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It’s not about Time Management, but Energy Management: How to Use an Energy Calendar

"Time management is an oxymoron. Time is beyond our control, and the clock keeps ticking regardless of how we lead our lives. Priority management is the answer to maximizing the time we have."

- John C Maxwell, bestselling author, speaker, and leadership consultant

While I agree with John Maxwell that priority management is the answer to maximizing our time, I will go one step further and say that energy management is the answer to maximizing the talents we have that produce valued results. Want to be more productive? Manage your energy, not your time.

You can probably tell me how many hours, on average, you work each week, but how many of those hours gave you energy and how many drained your energy? How many of those hours produced your best work and how many produced average work, per your standards? Questions about your energy levels are a lot harder to answer than questions about the time you’ve spent working. Time is a constant, but your top peak energy isn’t.

As an executive coach, I’ve learned that being able to classify our daily tasks by the energy they give or take from us is the key to being more efficient, productive, and happier.

According to Tony Schwartz, TEDx speaker and founder of The Energy Project, energy management requires a balance between energy expenditure and energy renewal. “Energy can be expended. It can be renewed. And you can learn to use it more efficiently.”

Based on this idea, I’ve developed a step-by-step process for creating and implementing an Energy Calendar. This can be your guide as you plan each upcoming week, and you’ll find it will help you maintain your energy level and stay consistently efficient and productive.

How to implement an Energy Calendar

1. Assign a Time and Place for Completing Tasks

Most people work from “to-do” lists or checklists that do nothing more than identify each task they need to accomplish. While this is a good start, it’s much more effective to assign a time and date on your calendar for each item on your task list. Checklists tend to get bigger, and this can cause you to feel buried under a heap of uncompleted tasks. Faced with too many things to accomplish, you end up feeling overwhelmed. By the time you reach that stage, you don’t know where to begin. If a task is important enough to put on a checklist, then it’s important enough to assign a time and place for the task.

2. Evaluate Your Work from an Energy Perspective

Take some time to study the work/tasks on your checklist. Identify and mark which ones give you energy, which ones drain your energy, and which ones don’t significantly affect your energy level. Then reorganize your list under three category headings: Gives Me Energy, Drains My Energy, and Neutral Impact on My Energy. Now you can evaluate your list to discover if there is a disproportion of tasks that drain you of energy versus those that give you energy. Are there any energy draining tasks that you can delegate to someone who might find those tasks give them energy? Do you have enough energy-giving tasks to keep you motivated? If you consistently find few energy-giving tasks, it might be time to consider whether you’re even in the right role.

3. Color-Code Tasks on Your Calendar by Energy

This step provides a good visual to see how your energy-giving task load compares with your energy-draining tasks. Use green to highlight tasks on your calendar that give you energy. Assign yellow to those tasks on your calendar that don’t really affect your energy level. Assign red to the energy-draining tasks on your calendar. If 80% of your tasks are red, consider a big change. What can be delegated? Can you reduce the time spent on these red tasks or spread them out? Keep in mind, however, that everyone has their share of reds they just have to do and can’t delegate. In my case, for example, a red task would be reviewing and approving contracts. Now I just need to be smart about choosing the best time to complete contract related tasks. This leads us to the next step.

4. Construct Your Calendar by Color/Energy

Start each day with a green task. This helps provide a positive energy boost early in the day and provides something to look forward to the next day.

Always follow a red task with a green task. Anticipating a green, energy-boosting task after a red task can help maintain energy and pull you through the red task. Evaluate the amount of time you are allotting to your red tasks. For example, if you are carving out two hours to work on a red task, consider breaking up that two-hour block of time into smaller and less demotivating chunks (e.g. four, 30-minute segments over four days).

5. Pilot the Energy Calendar for One Week

Give it a try! Go through these steps and put an energy calendar in place for one week. This trial period will give you an opportunity to see the effects on your energy and productivity levels. I think you’ll find your energy calendar improves your focus and efficiency, and you’ll quickly feel less distracted and more motivated as a result.

Every executive I’ve coached to try out an energy calendar for one week has told me it was their most productive week of work in years. Some leaders tell me that, the more they’ve learned how to manage their energy through this concept, the more their anxiety has decreased and the more their stress has been reduced. They have more energy, and they are happier.

The energy calendar exercise is also a very helpful technique for coaching a direct report. Have them put together their own energy calendar for one week, then sit down and review it with them. It’s always interesting to see what they consider their red, yellow, and green tasks. It’s also a good opportunity for you to help them to re-prioritize their workload and reduce the impact of the energy-draining red tasks.


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