Forget Time Management

Forget Time Management

To be honest, I am not completely serious that we can or should “Forget Time Management.” Time management definitely has an important role to play in people’s lives. However, I believe it is overdone and has been granted too much importance. A more useful approach is to manage both our time and our energy.

In 2003, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz wrote The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. While I didn’t love the book — I thought it made an idea that was powerful in its simplicity overly complex — I did like the underlying concept.

Here is the idea as I understand it. If you can spend time on things that energize you, and avoid things that sap your energy, then you will work harder and more effectively, and you will enjoy your life a lot more. Simple, isn’t it? And it has nothing to do with managing your time more effectively.

To give you an example, let’s suppose that I get out a nifty time management tool and design a system to help me file the piles of papers in my office. I bet I can come up with a system that looks great on paper – go to the store, buy the necessary supplies, shut off my computer so I’m not distracted by emails, block out set time periods to do the filing, etc. etc. etc. However, I don’t care how good my time management design is, I still hate filing. So I am going to be bored stiff, I am going to distract myself whenever and however possible, and after about an hour I am going to be in a vile mood. Isn’t it a better use of my time to hire someone to do this for me and instead focus my time – and energy – on doing things that I enjoy, such as strategizing or meeting with clients? (And yes, I do realize that sometimes we have to spend time on things that we dislike, but remember – this is just an example.)

One thing that I did like about Loehr and Schwartz’s book is that its focus goes beyond the importance of managing your energy at work to include a broader mind/body approach. If you do things that energize you and avoid things that debilitate you, then you will build up a reserve of energy, which will carry over to all aspects of your life. This means that you eat foods that energize you (which doesn’t just mean drinking a lot of Red Bull), get enough sleep, spend time with people who energize you, exercise and choose exercise that you enjoy, and be clear on your values and how your choices align with those values.

Figuring out what energizes you is easy (and you might even find the exercise itself energizing). Simply make a list of things that energize you and a list of things that debilitate you. Categories can include food, exercise, relationships, entertainment, specific activities, and anything else that you can think of. Hopefully you can then use these lists to make different choices. For example, you might know that Yoga is supposed to be good for you, but it doesn’t energize you. In fact, you find yourself looking at your watch every five minutes in class because you prefer exercise that is more aerobic or interactive. So skip the yoga and go play tennis.

The point is that if you can build up a reserve of energy, then you will work harder and more effectively because you are enjoying yourself and you want to do more. Time management can be very useful to weed out inefficiencies in your life, such as meetings that don’t serve a real purpose, or spending too much time on email. But if you try to use time management systems to shoehorn yourself into doing things that exhaust you, it will backfire.