When I was a journalist in the United Kingdom, I met a number of people in public relations, communications, and press office roles. All of them had busy lives and their jobs were relentless. While some seemed to be fuelled by what they did, others were deflated and exhausted.
One political press officer I knew was constantly running on empty. It’s understandable: in such a job, you can feel envious of those who say they work “long hours,” since it implies they get to stop and switch off on occasion. Especially around election time, coffee becomes your best friend and sleep a long forgotten acquaintance.
One day I asked him, “How do you cope? What do you do when you get your hands on some free time?” He replied, “I catch up on sleep, and if I’m not sleeping I crash in front of the television, eat some food and catch up on some shows. Occasionally, I get a chance to go on a night out, but I only have one or two drinks in case I’m called in on something urgent.”
Another acquaintance of mine is a chief executive officer of a large public body. She is literally on-call 365 days per year, has a diary packed tighter than a Japanese subway train, and is rarely without people calling for her attention. I asked her the same questions, “How do you cope? What do you do with any free time you manage to secure?”
She replied, “I look after myself. I watch what I eat; I exercise regularly; I reflect a lot and have developed keen self-awareness; and even though I’m always contactable, I make time for myself and I make sure to use up all of my annual leave.”
Time vs. Energy
No doubt many readers of this article will lead busy lives – sometimes it can seem as though there’s just not enough time in the day. Some of you will even agree that you really should find more time for yourself, your family, to exercise and reflect, and generally fit in more positive pursuits.
Intellectually, we know it makes sense. There’s been enough research to suggest a solid connection between taking time out and seeing an increase in creativity, innovation, resilience and productivity.
But yet, when we get to our desks on a Monday morning, all those good intentions fly out the window as we open our e-mail inbox and consider what lies ahead for us throughout the coming weeks and months. Often, we tell ourselves that we need to manage our time in a more efficient way. “If only I had more time to get things done, then I could exercise, meditate, and spend more time with my family.”
Time management is certainly important, but we all have the same number of hours in the day as the likes of Warren Buffett, Jack Ma, Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Oprah Winfrey. In a lot of cases, the state of our bodies and minds in relation to how productive we are and how well we progress comes down not to how much time we have, but how we use our time.
How do you manage your energy?
In months gone by I would begin my days at 7am, knowing I had an hour and a half before settling down to my workload for the day. In those 90 minutes, I’d scroll through social media, catch up with the news around the world, check my e-mails, have breakfast, and scroll through social media again. After a time, I noticed that I felt listless when I’d sit down to work.
Upon reflection, I realised that I was using up a lot of mental energy first thing in the morning on trivial activities and tasks that could wait. By the time I reached my desk, I had to motivate myself to get through the day’s work. Time wasn’t the problem: I could complete everything I wanted to achieve in the day (work, exercise, meditation, reading), but I was lacking in energy and so struggled more than I should have. So I resolved to use my time in the morning more productively.
Now, I use the 90 minutes each morning to exercise and meditate for 30 minutes, and then I’ll usually read or watch something inspirational to help set me up for the day. By investing in myself during the free time I have, I feel much more energised and am certainly much more engaged in what I do, and more productive because of it. If the President of the United States can find the time to exercise and take regular time out, the rest of us should have no problem.
It’s all about prioritising and shaping your day to make the most of the time you have. The best way to cultivate this habit is to ask yourself this question before you do anything, “Am I about to add value to myself or others, or is what I’m about to do a waste of time?”
In a nutshell
Of course, not everything has to be about achieving goals – there should be time to rest and relax and do whatever you enjoy. But by reducing the amount of mindless activities (checking your phone, scrolling through social media, watching yawning cats on YouTube, etc.), and replacing them with activities that requires you to invest in yourself or others, you’ll be amazed at how much energy you cultivate – and how productive you become in the process.