It’s no secret that more people are working remotely. During the past summer, Stanford researchers estimated an astounding 42 percent of the workforce was working from home full time.
In theory, that sounds like a dream come true. No commute. The ability to get in a Peloton ride at lunch instead of heading to the gym after work. Taking a minute to throw in a load of laundry or to meet a repairman without wiping out a morning of productivity.
What’s the problem in this scenario?
The energy drain has increased exponentially. Even if you technically have a few extra minutes during the day, that doesn’t mean you’re able to use it to restore your vitality and increase your energy.
When it really comes down to being more productive and performing sustainably, you have only two primary resources, time and energy. They are not created equal.
In fact, there are significant limitations in relying on time to meet your growing demands. Why is a wish for more time, for more hours in the day, not sufficient for getting your work done?
1. Time is not a measure of progress.
You’ve probably had times when you’re physically at work yet are mentally far away. How did you spend that time? Did you do some of your best creative thinking and team motivation?
You probably spent the time on busywork – glancing at your phone during meetings, mindlessly cleaning out your inbox or any number of low-impact, low-effort tasks.
If you have time available for a project but you’re not energized and mentally engaged, you won’t achieve the same results. And, you won’t gain commitment from your team members if they can sense your lack of enthusiasm, regardless of the number of hours you are physically present.
Evaluate yourself and your team. You may be physically or virtually connected, but are you all truly engaged? If not, what can you do to bolster energy and resolve?
2. Time moves fast.
It’s common to completely overestimate how much work we can get done in a day. When we create unrealistic goals and expectations for ourselves, we can:
– Become frustrated
– Disappoint our stakeholders and compromise our work
– Create a more chaotic, dissatisfying work environment for our employees
– Focus on checking low-hanging items off a to-do list rather than on managing and prioritizing our efforts for true value-added progress
To combat the steady march of time, dedicate a portion of your day to organizing your tasks and goals. This is typically done best in the morning coming out of your own intentional time.
Would you cook a new meal without a recipe and ensuring you have what you need, when you need it in a prioritized and sequenced way? Same goes for how you cook up a day and a week at a time.
It sounds counterintuitive to take more time out of your schedule as a way to manage time more effectively. However, it gives you a purpose behind your decision-making and will save you a lot of time by giving you a greater focus on what you really need to be doing.
You’ll see a clear vision for your time emerging and charting a clear path for progress can energize your efforts. As you map out your day, measure the time it takes you to complete the items on your to-do list.
Were your initial estimates of your workload accurate, or were you too optimistic? Start measuring the length of time you think something will take and the actual amount of time it takes to do it.
In order to do this well, you need to manage your time in uninterrupted blocks. Stay completely focused and avoid distractions; that means no news or social media breaks when you’re trying to engage in strategic planning and other deep work.
3. Not all hours are ours.
If you’re either working from home or managing people, you’ve already recognized this phenomenon. Just because you technically have eight or nine hours available in your workday, that doesn’t mean you actually have that amount of time at your disposal to handle your tasks and responsibilities.
Your employees need guidance, support or encouragement. Clients may pop in with urgent requests, or prospects may reach out for unexpected conversations. A variety of unexpected tasks and managing email gobble up chunks of time not accounted for in your original planning.
As a leader, these conversations and tasks are often necessary parts of your day and role. However, you have a responsibility to yourself to be a fierce protector of your time, because if left unchecked, people will almost always value your time less than they value their own.
They’re often not trying to be hurtful or inconsiderate. However, in a work environment where everyone’s under stress or dealing with significant workloads, it’s common to see someone else’s work, responsibilities and personal time as less valuable or more flexible.
People will take as much of your time as you allow. Whether it’s for the seventh “quick video call” of the day that could have been a meeting or shifting their responsibilities on to you because you haven’t established proper boundaries, if you allow them, people will take advantage of your good nature and work ethic.
