Manage Energy, Not Time


imageManage energy, not time, to get more things done.

This concept really resonates with me.

I also like it because it can be counter intuitive or non-obvious.

One way to try and get more things done is to, jam more in your schedule.


Unfortunately, that’s a fairly common practice.

It’s Not About More Time Management Practices

I actually have lots of practices for managing time.

For example, outcome-based work breakdown structures, managing outcomes vs. activities, prioritizing outcomes based on usage and value, avoiding over-managing minutia, using outcome-based agendas for meetings, distinguishing getting results vs. building connections in meetings, using time-boxes to deliver incremental results in projects, "zero-mail in the inbox" practice … etc.

While I’m always open to new time management practices, I think I was getting diminishing returns from yet more time management techniques.

Energy is the Key

So stepping back, here’s the situation … I was using a full arsenal of time management techniques, I was known for getting results, and yet I wanted to reach the next level.

What happened next was, I noticed a common thread among a few very different training sessions and books around leadership and results.

Energy was a recurring theme.

Know Your Catalysts and Drains

Of course, then it made total sense (the beauty of 20/20 hindsight!).  We’ve all had that great hour of brilliance or that unproductive work week.

I did a reality check against several past projects.

It was easy for me to see the connection of energy and results, when all else was equal.  The problem was, I didn’t have an arsenal of practices for managing energy.  It turns out, I didn’t really need to.  Simply by knowing what drains me or catalyzes me helped a lot.

Knowing is Half the Battle

Now that I’ve been aware of this underlying concept for a while, I have learned a few practices along the way.

One practice I use is I explicitly ask the team when and how often do they want to deliver customer results (i.e. how often do they want to see the fruits of their effort?).

I balance this with capability, customer demand, project constraints and a bunch of other drivers, but the fact that I explicitly try to leverage energy and rhythm, helps crank the energy up a notch (and, as a bonus, results).

Additional Resources

Here are a couple of resources that elaborate on managing energy:

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Timeboxes, Rhythm, and Incremental Value

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  1. Hi J.D. Great title. I hear what you’re saying. Even though I know how to get through my list of to-dos, if my energy level is low, it will take much longer. I’ve learned it’s often what I eat that depletes my energy. By being more observant, I can maintain my energy levels and accomplish the tasks at hand.

  2. Hey Barbara

    Thank you.

    It’s interesting that your main factor turned out to be what you eat. Mine has turned out to be my quality of sleep. If my sleep is off, it seems to trump everything else. It’s great that you know your pattern and can manage it.

  3. I use a trick from Get Clients Now! where I note my mental and physical energy each day. If either is below a 6/10 then I’m going to be less productive than I want to be and if both are then I take the morning off and do nothing until I feel more energetic because trying to force it just makes the energy drain even more (and produces bad work!).

  4. That explains why I am able to do more in less time:
    – during specific day hours.
    – when specific people around
    – during specific weekdays
    That explains perfectly why I am unable to do anything:
    – during specific day hours.
    – when specific people around
    – during specific weekdays

    Great stuff, JD!

  5. Seems like we are on the same wave length with our posts these days. My most recent is about time and money and the one before that about creating the mood.

    Like you, I know the productivity hacks, but if you aren’t feeling it, they just don’t work. I like what Alik had to say as well. It does often depend on the time of day and of course what we are working on.

    You’re spot on by suggesting that we monitor what drains and what gives us energy!

  6. @ Alex

    I really like the explicit check. I used to fight low energy days, and end up with bad results. It’s way better to cut your losses and come back charged.

    @ Alik

    Thank Alik.

    What’s good is you know your personal patterns. Self-awareness is power.

    @ Tom

    We must be riding the right train!

    One thing I noticed is that I’m way more creative at nights and on Saturdays, and way more “results” oriented Monday through Thursday.

    Drucker actually recommended a pattern of operational/admin on Monday and Friday, and execution Tue through Thur.

  7. Hi JD

    Good point and something I try desperately to manage.

    It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I actually identified my major drainers of energy, but, the problem is I don’t have much control over these things. I know, “no control” – how can I say that! Make changes, apply some techniques etc. Believe me, it’s all go on that side and the effects are good. Not only energy, but fulfillment and happiness.

    I hope that this concept reaches more people because it really is key.


  8. @ Julia

    It sounds like you have a lot of awareness here and that’s great.

    Here’s a couple of secrets:
    1. For people that drain me, I make them my mentor. I find one thing they are great at, and I try to learn from them. It turns from draining to learning and I enjoy it more.
    2. For tasks that are draining, I find a way to enjoy it. I know it sound easier said than done, but there’s a few tricks. The key is to link it to good feeling, rather than just think your way through it. I’ll have more on this in my post tomorrow.

    While you’ll never eliminate all your drains, the two keys are:
    1. Limit your drains (if you can limit to 25% of your day, you’re doing great).
    2. Recharge. Put some more time into activities that give you energy. If you’re an introvert, you’ll want alone / think time. If you’re an extrovert, you’ll want to hang with people.

  9. Thanks for another enlightening article, JD. I find that no matter how much I try to plan my day according to hours, in reality I either can or cannot do a particular piece of work depending on the amount of energy I have for that particular piece. In other words, I may have low energy for one kind of task at 10am, but if I switch to another kind of task, my energy goes up. So our energy varies according to what we are doing. The trick is to move through the day responding to your task/energy level. In this way, you cannot plan your tasks. You have to feel your way through the day and do whatever task brings out the best energy at any point in time. The result is that you maintain flow most of the time.
    James Irvine, Team Egyii, Singapore

  10. @ James

    That’s a great way to frame it. Just like playing to our strengths, we can play to our energy levels.

    I find I’m more creative at night, but more productive in the morning.

  11. JD,
    Thanks for bringing attention to the work we’ve done on managing energy vs. time. Very happy to see your readers grappling with how to think differently about how to get the most out of themselves, but also to build in highly focused renewal — ideally every 90 minutes. We need employers to recognize that the best way to derive more value from people is to invest more in meeting their keys needs — sustainability (physical); security (emotional); self-expression (mental) and significance (spiritual). Please come hear more about all this at! Cheers!

  12. @ Tony

    If ever there was a time when people need more energy, now’s the time. The EnergyProject sounds like the perfect prescription.

    I very much agree with the model and I like the fact that it’s consistent with Covey’s “whole person” paradigm.

    BTW – I’m a fan of your book and I regularly recommend it to my mentees.

Comments are closed.