We all know that time management is important. At some point, I expect most of us have been preached to about the need to work through our to-do lists, to distinguish between important and urgent tasks and the concept of splitting our day into segments of time, each dedicated to a different priority. This is important and helpful stuff, for the most part. If your objective is to get more done, the ability to organise your time is crucial.
But time management theory has a blind spot. It tends to ignore one other equally crucial component of productivity: human energy. If you follow the time management advice of modern-day capitalist heroes such as Alan Greenspan and Gary Vaynerchuck, your goal will be to leave no empty spaces in your calendar because, to quote Vaynerchuck: "You have to use every second you get in a day." So you'll schedule three minutes on this, followed by two minutes on that: every little task will be planned exactly so that you can get through as much as possible in your day. Except that, at some point, you might want to go to the loo. Or, you know, breathe.
This is where energy management comes in. Coined by the psychologist, Charlotte Fritz, it refers to our ability to understand what depletes our energy levels and the measures we can take to preserve and restore them. The result – as Fritz and others have shown – is healthier, happier, more productive workers. So why is it not better understood or more widely practiced?
Sadly, the dominant corporate culture lauds the approaches of Greenspan and Vaynerchuck because it regards the need for breaks as a sign of weakness. Time management speaks to the need to be productive all the time and is therefore regarded as a positive commercial tool. Energy management recommends breaks from productivity and is therefore dismissed as a licence to shirk.
It may, indeed, seem counter-intuitive, but the evidence is that by filling your day with productive tasks, you ultimately render yourself less productive. There is strong scientific evidence that mental performance declines as the day progresses – because the brain tires with continued use, just like your leg muscles when you run or cycle. People like Vaynerchuck and Greenspan may be the cognitive equivalents of Mo Farah or Chris Froome, but most people don’t come close to having their drive or, for that matter, their physiology. So it’s unrealistic, unfair and even dangerous to expect ordinary workers to emulate them. It’s also commercially dumb.
This is not to decry time management strategies, but it is to argue for the balancing effect of deploying energy management strategies alongside them. By taking the occasional break, we become more productive on the next task. In other words, we do the stuff we do better - and this can be a more effective route to productivity than simply getting more stuff done.
While I argued in a previous post that individuals can initiate some of these strategies by themselves, I am equally clear that the scope of what they can achieve is limited by the corporate culture in which those individuals work. So, over the next few posts, I will explore some of the most important insights into managing energy in the workplace, and how to foster a culture which permits and encourages people to do so.