Many of us approach work defensively. We wait until something pops up that we’d rather not deal with before taking action. Or we rely on our inboxes or calendar to set the tone of the work day.
What if you planned the workday by energy level? Using insights and self-reflection, consider when you want to work on a particular activity or project and act accordingly.
Weight lifters are often stronger in the evening than in the morning, and some athletes feel more limber and loose after they’ve walked around for a few hours. So why shouldn’t entrepreneurs or employees work according to their energy levels?
The New York Times best-selling author Daniel Pink studied the best time for focusing on particular activities. In a recent interview, he told me,
“My peak, which means the time that I am most vigilant, the time that I am least distractible, the time that I am most focused, tends to be in the morning.”
He added, “So, when I’m writing books, or anything of any length, I sequester the morning and work only on that and then do my other work other times of day.”
Track Your Output
If you want to manage your day by energy level, track what you do and when. Take note of what you did and time spent on each task. If you work from to do lists, review what you ticked off before going home.
When did you work on each task, and how long did each take to complete? Gauge which ones took longer than others. Apps like RescueTime, Toggl or Harvest are useful for tracking time and your output each day or week. If it sounds like extra work, you only need to track yourself only for a few days to get a feeling for what’s time-consuming versus quick and easy.
Monitor How You Feel
A key part of this way of working is understanding if you’re feeling tired or sluggish. Sleep dramatically affects how productive we are at work, just as what you eat might cause you to hit a 3 p.m. slump. (If all else fails, take a nap.)
Link cognitively draining activities with parts of the day when you’re in a good mood or feel full of energy. For example, let’s say you feel mentally fresh in the morning. It’s a good time for hard, creative work like developing, coding or writing an article to promote your business.
During the afternoons, you might feel tired and sluggish after a heavy lunch. That’s a good time for administrative work like attending to email (and plan for a salad tomorrow).
During the late evening, you enjoy a new bout of energy. This is an ideal part of the day for lifting weights, playing tennis or analyzing the latest report.
Set Rules For Yourself
If you work for yourself, you might decide not to take calls or check email before noon, ever. You’re mentally fresh before lunch and want to preserve this energy.
Using similar rules, you might decide to work only on analytical activities in the late evening because your brain feels most engaged for this type of work. Even if you don’t work for yourself, use rules to structure parts of the day within your control. Instead of wondering what to do and when, use these constraints to help you make decisions and work more effectively.
Once you manage your day by energy level, you can take aggressive action. That is, you can prepare for the workday in advance and focus on what you want to do rather than reacting to other people’s priorities.