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Time & Energy
How much of our lives revolve around time? Just thinking about the vast number of articles, movies, blogs, apps, stories, games, or our work schedules, home schedules, school schedules and sports schedules, can be dizzying. There are volumes of articles written on how to best manage time, how to allocate time, how to get more out of the time we have, how to save time, how to make time slow down. There are even books explaining how time is a relative thing. The younger we are, the more quickly time passes and the older we are, how time seems to slow down. We cannot buy more time, contrary to what some might think. The earth rotates around the sun and spins on an axis that we cannot adjust. Everything we do has an element of time built into it. While there are many things about time we cannot control, there are things we can do with the amount of time we have. I am sure everything I am about to say, has been said by someone else before. The point of this particular blog isn’t to tell you that you are good or bad at managing your time or to somehow provide a prescription for time management. It isn’t about what the most successful people do to manage their time. It is about helping you to stop and think about where you are focusing your energy in relation to time.

A Sense of Accomplishment
How we structure our time at work, or home, or in between, has an important part to play in how we feel at the end of each day. Some like to plan every minute of the day, others like to leave things more open and take things as they come. Some like to start earlier and end earlier, some like to work in shifts, or some that start later and end later. There are even those who like to start early and end late! Are you as confused as I am? Each of us has a preference for how we work, and the time of day, or night, that we feel suits us best. As you leave work and assess how the day went, do you think about what was accomplished or whether you were able to tick things off your list? What does a typical day look like? Each of us will have our own set of circumstances that determine how we structure or days. For some, it is scheduled around others’ activities. For some, it is scheduled around their sleep cycle. Perhaps it is based on routines which have existed for long periods of time.
At the end of each day, many of us likely take a look on the inside and see if that sense of personal satisfaction exists, whether we reached our goals or whether we will set new ones the next day to tackle the items that remain. We might feel upset that the day didn’t go as planned or, alternatively, that some great surprises sprung up that we did not anticipate. Maybe we landed a new project from a client we did not expect to hear from in a while, or a particular meeting was cancelled that allowed us to push ahead on a task we were hoping to get done later in the week. Whatever the outcome, it is important that we pause to reflect. When we feel good about the day, we know we’ve done something right and can continue to structure our days in a similar way, wherever possible.

Energy vs. Time
If you were to think about the energy required, rather than the time required, to effectively complete a full day of work, what would you say? What are the elements in the day that cause you to need more or less amounts of energy? How do you keep your energy levels up throughout the day? Perhaps it means taking deliberate breaks to stretch, to grab a healthy bite to eat, to refill a cup of water or to connect with a colleague you haven’t spoken with in a while. Each of us has time slots where we feel we are most able to focus on details, or to engage through meetings, or to complete routine tasks that don’t require a ton of energy. It is important to set aside some time throughout the day to quickly charge the batteries. It is also important to identify those times where large amounts of energy are going to be needed and ensure that the energy storage is there to carry you through.

We need intermittent recovery, to be able to maintain the positivity in our work and to be able to apply the most energy. When faced with relentless demands, interruptions and unexpected stressors in our day, our energy levels tend to get depleted quickly, so it is important to recognize when this is happening and be able to take a time out, as required. There is a reason that schools have structured breaks throughout the day. It re-energizes the students to allow them to continue to focus on their learning. Let’s not forget these very simple things we grew up with as kids and remember how or why they were there in the first place. Applying these very simple tasks to your day could mean all the difference in what you get accomplished and how you feel at the end of each day.

More = Less?
Putting in more time will not necessarily translate into better outcomes. Sure, you might have been able to push a few more emails out, but at what cost? How do the long days translate into the quality of your work? What are the impacts on your own health? I’ll try to explain with a story.

I am a nose to grindstone kind of guy. Once I start something it is hard to quit. I just want to see something done. No unfinished business. I suppose I take a great sense of pride in being able to start and finish things in one shot. Not too long ago, I was working on my old van. It had almost 350,000 kms on it. I had spent countless hours in the Spring replacing an EGR valve I knew nothing about. The little computer I plugged into the van told me it needed to be replaced and I figured I could take care of it myself. It brought me back to my younger years where I would help my Dad fixing his cars in the garage. Or when I walked to the scrap car yard in -25C degree weather to grab an alternator bracket for my car that I fixed that same night in the university parkade. Cars were easier to work on back then. Less computerized stuff and more room under the hood. Having been successful at replacing the valve I figured I should be able to figure out why the van wouldn’t start this time. I plugged the computer back in. It told me there was some sort of fault. I lifted the hood and started looking. Nothing was obvious. I “wiggled” some wires, checked the battery, no luck. It didn’t make sense. I started taking things apart, undoing some of the work I had done in the Spring, hoping that maybe I had just not hooked up something right. Many hours later, I still couldn’t figure it out. The family dinner had come and gone. My son had come out to help me, and went back in. The kids were going to bed. I didn’t want to quit. I think back on that day, and what my stubbornness got me. It got me a frustrated family. I went to bed frustrated. The van still wasn’t fixed. Instead of having a nice dinner that had been lovingly prepared, I stewed in the garage. Instead of spending a few minutes talking with everyone and having a few laughs I was still trying to fix something I knew very little about. The moral of the story is that doing more doesn’t always turn out for the better. I could have taken a step back and reached out to a family member or friend who knew more about it than I did. I could have consulted a proper manual or simply shared my predicament with someone else who might have sparked a fix. My family would have been happier, I would have been happier, and the van might have been fixed. I could have been more productive with the time I had. That is time I can’t get back.

Always being in an exhausted state, unable to be engaged with those you love most, can you leave you with feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction. No one wins. Countless hours lead to a decrease in engagement, high levels of distraction, increased levels of stress and anxiety. To combat this, there are many things we could do, to make the best use of our time. Perhaps it is going to the gym, eating healthier snacks, walking your dog, laughing with the family around the dinner table or reading a book with our little ones before bed time. All these things should be considered an investment of energy, both in ourselves and in others. Investing in these activities allows us to restore our energy levels so we may show up to work engaged, able to build and maintain healthy relationships and remain focussed on the activities needing to be done. These principles exist whether we are in the downtown office or in the workspace at home. Think of the last time you were preparing for your annual vacation and how focused and dedicated you were to getting everything ready prior to your departure. Are you able to put that kind of effort in to work every day to allow you the time to invest in yourself and your family?
I am not saying that there won’t be times where we need to put our heads down and grind something out. Like everything in life, there needs to be a balance. There are times where we will need to gut something out and times we will need to rejuvenate. This requires good working habits, balance outside of work, time for personal wellness and maximizing the time you have, whether it is at work or elsewhere. This will prepare you for when you need to be performing at your peak. Winning the next big challenge has a lot to do with preparation and knowing when to push.

Like a Battery

  • Both time and energy stores are finite. How we structure our days to make the best use of these limited resources is paramount to achieving success, both at work and at home.
  • Find the structure in your day that will allow you to feel the greatest sense of accomplishment and that are critical to overall success.
  • Identify the points in your day where you will require higher amounts of energy use and plan your schedule around it.
  • Endless additional hours can lead to negative outcomes. Instead, focus on the positive outcomes and think of your time as an energy investment, both in using energy and restoring it.
  • Focus on efficiency and productivity with the limited time you have.
  • Find ways to restore your energy bank so you can contribute fully.

Perhaps this is just a reminder to pause and think about time, for a little bit of time.

Written by: Kevin Van Vliet