Has your New Years’ Resolution failed yet? Almost all of them fail by the end of March, which is right now. Why is this? Because New Years’ Resolutions usually rely on willpower, and willpower is a limited resource. If you feel like the thing you’re doing is work, you will need a measurement of willpower to get it done. This is why New Years’ Resolutions are usually doomed from the start. They rely on willpower to create a behavioral sea-change, and when it fails, there’s nothing left. This is why you need to find ways to be productive without relying on willpower, and it’s where the concept of your personal energy-time is useful.
I don’t know if this phrase is new to me, or if someone else has used it. The foundational concept comes from Scott Adams’ How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. Say what you want about Adams these days, but I found his advice about systems over goals and managing your personal energy very useful. According to him, you should tailor your daily tasks to your personal energy level. So when you feel lower levels of energy, for example, you should do more mundane tasks.
But where does time fit into all of this? He touches on it briefly and I want to expand on it. At certain times of the day, your energy will be at different levels, more prone to doing different tasks. Whenever possible, you should go with this flow. By doing so, you will require less willpower to do what you want and need to do.
What does this look like in practice? Everybody is different. Everyone will have different schedules and different times where their energy is most in tune with a certain task. I will give you a typical day for me solely as a blueprint of what energy-time management looks like.
First Rise – ~1:00 PM.
I usually get up between 7 and 8. I have the benefit of working remotely on projects I can do on my own time, so my daily routine comes with this built-in. Not everyone will have this same luxury and I didn’t in the past.
This is the time of day where I’m at my most creative, which is fairly common, so it may be your peak creative energy as well. Since I’m refreshed, I’m energized to not only think about new ideas, but actually get them out. The process of translation from concept to product is harder than it seems. I write much of what you see on this blog during these hours.
I also spend this time working on my fictional pieces, such as The Red War and now, The Fall of the Fated Queen. By the way, I released chapter four this week. You can find it here:
As the northern league raises an army whose advance forces bear down on the Martian city of Mount Tyrrhena, its people are gloomy. To raise their morale, the great chieftain and heir presumptive of the Hellasite Domain, the great power in the Martian eastern hemisphere, addresses her allies. Is she what Adrian Wycart believes she is – a bully?
For some people, eating breakfast may cause a loss of energy. It doesn’t for me. I’m still charged enough from waking up that I’m at my peak for several more hours. If eating breakfast winds up lowering your state, you may be the type to either not want to eat that particular meal, eat it later, or simply do much more in that first hour or so after waking, to challenge yourself to make the absolute most of your peak energy-time, since it’s so scarce.
1:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Energy levels begin to drop off, especially after eating lunch. You probably know the infamous “2 or 3 o’clock” feeling. This part of the day is when I do my work projects. Those require less energy because I know what I need to do and it’s mostly a matter of getting it done, rather than actively translating from concept to product. The work is therefore more clerical. The energy-time nexus works better that way, since I don’t need to focus as much on thinking about and translating new ideas. The material already exists. I just need to put it together in a high-quality way. I more than have enough energy to do that at this time of the day.
By doing my day job work at this time instead of first thing, I maximized my energy-time for the day so far. I used my peak time to do the projects that mean the most to me, personally, and then spent the next part of the day using my time to channel my existing energy level in the most appropriate places – to get my professional work done well.
6:00 PM – Sleep
At this time, I’m mostly spent. As such, I use these hours to do the drudge, clerical work that’s boring and doesn’t require a lot of thought. This work could include financial calculations, citations, playing around with the Flourish system for my projects, or other odds and ends. Breaks become more frequent. I will stick to small tasks during these hours.
I always try to get something done, but these are most of the hours I spend watching things. I don’t have much energy to do more. That doesn’t mean that I can’t, of course. If I wanted, I could write more of these blog posts or The Fall of the Fated Queen, for example. I just know that what comes out won’t be as good as what would come out in the morning, because my energy cannot be applied as effectively as that time of the day as before.
If you’re looking to maximize the quality of the product you put out, this is how you should go about your business.
You will need to adjust your schedule to make the best use of this concept, of course. There are also other environmental factors which influence your state that you can control (in contrast to time, which you can’t). For example, I often work outside, and that can change my daily energy-time calculation dramatically. Place, food, and activity itself will also influence you. I will detail using those activities to maximize your productivity and product quality in subsequent posts.
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Lives of the Luminaries will give you examples of the work ethics of men as varied as Louis XIV and Derek Jeter. Read it here.