The #1 Way I’m Able To Pack So Much Into A Day: Energy Management

energy management- Jessica LawlorThere will never be enough hours in a day.

That’s just a fact.

No matter how many emails you reply to, no matter how many blog posts you write, no matter how many projects you complete…there will ALWAYS be more to do. And there will never be enough time to get it all done.

Think about it this way: when was the last time you checked off every item on your to-do list, wiped your hands clean, sat back and said, “Fantastic! Now I have absolutely NOTHING left to do!”

I’m sorry, but that has never happened to me. (And that’s okay!)

Once one project ends, it’s onto the next. One I reply to one email, another one filters in. And so on and so on.

Productivity books, blog posts, articles and experts talk about the importance of time management. And yes, managing your time effectively is important, but for me, it has come down to one thing:

Energy Management

To me, energy management means maximizing my energy and the times of the day I am most alert and creative to get my most pressing work done. It means prioritizing my day based on when my body and mind work best. (Like this idea? Tweet it)

Here are a few examples of how I manage my energy:

-I do my very best creative thinking and writing very early in the morning. That’s why I wake up at 5 a.m. each day to work on blog posts, writing projects and freelance work. During this period of time, I very rarely respond to emails, I try to avoid social media distractions and I find that I am able to zero in on the task at hand. That’s because I’m well-rested, energized and completely focused. Similarly, that productivity and energy carries into my work day; I focus on my biggest, most challenging or detail-oriented projects during the hours of 9 a.m. until around 12:30 p.m. That’s when I’m in the zone.

-I find myself in a creative lull in the mid-late afternoon; you know the one…after lunch, right around 3 p.m. (my VERY LEAST favorite time of day). Because I know that my body and mind are often worn out by 3 p.m., I try to schedule meetings or phone calls at work around this time. These activities force me to stay alert by interacting with others. I also spend this time taking care of more administrative work tasks like replying to emails, updating media spreadsheets, filing media clips, expense reports, etc. The tasks that don’t take a lot of brain power. Yes, I could power through and complete challenging writing assignments (and at times, I definitely have had to) but for the most part, I know that I could complete those difficult tasks more efficiently and better by doing them at a time that I have more energy.

-When it comes to working out, I also have the most energy for exercise in the early mornings. In fact, before I ramped up my blogging and freelancing, I went to the gym at 5 a.m. most days of the week. However, now that I know for a fact that I NEED to write in the early mornings, I’m slowly training my body to exercise at different times. For example, since I took up yoga, I find that I have my best practices during evening classes. Class starts at 7:45 p.m. and lasts until about 9:15 p.m. It’s the perfect way to wind down my busy day and prepare mentally for bed and storing up energy for the following day. The whole running thing is still a work in progress- I’m slowly trying to figure out how to make time for both that and writing in the early mornings.

Tips For Making Energy Management Work For You

Experiment to discover the times you’re most productive. Listen. If you told me four years ago that I’d be an extreme early bird, setting my alarm for 4:45 a.m. each day to get 2-3 hours of work done before heading to my full-time job, I’d tell you that you are seriously crazy. I was always the girl who could easily sleep until noon and dreaded rolling out of bed to go to class in college. But I experimented- after I started working full-time, I realized that I could no longer stay up into the wee hours of the night writing. I was simply drained, physically, mentally and emotionally, by the end of the day. That’s when I tried setting my alarm a little earlier and slowly began to develop it into a habit. Play around with different times of day and note how your body and mind feel. Don’t be afraid to try a time completely out of your comfort zone.

Accept that you only have so much energy in a given day. The other day, my friend Lindsay and I were talking about how we truly only have so much energy that can last for one day. Yes, find the zones in your day when you can be most productive, but also recognize that you still will not be able to achieve everything in the span of 24 hours. Do I wish that I could churn out blog posts, be a rockstar at work, run five times a week and still have time to spend with loved ones? Absolutely. But I know that’s not possible. Life is about give and take; energy management also means knowing when to take a break and knowing that another day, another week or another month are always around the corner. Everything does not need to get done today. Be realistic and most importantly, be kind to yourself (believe me, I’m still working on this one).

