This curated column is authored by Thomas Oppong, Founding Editor at Alltopstartups
You can only do effective and productive work if you know how best to manage your energy, time and attention.
All three are absolutely essential if you want to be productive on a daily basis and succeed in your endeavors.
Tony Schwartz, author of “The Power of Full Engagement”, recommends that we manage our energy for peak performance.
Schwartz advises we treat our lives as sprints and recovery (recovery being key here!). “The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not,” says Schwartz.
If you are good at managing your time but can’t effectively use your energy on the right things, you will still fall short of great work.
Some people are great at managing their time and have a lot of energy, but they’re constantly distracted so they procrastinate and don’t get a lot done.
Others have laser-like focus on the right things at the right time but they can’t manage their energy. They do the right things at the wrong time.
Productive people know how to effectively manage all three.
Manage your energy for optimum progress
When you throw more energy at your work without taking the time to recharge, or refresh, you’re going to run out of fuel and burn out.
Without real restoration and rejuvenation throughout the day, your productivity suffers.
Your energy, motivation, and will to work “dips” as the day progresses, it’s important to plan accordingly and do your best and high-level work early in the day.
Breaks your work into manageable tasks, and force yourself to single task on purpose within specific times. And plan breaks on purpose.
When you work too hard and throw too much energy at a task, you could burn out without achieving real progress.
True productivity is determined by better energy management rather than simply cranking out more hours at your desk.
It turns out our energy functions according to what psychophysiologist Peretz Lavie called “ultradian rhythms,” or natural cycles that take place during the day.
People who work with instead of against their ultradian rhythm perform better.
If you push yourself to continue working during periods of low energy, you risk continued grogginess and low performance.
If you experience a 3 pm slump every day, for example, trying to power through it will only do you more harm than good. You won’t be working efficiently, your results will be poor.
Instead, during a slump time, try taking a quick walk, starting a conversation with someone at the office, or even taking a power nap for 10 to 20 minutes if you can.
It’s critical that we acknowledge our body’s natural rhythms and align our periods of work and relaxation with them to work in a sustainably productive way.
Timing is everything
Time is a limited resource and it’s constantly running on empty. You can’t stop using it and you can’t find more of it, but you need it to do absolutely everything.
Benjamin Franklin was able to account for every minute of his day — he knew how to manage his time effectively.
“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein,” says H. Jackson Brown Jr.
You are probably efficient at what you do but not necessarily effective.
The two are not the same.
Someone who works hard or smart and is well organised but spends all their time on unimportant tasks may be efficient but not effective.
To be effective, you need to be able to separate important tasks from urgent ones and focus on getting important activities done when you are most active.
To make the most of your time every day, you should be able to prioritise your tasks.
Managing your time isn’t about squeezing as many tasks into your day as possible. It’s about simplifying how you work, doing things better and faster, and knowing when to take a break and refresh.
Urgent tasks are not necessarily important!
Urgency wrecks productivity. Urgent but unimportant tasks are major distractions.
Sometimes important tasks stare you right in the face, but you neglect them and respond to urgent but unimportant things.
You need to reverse that. It’s one the only ways to master your time.
In “Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen D. Covey discussed a system for managing time that was originally introduced by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
This system splits up activities into four quadrants based on two factors: urgency and importance.
Your ability to distinguish urgent and important tasks has a lot to do with your success.
Important tasks are things that contribute to your long-term mission, values, and goals. Separating these differences is simple enough to do once, but doing so continually can be tough.
Identify areas of your life where you are wasting time and try to reduce these. A good way to do this is to log everything you do for a week in meticulous detail and then examine your record to see how you use (or misuse!) your time.
Create a system for your work. Build routines to help you do your work better. A daily structure brings order to how you work.
And when you create a routine that works, be resolute, be committed and be professional about it. Follow through.
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, recommends building a habit of ‘deep work’ — the ability to focus without distraction. Newport also recommends ‘deep scheduling’ to combat constant interruptions and get more done in less time.
Attention works much like a muscle: use it poorly and it can wither; work it well and it grows
Attention is more than just focusing on completing a task. We use our attention to shape and frame life’s big picture as well.
Focus is indeed powerful. Sustained attention produces consistent results on a task over time.
The ability to single task without distractions is a critical component of success. As the saying goes, “The successful man is the average man focused.”
In his book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, psychologist Daniel Goleman delves into the science of attention in all its varieties.
“The antidote for mind wandering is meta-awareness, attention to attention itself, as in the ability to notice that you are not noticing what you should, and correcting your focus. Mindfulness makes this crucial attention muscle stronger,” says Goleman.
Every time you sit down to plan out your day you’re essentially deciding what you’re going to pay attention to that day.
Knowing your core values and having a blueprint for your goals creates focusing lenses that help direct your attention to what matters most while cropping out the superfluous and distracting.
Distractions have always been a part of life. Seneca once observed, “There is never a time when new distraction will not show up.”
We’re subjected to thousands of distractions throughout the day. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that you can be distracted simply by hearing or feeling your phone vibrate, even if you don’t pick it up.
Try putting your phone out of sight (and touch) for 10 minutes of uninterrupted productivity.
Modern technology has evolved to exploit our urgency addiction: email, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and more will fight to distract you constantly.
Socrates said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
Use the 80/20 rule to your advantage. The rule says that 20% of the causes gives 80% of the effects. So always spend your attention on the top 20% things which give the most returns.
Be mindful of how you spend your time. Constantly check and reflect on how you spend your time (and energy and attention) throughout the day.
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