When you’re good at your work, you may also fall prey to this paradoxical workload increase. High functioning, responsible, competent professionals end up tasked with even more work. Because they are valued and highly thought of, they’re the first person considered when there’s a new job or task to be managed. They naturally take on more to live up to the expectations of leaders and colleagues, even while it saps their energy and enthusiasm.
Every minute of time you spend to devote others’ needs or demands is time you’re taking from yourself and your family, and energy you are depleting.
To be clear, that’s part of your job. However, it becomes an issue because we’ve disconnected from the idea that in order to be of service and lend capacity to others, we ourselves need to have the capacity to give.
If your life is important, your time is important. Protect your time like you’d protect your life.
4. Time produces diminishing returns.
Do you ever hit a midweek slump or a Friday afternoon wall when it comes to your work?
All time is not created equal. When you use up your time without regenerating and restoring your energy, your capacity to perform well is reduced. Running on empty or on low energy creates more rework, more mistakes, and lower quality.
The additional time we allegedly gain from working at home is a prime example of these diminishing returns. Although people are cutting out previously necessary activities like a 27-minute average commute, they’re feeling more exhausted, more drained and more worn down. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, workdays grew longer, meeting times increased, people reported more anxiety and more exhaustion.
Evaluate when and how you do your best work. It can vary by personality and chronotype. If you’re an early riser, a morning workout may get you energized and in a mindset for success. If you’re more active or creative later in the day, that same workout may drain you and may be a better fit late in the afternoon or as a refreshing transition between work time and family time.
You will accomplish more in less time when you establish a work:rest ratio and a daily routine that works for you. Then, make sure you create clear boundaries/expectations and protect it.
5. Time is linear and depletable.
Just because you technically have more time, does that mean you’re using it well and that it’s benefitting you? All minutes are not created equal and all uses of time are not the same.
An extra 30 minutes of social media scrolling at bedtime may feed a short-term desire for dopamine and make you feel like you had a bit of a break. When you wake up under-rested without your energy fully regenerated, you go through the day with a shorter fuse.
– You interact reactively with the people around you.
– You make poor decisions.
– You create a cycle of survival-based emotions and burnout emotions.
– Your creativity decreases.
Your lack of rest affects your performance, and it affects your team as well.
Time is a depletable resource. We cannot borrow more time to get more done. It’s a devil’s bargain. It’s a toll we pay later in the form of a health, performance, or relationship cost.
In addition to sacrificing sleep, many people try to multi-task (it doesn’t work and can reduce productivity by 40%), eat lunch over our computers, give up family time, skip exercise, and not fully listen.
These choices take away from time’s value as a key productivity and activity resource and create additional drains on energy.
If you’re working longer hours, the goal of committing that time would typically be to “get it all done.”
However (and many people cringe when they consider this) by working longer hours, are you getting it all done? Or, does more hours worked beget more work hours? Yeah, you’re not alone.
There is a better way of working that can yield more productivity and provide us much greater life satisfaction. The answer lies in an alternative resource: Energy.
How Does Relying On Energy Trump Relying On Time Alone?
Time is finite.
Everyone has the same number of hours in the day, even as their responsibilities and stressors grow. When you use up your hours in the day, however you choose to spend them, you’re not allocated any additional ones.
Energy, on the other hand, is renewable. You have the capacity to regenerate your energy by making purposeful decisions that contribute to your overall wellbeing.
Each choice you make either moves you toward energy regeneration or toward burnout.
When you manage your time effectively, when you seize control of your schedule, when you communicate your boundaries instead of saying “yes,” then stewing in frustration… each of these positive decisions gives you greater control over your personal energy.
While it’s not easy to begin steering yourself toward better energy management, the results are undeniable and contagious.
Data compiled from our corporate training programs indicates that most teams are functioning at only 61 percent of their energy capacity. Imagine the potential you can unlock if you and your team members work to zealously safeguard, build and sustain your energy.
What’s your first step? Reflect on your current energy and time drains, separate priorities from distractions, and create a culture that focuses on regenerating energy and builds total capacity. Win back your days, win back your life.