Learn to say no and be strict with your calendar. Saying no is never easy whether it’s to a new project or a social outing. Since I’ve discovered the times that I’m most productive, I have learned to be very strict with my calendar to protect those times. For example, when making social plans with friends after work, I keep at least 2-3 nights of the week on my calendar empty to ensure I have time to go to yoga. Yoga is an important part of my life, so I block time for it. Similarly, since I’m most creative in the morning, I try not to schedule phone calls or meetings when possible to carve out large chunks of time to write. Of course, when it comes to your job, sometimes you obviously can’t say no and that’s fine, but the areas you do have control over? Be strict with yourself.

What do you think? Time management or energy management? Share your best tips and tricks in the comments below.

  • This is great Jess! I have been trying to find a way to articulate my thoughts on time management and I think you took the words out of my mouth. I too am an early person which it took until graduate school to figure out, but makes sense since there were many late library nights in college where I just gave up, headed to bed, and then woke up crazy early to finish my work–and I always incredibly more productive.

    Now that the sun is coming up a bit earlier I’m going to try that too, because as you mentioned I just cannot function on anything productive after work in the evenings–I’m toast!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      YAY! So glad this resonated with you.

      Like you, it took me awhile to figure out that I’m actually a morning person and going to bed early certainly helps with waking up in the morning.

  • Meg

    Love these! Definitely some good points, Jess. Like you, I find that I work best in the morning . . . and am at my most creative before lunchtime. Since I really changed my diet, though, I find I can hit a second wind around 3:30 by eating some almonds, making hot tea and really hunkering down to write! All the same, most of my intensive creative work gets done early. You’re awesome to get up to crank out words — I have a feeling I’ll wind up needing to do the same down the line! And I was much the same in college . . . sleeping late, pouring myself to school, etc. Now I’m a total early bird who rarely sleeps past 7 a.m., even on Saturdays. My, how things change! 🙂

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Thanks Meg!

      It must be a writer’s thing…most of the people who have commented here say they are most creative in the morning. That’s awesome that you’ve been able to get that second wind though. I think what I eat at lunch definitely contributes to my afternoon energy levels.

  • Yes. This is something I’ve been working hard over the last year or so to figure out. My issue is similar to yours: I want to run/workout in the morning AND I want to do work in the morning. After I get home from my desk job, I’m mush. When I lived at home, there was a great yoga class close by at 7:30pm so I would do work in the morning and yoga in the evening. But since moving I haven’t found an evening yoga class that I love, so I’ve been going to the gym in the morning and doing work at night. This has been working pretty well lately since the work I have to do these days I really love so it almost wakes me up in the evening (and it’s not as mentally demanding as writing!), but I still find that I work more efficiently in the mornings. Part of me really just can’t wait to work for myself because I feel like I would be able to maximize my mornings so much more than I do now : )

    • Jessica Lawlor

      That’s AWESOME that you’ve been able to train your body to do work at night (and that you love the work so much you’re able to do that!). I’m with you though- I’m not running as much BECAUSE my freelancing/blogging has become such a huge part of my life/business. I miss running and I miss my AM gym sessions. Still trying to figure that one out.

  • This speaks to my heart in so many ways. I find that I can only write in the morning. I, too, try to get up by 5 a.m. each day to give myself a jam-packed two hour writing and productivity session! I don’t even turn my computer on when I get home each evening, because my mind is total mush. I can’t even pretend to do anything productive relating to my blog or business after 7 p.m.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      I’m so glad, Krystal!!! Like you, the mornings are my prime time for writing. And I’m with you- I can’t remember the last time I wrote a blog post at night! I honestly just can’t do it! Haha.

  • I have found that in recent years, getting up during the AM every day, including weekends, is the best way to go. I don’t like sleeping in as much anymore but I hate having to sleep in past noon more. It’s like wasting away a better part of your day when so much can be accomplished while the sun is up. I don’t like to sleep in past noon anymore. I’ve never felt better since.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      YES! I’m still struggling with waking up early on weekends…I definitely don’t wake up at 5 on Saturdays and Sundays, but I do still try to get out of bed around 9 a.m. etc. so I don’t throw off my entire schedule. And I totally agree, I hate feeling like I wasted an entire day in bed!

  • CJ

    I love this, but while I’m working full-time in retail, it won’t be possible since my schedule is up and down. Soon, I should have more of a regular schedule and I will try to implement a lot of this, but until then I wouldn’t know how to fully implement this when one day I’m at work until 10p and the next I’m back in at 9 and the last time I sat down was 22 hours ago. How does one make this work when they don’t have a lot of control in their schedule and it’s not balanced?

