I've got the organising skills to pack my day to the brim.
But I shouldn’t…
That’s because it’s not clever energy management. Keeping my energy reserve foremost in mind allows me to decide when is actually the best time for me to be doing a task and helps me recognise when I’ve overstuffed my day.
Shake it off
When I moved from traditional employment to running my own business it took a while to shake off the 9-5pm routine mind-set.
In The Productivity Project, Chris Bailey, points out that humans have always “worked for money, but it was in the factory era that how long we worked began to be exactly measured”. This is where we started to trade hours for wages. The time economy came into full force when office work became more and more common. We’re now experiencing an in-between phase of moving definitely into a ‘knowledge economy’ (an economy in which growth is dependent on the quantity, quality, and accessibility of information available, rather than on the means of production), but we still live and work like we’re in a time economy.
In a knowledge economy we’re trading a combination of our time, attention, energy, skills, knowledge, social intelligence, networking, for a wage. Time (hours, minutes, seconds) is a social construct and for as far as we can see into the future, it’ll keep ticking along. But what changes for each of us every single day is the amount of energy and attention available to give to your work and commitments.
So, back to shaking off the 9-5 structure. In traditional employment I had days of “presenteeism”. I was present though often wasn’t doing good work.
But I couldn’t excuse myself for the day because that’s not how things worked. Bailey says that “in the time economy, the whole nine-to-five idea made a lot of sense: we had a lot of machines and people to coordinate, time was money, and running an efficient factory meant getting machines and employees in the same place at once. It made sense to pay people to work by the hour because the work performed by employees was not all that different from the work performed by machines. Today, when productivity is about what you accomplish and not how much you produce, a nine-to-five workday makes as much sense as diligently tracking your time out on [a] farm.”
To be successful and increasingly productive in the present, managing your energy is more important than managing your time. It’s hard to be ON eight hours a day. It doesn’t work anymore if it ever did. It’s a different use of energy and it doesn’t fit neatly with an hour for an hour mentality.
If, like me, you are thinking, selling, delivering every day and have constant thoughts about how to market your business, serve your clients, get on top of admin tasks and the like, ask yourself what best suits you, your brain and your unique energy levels to meet these goals. Figure out how to do business your way. Observe yourself and ask when do I do my best writing? When do I do my best networking? When do my clients get the best version of me? Do I really want to be doing THAT after 5pm? Asking these questions and tracking your energy level patterns is all part of the journey of finding out how to do time your way.
Over several months now I’ve seen that my weekday work hours are between 10am and 5pm in winter, and in summer 10am to 7:30pm. With a lunch break and then some errands occasionally run at about 2pm or so. Plus I have the freedom to attend conferences or catch up with friends when it suits us both. I also do a few bits and bobs on the weekend which work for me.
Why the distinction between winter and summer? I’m affected by natural light. Working my own way means that I can honour the natural energy cycle within myself. I don’t like to get up when it’s dark and once it goes dark, I find it difficult to push on and keep working. Tools down!
I’ll admit it though, sometimes when I’m on errands, not working at 2pm, I find myself feeling guilty. I combat those ‘I should be working harder’ or ‘I should have done that already!’ thoughts by reminding myself that I began my own business to live life by design, or that I did some work on Saturday, or that I got a lot done yesterday. This is part of the freedom of being your own boss, you can work when you like and during those parts of the day that suit you best.
Why push yourself when the quality of work isn’t going to be good? Instead, pause and think “Maybe if I stopped and did this at 10am tomorrow instead, I’d get better results.” Whenever I do that, I find that I save myself time because it takes far less effort at 10am to complete the task compared to pushing on for hours to get. it. done. late in the evening.
Know thy self
A bit more on the effect of seasons. They matter. Ask anyone who has suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Seasons affect us even if we fail to acknowledge the fact. After all, we’re just highly advanced animals. The advent of electricity and advances in technology has made it easier and easier for us to neglect and forget our basic needs but they are still there. As I mentioned, light affects me. I’m pretty useless on grey days and have learnt to turn my attention to tasks that I can manage rather than struggling with tasks that need my full attention and energy.
People, in general, are very hard on themselves, myself included. Acknowledging that our output is affected by energy levels, seasons and other external realities (life challenges, pandemics) is part of healthy time and energy management. We can’t be at 100% all of the time. There’s no magic tool or pill that allows us to achieve that. So getting to know ourselves and realising how and when we best work is a major tool for success. Today you can learn all the business skills in the world but without time and energy management awareness supporting that knowledge, you won’t have the capacity for fully effective action. So ask yourself: is this the best time for ME to do this type of work? If it isn’t, when might be better?