energy creating actions as possible. When you wake up read an inspiring quote, say a prayer of thanks, go for a run, do whatever builds energy inside you… especially small things. Do this same thing, as you transition from Work to Not-Work, complete one small thing, play your rock out song, call someone and pump them up, the more and the smaller the better. This deliberate timing of building energy has a tendency to last… then the magic happens. You catch two high-energy days in a row… and things start to build. Most things in life are on some type of frequency, with both highs and lows. The trick is to minimize the lows and maximize the highs.
I first noticed this direct translation between energy and time when I was training for an ultra marathon. With ultras you are running somewhere between 50 and 100 miles, crazy I know. To deal with that much running for that long, some people do a run-walk method of 5 minutes of running followed by 1 minute of walking. What I was able to notice was that during the early part of the training, when I had good energy that 5 minutes was easy, delightful and flew by. Near the end of training, when my energy was bad that 5 minutes took what felt like a half hour.
Think of a time you had a full days worth of work due, but you started the day right, good coffee, kiss from the spouse, fist bump from the boss. You sat down and got that full days worth of work done in 2 or 3 hours… what happened? It was energy. Similarly, think of the time you worked 6 hours of doing stuff you hated and went home. How much decompression time did you need… the energy was gone. Compare that with a day you work 12 hours, but on something that inspired you, or even just with the right team members. Were you still ready to take on the world after? …you still had plenty of energy. Managed right energy will create time, or at least make it seem considerably more meaningless.
So I’ll ask you will you continue to manage your time in the ultimate quest of work vs. life balance or will you create it? :D