Time management is about scarcity, because time is fixed. You only have 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 8,760 hours in a year (tack on an extra 24 for leap years). Until someone invents a time-stretching machine, that’s all we’ve got.
The thing that you can actually manage is your energy. It can flex, but too many of us are overworking in a way that makes it flex in the wrong direction. This is a huge problem, because you will never be as productive as you need or want to be unless you have sufficient energy.
But here’s the good news: If energy can flex, then you can take positive steps to make it flex in the right direction with what I call The Six Rs of Rejuvenation.
Ingredient 1: Rest
A good night’s sleep is the foundation of rejuvenation and of productivity itself. Better rest comes down to two things: quantity and quality. It’s not always easy, but you have control over both.
Quantity of sleep is difficult at times. If your schedule is packed, you’ll need to sacrifice something, such as evening TV or social media time. If you have young children, you and your partner may need to sleep in shifts to ensure undisturbed rest. And don’t forget naps, my secret productivity weapon.
There are several ways to improve your sleep quality, as well. Studies show that turning off all your screens an hour before bedtime can dramatically improve your sleep. Be intentional about your sleep environment. Add blackout shades. Lower room temperature. Use something to drown out sounds.
Ingredient 2: Reflection
It’s so easy for busy people to rush through life at warp speed, acting and deciding without ever stopping to figure out where we’re going, who we’re affecting, and what all these actions and decisions are adding up to. As an antidote, make time for reflection every day.
Give yourself space to think through your day, including your daily decisions, wins, losses, ideas, and insights. This exercise draws you out of the minutiae of life and connects you to a bigger why. With greater reflective focus comes more energy.
Ingredient 3: Relationships
We can’t talk about managing energy without talking about the effect other people have on our precious energy reserves. They can boost or drain our energy faster than almost anything else. If you’re letting work keep you locked away from other people, not taking the time to invest in quality relationships with friends and family, then you are missing out on one of the most powerful energizers of all.
Ingredient 4: Refreshment
The food we eat makes an immediate, long-lasting, and powerful impact on our energy levels. My rule of tum is that natural foods such as meats, nuts, fruits, and vegetables are much better choices than practically anything else. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, maybe think twice.
Knowing what you should eat can be tricky, so do your research and find what works best for you, and be mindful of what you drink. Sugary sodas and other drinks usually leave you more energy-depleted than you were before drinking them, despite the short-term sugar.
Finally, don’t shy away from nutritional supplements to make up for what is lacking in your diet (I make sure to get plenty of Vitamins B1 and D) and think about who you should eat with. Meals are a tremendous way to build relationships.
Ingredient 5: Recreation
Too often, we tell ourselves we don’t have enough energy to exercise. But exercise itself is an energizer. A regular exercise routine has been tied to weight control, lower stress, reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, quality and length of life, better mental focus and, yes, higher energy.
You can achieve these benefits without spending hours a day in the gym. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “You can put yourself at lower risk of dying early by doing at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.” That’s less than twenty-five minutes a day of some physical activity—even a brisk walk after lunch!
Ingredient 6: Rules
The first five Rs don’t come easy to us all. If we’re habituated to overwork, it can be easy to drift into unhelpful patterns like weekend working and skipping sleep when we should be renewing our energy. Since this is a struggle for so many, I recommend creating several rules to follow during nights, weekends, and vacations. Here are four I use. Feel free to create your own.
Don’t think about work. Put it out of your mind. Preoccupation with work while you’re spending time with family and friends makes you physically present but mentally absent. Even when you’re there, you’re not there.
Don’t do any work. This includes staying in touch and up to date. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb, ignore your email and Slack, and shut everything down.
Don’t talk about work. Avoid spending downtime discussing projects, sales, promotions, or work problems. This gives you and your family a much-needed break.
Don’t read about work. This includes work-related books, magazines, and blogs, as well as things like podcasts and training videos. Cultivate other interests and use your free time to develop passions that aren’t work-related.
As a former workaholic, I have seen some of the amazing things that happen when we stop and rejuvenate using the six Rs. We have more mental and physical energy, more balance, more focus, more of what it takes to succeed in life.