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Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance

When is your biological prime time?

“The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet, but rather how much energy we invest in the time we have. “

– Jim Loehr

Today’s business culture is obsessed with time efficiency.  We hear it all the time: “Time is money.”  Our computers, mobile phones, and 24/7 wired culture are all designed to save us time.

But what use is time if our energy is lacking?  If I can free up one more hour, but I’m bored, distracted, or can barely keep my eyes open, what’s the point?  Results don’t come from the hour we set aside, but rather the energy and focus we give to each hour.

Performance is grounded in the skilful management of energy, not time.  

Entrepreneurs seeking peak performance must manage their energy the same way professional athletes do.  They must build rest and recovery into their work schedules and identify the conditions that lead to peak performance.  Like athletes, entrepreneurs must train to maximize the quantity, quality, focus and force of their energy.

Think of your greatest work accomplishments and insights.  Did they come after working continually for days on end or in bursts of focused energy?

Prioritizing how we spend our time is important. But prioritizing how we spend our energy is even more critical.  The first step is figuring out at what time of day we are functioning at our maximum effectiveness.

Sam Carpenter, in his book Work the System, calls this our “Biological Prime Time” or “BPT.”

Think of the times during the day that your energy level peaks and your thinking is most clear.  My peak period is from 9am – 12pm.  I am usually okay from 2-4pm but am pretty much worthless from 4-6pm.  Usually I’ll have one last mini-kick where I can work after dinner from 8-11pm (if I haven’t been drinking!).  The downturns in energy are the easiest to identify – they hit you like a hammer.   Our days and hours each have a cycle of activity and rest (circadian and ultradian rhythms, respectively).

For the population as a whole, a general surge of energy occurs during two periods of the day.  The first is in the morning around 8am and extends 4-5 hours.  The early-to mid-afternoon hours are low key (hence siestas, it’s been proven that humans are generally sleepiest between 3-4pm) and around 5pm energy picks up again. At around 10pm mental sharpness begins to decline…

As entrepreneurs we have the luxury to make our own schedules.  When is your BPT, when focus comes easier?  Zealously guard those hours from distraction and save them for your most important work.

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Sam Carpenter, Work the System

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2 replies on “Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance”

Left undistracted from 7-10am, that’s my prime time, and I’ve adjusted my habits to accommodate that. My house is quiet, I can leave for work in the late morning, and I’m able to start tasks with a clear mind.

The idea of maximizing your energy output hour to hour is great for work, but is then hard to switch off in social settings. I find myself trying to “maximize time” in social or family settings and have to remind myself to slow down and remember not everyone has that same goal in mind.

How do you switch that mindset on and off? Is it recognizing when you’re lower production hours are, and letting that be your time to slow down and participate in non-productive activities, ie relax?

Jared, thanks for the comment.  You’re the first one to the party (sound familiar?).

I struggle with a slightly different but similar problem: always feeling that I need to be doing something “productive” (work-related) during my time off, which includes social activities with friends and family.  For example, bringing my Kindle or laptop everywhere so I can squeeze in some reading and emails wherever I’m going.  
As I wrote about in, we need to take our time off seriously and have guilt-free play.  I’ve noticed that I always seem to work best when there’s a vacation on the horizon — I want to tie up all loose ends and get my work done so I can enjoy my time off and not worry about work. Ironically, it’s during these vacations that I get perspective and get inspired again…  I think we need to have a similar mindset, just on a smaller scale i.e. not working one day / week no matter what, scheduling social activities during the weeknights and using time limits and deadlines as motivators to get stuff done.  Otherwise work never ends, and fun time is never really fun time.

Drucker (one of my favorite authors) has said the most effective businessmen focused on one thing at a time.  I think we need to do the same when relaxing – being 100% there and present.  Play time is “productive” too, at the very least to refresh and recharge.  If you can schedule recovery during your naturally unproductive hours, even better… but recovery should always be scheduled no matter what!

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