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Great questions here, CJ! I’m lucky in that I have a pretty steady schedule each week that doesn’t change too much.

      Let’s see. While you’re at work, are you able to drink a lot of water? I’d recommend doing that because it seems to help me with keeping energy levels up. That way, for example, when you get home after 10, you might be able to get a second burst of energy to get other things done. Or, are you able to fall asleep fairly quickly when you get home from work or do you need time to wind down, etc. and find yourself staying up late on those nights?

  • Loved this post because I think we can all relate. Starting work at 7 a.m. I work exactly like you – I get all my important, editorial work done first because by 1:30 p.m. my brain is like mush. Late afternoon I use for brainstorming, graphic design work and email blast ideas. In regards to working out, it took a while for my body to get use to running in the afternoon, but now I love it. It also forces me to eat a healthy lunch because when I eat an awful lunch my afternoon workout is rubbish. I’ll be honest though, my favorite runs are my weekend early morning runs. Cant wait for BS with you!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      You’re an even earlier bird than me because you’re at work by 7! But yes, getting all the creative stuff out of the way first has been perfect for me. Good to hear you were able to train your body to run in the afternoon- we’ll have to chat more about that later because I’m really struggling with that!

  • I love the way you’ve laid this out. Energy management is something I really struggle with, but I’m learning that it starts with sleep. I’ve been focusing on consistent bedtimes and wake-up times. Baby steps!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Thanks Amy! It definitely does start with sleep and I’m usually in bed every night before 11! Totally different from the me from just a few years ago.

  • I really struggle with energy management but can totally relate to feeling more productive in the mornings. My brain just becomes sluggish mid-afternoon and it’s a downhill slide from there until bedtime 🙂 Thanks for sharing the way you structure your day! It’s definitely something I need to think about more often. I think I’d be insanely more productive.

    • Jessica Lawlor

      YES, I become SO sluggish in the afternoons and I have no clue why. I’m going to try drinking more water during/after lunch to see if that helps.

      Let me know if any of these tips end up working out for you 🙂

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  • Completely agree! While time management can be an important skill, as well, I think energy management is the key to getting things done well. I’m similar to you”” I try to get my creative work (writing, blogging, designing) out in the morning when I’m alert and the world is quiet (less distraction!). The more boring stuff (email, scheduling social media) gets done in the afternoon.

    Great tips here, Jess!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      You’re right- that post totally wasn’t to diss time management. That is important too, but for me, energy management has been key. The fact that social media, email, etc. is quiet in the morning has been a lifesaver in eliminating distractions. xo

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  • Oh boy do I need to work on this! My blog has been suffering the most from all of the things on my plate lately. I’ve never tried to write them in the morning, but that is when I too have energy and feel the most clear. Maybe I will try that instead of staying up until mid-night trying to write!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      SO glad this post resonated with you and you already took action in one of your latest posts! Way to go, girl! Hope you’re enjoying your well-deserved vacation.

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  • Thank you times a billion for sharing this! I have two questions. 1) Do you shower before you start working in the morning to wake you up, or after you get your work done, or at nite, or what works for you?? 2) Have you had any friends that just don’t understand your schedule or that you have to say no to sometimes and they get upset? I’m running into that and could use your advice.

    You’re right — everything does not need to get done today. Now could you tell my brain that?!? 😉

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Absolutely!

      These are really good questions. Perhaps a follow up post?

      1. It depends. If I go to hot yoga at night, that usually ends around 9:45 p.m. so I shower when I get home and then go to bed. When I wake up, I straighten my hair, do my makeup and go downstairs to work. If I don’t go to hot yoga, I shower in the morning, blowdry, straighten hair, do makeup and then get to work. Showering doesn’t seem to really wake me up; if anything I prefer showering at night because then I have more time to work in the morning. I HATE blowdrying my hair!

      2. Hmmmm. Honestly, not really. My friends seem to really admire my schedule. There have maybe been a few occasions where I’ve left something early and a friend has made a comment, but for the most part, they all know my routine, know what I’m doing and know that I need to sleep if I want to continue with my goals and they support that. That stinks that you’re running into that with your friends and family! If anything, my FAMILY doesn’t understand it. My mom is a total night owl so she thinks I’m crazy for waking up at the crack of dawn!

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  • I totally agree with this. I even included this in my own 5 energy boosting tips you can do today infographic when people sign up for my emails. Keep up the good work.

    • So glad this resonates with you, Amy! Thank you for reading.