A short while ago one of my friend’s dad’s turned 95. She told me she asked him what the secret to living so long is. He replied, “Don’t waste time.”
What did he mean?
First of all, I considered time and time management.
As I get older, I realize that I experience time in a totally different way than I did when I was younger.
I now feel an urgency to time and if I let myself get carried away by this urgency I am exhausted at the end of the day. Then I figured out that not wasting time could be related to energy expenditure.
With energy in mind, I was reminded of an article that I read. It is a 2007 article written by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy in Harvard Business Review titled: Managing Your Energy, Not Your Time.
So, what is the difference between managing time and managing energy?
Time, for one thing, is a finite resource. We all know that there is only so many seconds in a day.
And, many of us have collected many time management tips, trainings and pieces of advice over the years.
For example, I have many diaries, schedules, planners and routines that are bound to the idea of time management. But what if we invite our energetic highs and lows into the space of time management, and let the latter dictate the former and marry them to the energetic peaks and valleys?
Energy is recreated. A renewable resource.
As I become more aware of energy-depleting tasks, I discovered my chronotype which involves tuning into my most ideal sleep and related productivity cycles.
A chronotype is the behavioral manifestation of underlying circadian rhythm’s myriad of physical processes. A person’s chronotype is the propensity for the individual to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period. Wikipedia
With my chronotype in mind I try to pair my most demanding tasks with the time of day where I function best with those tasks. Deep work is one example. I choose an early time of day to focus on work that requires more concentration.
I also discovered ultradian rhythms which are biological patterns related to how our bodies function during the course of a day. Ultradian means many times a day. These rhythms manage the energy cycles in our body related to production, output and recovery (Gerasimo, 2020).
Ultradian peaks occur approximately every 90 minutes followed by an ultradian trough which is an energetic low point. These low points are our bodies communicating that there is a need for a break. It usually takes about 20 minutes of unplugging to recover our biological stores.
Understanding these natural rhythms is another way to manage energy well. This means that how my energy flows throughout the day can provide a key piece of information for energy management and the creation of a personally renewable and sustainable eco-system.
Cycles of work and rest are critical.
Making human choices with energy is key. We are not machines or computers. Yet I often make energy choices where I treat myself with this kind of energetic expectation.
If I respect my ‘troughs’ I take micro-pauses and micro-breaks. This is one of the best ways to increase energy and productivity (Gerasimo, 2020). These micro-rests additively create a flow and increase in our ability to engage, resource and build vitality.
Micro-pauses became very necessary for me as my work increased when we, as a pandemic world, had to transition to remote work.
During this time, myself and many of my clients, shared that our usual rhythms and boundaries had been transgressed. With not driving to work or going out, we often neglected to get out of our chair for long periods of time. Especially if we went from one Zoom meeting to the next.
Back to ultradian rhythms. These cycles are the reason for creating short 20 minute breaks to resource our energetic being. If we do not take these breaks it slowly undermines our health and increases the taxing on all of our human systems. Taking breaks to resonate with my ultradian rhythms is one way that I am discovering to align with my biology and this, I find, enhances vitality.
Vitality is a critical aspect of energy.
How do I replenish, protect and budget my energy so that vitality remains possible? Especially as I get older.
Looking at vitality and energy holistically fosters the metaphor of an ecosystem. How might an energetic ecosystem practice be created? And, what might constitute an energetic ecosystem?
I can also follow the lead of Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy and assess the systems of internal resources that include physical, emotional, cognitive and spirit using an energy audit to track how I am spending my energy throughout the day and throughout the week to more skillfully manage these four dimensions. (https://theenergyproject.com/approach/)
In maintaining an energetic ecosystem it is important to find ways to replenish energy physical (quantity), mental (focus), emotional (quality) and spiritual (purpose). What are the ways that work for you?
In keeping with the ultradian rhythms it is interesting to adopt a curious mindset. When do you feel the greatest vitality in your day? In your week? How do you incorporate micro-breaks throughout the day to respect your biological rhythms? Even small changes can create an impact.
What are the antecedents of vitality? Can you replicate these on a consistent basis?
Creating an energetic ecosystem is complex but doable.
What are a few things that you can do when you experience the inevitable daily ultradian troughs? Think breaks, think micro pauses, think recharge … think cloud watching, think savoring a good cup of coffee.
As the world moves more and more into a working-from-home approach, many of us are tasked with creating our own schedules. Are you scheduling in breaks? Looking at the societal approach in the past century, we see typical break patterns like morning and afternoon coffee (or recess for school kids!) and an hour around lunchtime. These exact breaks might not be perfect for you, but they should serve as starting point as they do touch on a frequency that is observable in terms of ultradian troughs.
Another term we use for this is “3-5 minute vacation”. What cues in your day could signal a need for a micro pause? When you notice that you’re tired, distracted, thirsty, anxious this might be time to take a quick bathroom break or grab a glass of water. Or to be more intentional about it, perhaps take a few moments between tasks to focus on breathing, get up and move around, have a cup of tea, watch the clouds roll by. Notice how your energy rebounds.
The point of breaks and micro pauses is to stop the endless barrage of stimulus; use your judgment about what that might look like for you. It should be relaxing, quieting, maybe even meditative. You will want to avoid tasks that further deplete or drain you, and don’t get sucked into mindless scrolling online, this likely isn’t giving your nervous system the downtime that it needs.
Do you have some favorite ways to micro pause or recharge during your work day?
- Gerasimo, P. (2020) The Healthy Deviant: A Rule Breaker’s Guide to Bringing Health to an Unhealthy World.
- Gerasimo, P. (2020): Use the Science of Ultradian Rhythms to Boost Productivity, Energy and Willpower
- Schwartz, T. & McCarthy, C. Manage Your Energy Not Your Time. Harvard Business Review, October, 2007.
- The Energy Project