- Scott H Young - https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog -

Energy VS Time

I used to be a big disciple of the time management philosophy. Clearly, organizing your time, making lists and scheduling your priorities was the key to productivity, success and ultimately happiness. I’ve read a lot of books on time management and many more articles on the subject. There was only one problem with time management, it wasn’t working.

With highly organized lists and pre-scheduled periods for work I planned out my highly effective and efficient day in advance. Where I felt there was a need for greater flexibility I created prioritized lists so I could quickly work on what was most important at the time. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Although time management did help me get a great deal more done than I had without it, I was getting irritated with how my actual days were filled with unscheduled bumps and drags in performance. Even when I did manage to stick to my schedule or priorities I would often notice my productivity drag to far below my maximum for unexpected reasons.

At first I felt that these unscheduled drags were the simple matter of a lack of discipline. Clearly the problem was me. These time management principles would work if I was better. If I had more control and willpower then they would work perfectly. After chastising myself for each deviation from my plans I would resolve to stay the course next time. It was during this time that I started to see glimpses and details about energy management. Perhaps, I thought, the problem wasn’t me but the system itself.

After having read a lot more on the subject of energy management I can now say I believe that it holds the solution to where time management falls short. My emphasis on time management as the only system for productivity was falling far below the ideal. With a new understanding of energy management I can now see how the entire system was completely flawed to begin with.

Time management is basically a system of organizing that says that your most precious resource is time. Squander time and you squander performance. So the main tenet of time management is to organize all of your priorities to make maximal usage of the time available. This can be done in many different ways. By scheduling, prioritizing, creating lists and even very short-term goals all of your time is carefully organized to fit the maximum amount of productivity. Like someone trying to pack a suitcase where all the objects are carefully arranged to occupy the least amount of physical space, all of your priorities are arranged to occupy the least amount of time.

I have only found one problem with this philosophy. It is complete garbage!

Time is not your most precious resource. In fact, it isn’t really a resource at all (yes, I’ll admit I made an error categorizing it as such, when I wrote this post [1]). Energy is your most precious resource. When you really start to examine this it makes sense. In order to attain a perfect schedule of time you would require an enormous amount of energy. For almost all people, this means that their energy is more limited than their time. In chemistry, the slowest part of a reaction is the step that dictates the speed of the reaction. Similarly, since energy is a more limited resource than time, managing energy makes more sense than managing time.

To prove my point, let’s look at some of the major road-blocks to achieving maximum effectiveness:

All of these things are energy problems. Although there are problems caused when we don’t properly take into account time management issues, I would argue that these are at least an order of magnitude less prevalent than those caused by poor energy management.

Our Energy Capacity is Less Than Our Time Capabilities

Unlike computers being fed electrical energy from a socket that can be run at maximal efficiency, generally, without stop, the human body must take extra steps to recover energy. Think about it. You spend close to a third of your day in an unconscious state and it is likely you spend at least two hours simply consuming more fuel. These are the obvious energy recovery methods. This doesn’t even take into account the downtime we need as human beings after working hard. I would wager that we probably spend between half and two-thirds of our time recovering expended energy.

Energy management recognizes that unless you have an incredibly low requirement for energy in your job or you have an incredibly high amount of energy naturally, your energy will never surpass what you can do with your time. The other truth is that there are certain things for which we want 100% of our resources devoted to. Time management assumes we can turn full capacity on and off like a light switch. Energy management correctly recognizes that running yourself at full capacity comes with a price to pay in recovery.

Long-Term Effectiveness Can’t Be Unbalanced

Energy more flexible than time. You can’t suddenly squeeze in an extra two hours into one day to get more things done. In this sense, time management is always balanced. You never get into a time surplus or deficit. You can’t borrow several hours from the future or save a few hours from the present. Energy, on the other hand, has a flexible component to it. You can have an energy deficit.

There have been days where I had a very rigorous time management schedule that basically assured maximum effectiveness whether work, school, projects or exercise for basically every hour of my day. Pulling off one of these days according to schedule is usually difficult, but I have done it. Unfortunately, by pushing myself harder than my capacity, I ultimately have to recover the day after. As a result sustaining this level of performance wasn’t possible.

Ultimately you can continue to build an energy deficit until it leads to stress, burnout or even death. There was a report on a Japanese factory worker who died after working several days straight. You can try to be stubborn or disciplined, but nature will eventually take its toll. Avoid recovery and it exacts its price, regardless of your stubborness.

Ironically, correct energy management doesn’t even attempt to have a solid, stable level of performance. Good energy management is in a constant cycle energy expenditure and recovery. Both are necessary in order have maximal effectiveness and to improve performance. Periods where all energy resources are expended and then replenished cause your capacity for energy to increase.

Energy Management is More Comprehensive

The foremost reason energy management is superior to time management is because it takes into account all dimensions of human energy. Most people think energy management simply implies physical energy from eating right and exercising. These people would only be partially correct. True energy management encompasses all of the dimensions of human energy. By looking at energy management from all angles we can see how it really is a more holistic strategy for viewing human performance.

Energy encompasses physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions. Physical is the most basic and common dimension of energy. Mental energy is your ability to learn, solve problems and think. Emotional energy represents your control and direction over the emotions you experience. Spiritual energy represents the purpose and meaning behind your actions and is ultimately the most potent dimension of energy.

If you are procrastinating, time management doesn’t really do much to correct this problem. Basically, procrastination, fatigue and stress are areas not covered by traditional time management. Energy management takes a much more holistic view of human nature and, as a result, takes into account many of these barriers to excellence.

Procrastination, if we view through the lens of energy management could be a problem caused by a lack of energy in any one of the dimensions. You could be procrastinating because you are simply to fatigued to do the activity. In this sense recovering or improving your physical capacity would solve the problem. It could also be caused by a negative attitude or negative emotions. Recovering your emotional energy of optimism and enthusiasm or improving your emotional capacity (resistance to negative influences) would solve this problem. The procrastination may be caused because you can’t solve the problems or learn the material needed to complete the activity. Recovering mental energy or improving your mental capacity would solve your problem. Finally, the procrastination may be caused because you don’t find a purpose in the activity or it doesn’t fulfill you. Improving your purpose and aligning that activity with that purpose can greatly increase your spiritual energy to solve the problem.

As we can see, procrastination, a very common barrier to effectiveness has no solution with traditional time management, but it has many possible causes when looked at with energy management. Energy management goes further to offer potential solutions. Because energy management takes into account more of human nature it has less potential barriers and problems time management can cause.

The Vindication of Time Management

Okay so I’ve written a lot about the failings of time management, but after all this I still feel it is a very worthwhile subject to study. Many of time managements practices are aimed at organizing and prioritizing. Creating lists of priorities and activities and sorting out the importance of them is still an incredibly worthwhile practice whether you choose to organize time or energy as your fundamental resource.

I wouldn’t consider energy management to be the antithesis or opposite of time management. Instead I would consider time management, to be a subset of a more comprehensive and inclusive energy management philosophy. By making energy management your first priority and then utilizing time management techniques to optimize the basic theories of energy management, I believe you can have a much better understanding of what it really will take to achieve excellence.

Energy management is probably one of the most fascinating subjects I have stumbled upon, and I would have to rank it alongside goal-setting and habit changing as truly life revolutionizing subjects in personal development. Since this is still a relatively new topic, I am brimming with many ideas on how to further it, so look out for more posts on the subject and how to maximize it.

For those interested here are some great links for energy management:

The Power of Full Engagement [2] (consider it a beginners primer to energy management)
Energy Management [3] (my own introductory post)
Interview with Emily Schwartz [4] (an interview about energy management)