Six ideas on how to optimize your time and energy



Time is a limited resource: you cannot recover it once lost, you cannot save it because you have nowhere to deposit it, you cannot borrow it from friends. Likewise, the energy you have is a limited resource: you cannot enjoy it 24 hours a day with the same intensity. Imagine, you arrive at 6 pm at home, but you have no energy to enjoy your free time, you might feel exhausted, irritated, in a bad mood.

That’s why, ideally, for a balanced lifestyle it is important to optimize both your time and energy and to understand that they are closely related with each other.

An imbalanced time and energy management can lead to depression or even burnout. As a psychotherapist I am treating people for burn-out because they have failed to acknowledge their energy limits, or because they ignored them and carried on. From the accumulated experience I’ve selected six ideas that I considered to be the most helpful and relevant. They represent a beginning; an insight that will make you think about how you manage your time and energy resources in a more appropriate manner.

1. Make it a habit to become aware of how you spend your time

Monitor what you are doing during a day and when you are aware of your time, you may ask yourself the following question: is this the way I want to spend my time now?
Author Brian Tracy once said one thing that stuck out in my mind: how we spend our time is related to our self-esteem. The more we do things we do not want, the more our self-esteem suffers.

As evidence, try to see yourself as an outside observer and ask yourself, if you like what you see yourself doing, or you’d like to do something else instead? A big difference means loss of energy, generated by the internal conflicts that are created when we too often do things we don’t want and later spend time blaming ourselves for doing them.

2. Identify and eliminate interruptions and time stealers

The moment you become aware of how you are spending your time, you will clearly see how much time you spend on activities that you could get rid of relatively easily and which, taken one at a time are not a big deal, but when you put them all together, they have a significant effect on your productivity. It may help to know that the list of activities that interrupt your work or steal your time, is divided into two categories:

  • self-inflicted time stealers, such as: the inability to delegate, lack of organization, lack of decision-making capacity, lack of concentration, perfectionism, leaving things unfinished, a disorganized office, time spent on social networks, etc;
  • those imposed on us by others, like unclear tasks, non-relevant meetings, a disorganized boss, interruptions from others, emails and telephones, waiting for answers from others, etc.

For more help you can keep a diary of how you spend your time for two weeks, or use apps like Toggl noting everyday interruptions, or factors that distract you from your schedule. Then you can choose the activity you want to get rid of first and create a strategy to eliminate it.

3. Gain greater concentration in work by selecting high priority and important activities and blocking for them fixed time intervals in your calendar

Try to avoid interruptions in these intervals as much as possible. Lack of concentration is one of the biggest enemies when it comes to productivity. It makes us more prone to mistakes, to have delays over deadline, we spend more time performing a task than we should be.

Media overuse (continuously checking mail, phone, social media) is like a death sentence for our focus due to the waste of time required for our brain to return to a task once it has been discontinued. So, the next time you plan on working on a major project, put your phone aside, turn off notifications, make it hard to reach to.

Blamed for the lack of focus are our own thoughts that "invade" us, often preventing us from following the thread of the activity we deal with. To discipline our thoughts, we can use meditation or mindfulness techniques that are increasingly available to us through specialized apps, such as Calm or Headspace.

Since the first three ideas deal with optimizing time, the following address optimizing energy. It is important to consider all physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy being in a state of interdependence and the most important things you can do are:

4. Give yourself regular breaks as short but frequent recharge rituals

Give yourself a break of 15 minutes after you have worked 90 minutes, or if you notice that you are irritable. Make a list of what helps you upload your energy, whether it's walking, napping, rehydrating or a healthy snack. Offer yourself times of quietness, or of doing nothing to relax your mind and thoughts.

For an emotional reload, carefully choose the network of friends that surrounds you, go rather for the principle of quality than quantity. Setting up enjoyable activities for yourself will give you a sense of positive anticipation and will also load you with positive energy. Still, don’t overdo it, as often we tend to overbook ourselves leaving less time for recovery between work and social life.

5. Create a personal vision, based on your value system

What are the five most important values to you? Choose between family, status, health, autonomy, expertise, loyalty, competence, adventure, integrity, challenge, friendship, personal development etc. When you have discovered what your values are, you can also establish your vision of life which will contribute to increase your spiritual energy.

Find out who you are and what makes you truly happy. Are you living your life according to your main values? Many studies have shown that happy employees give better results and are more connected with the organization they belong to, when their personal vision and value system align with that of the company.

6. Learn to say no, but also to ask for help when you need it

Many of us try to thank others first and thus we put ourselves on the second place. Moreover, for many it is much easier to offer help than to ask for it, which can be a sure recipe for burn-out. Sure, it is important to offer your help, but to avoid energy depletion, it is important to determine why, when and to whom you provide your help and to know your personal limitations and priorities.

Adam Grant studied relationships reciprocity and observed that we get a positive effect on the energy level when we offer help for a cause that is important to us, to people who reciprocate or who give to others forward and, not after we first blocked for us the time needed to achieve what is important to us.

As mentioned, the ideas presented above are just a shortcut. Time and energy management are very complex subjects and also very individual, sometimes requiring professional support from a therapist or coach. But being aware of the “hot spots” that create troubles for you, will lead you to think about new alternative solutions to old problems. We all know that we cannot expect things to change, if we continuously do the same over and over.

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