The idea of "time management" implies that we have a finite amount of time and, if we just work hard throughout that time, we can achieve all that we want to achieve. Many people beat themselves up for not achieving their productivity goals, assuming that if they spent time on different things, the outcomes would be different.
A popular leadership consultant, Tony Schwartz, and Jim Loehr wrote a book that makes a new statement about time management; it's called The Power of Full Engagement. The assertion that is core to their thesis is that energy, not time, is what we must manage. We've all had days where, no matter what we do, our hours seem to flit by without productivity, and others where there is no end to what we can accomplish. The amount of energy we have is affected by so much: our emotional state, what we eat, how much we sleep, what time of day it is, and our satisfaction with the work we have to do. Time, in the end, is a relative constant; most employers expect something around 40 hours a week from an employee. However, energy is what fluctuates wildly.
You'll notice that the same task that takes two hours on your most energetic day will take ten during a frustrating week with many personal-life distractions. The healthy way to approach maximizing our energy per hour involves making a map of our daily energy levels. This "energy mapping" exercise can help you and your employees find the ideal methods to modify your workdays in order for everyone to feel better and do their work efficiently.
Notice High-Brain-Power and Low-Brain-Power Times
While The Energy Project offers a variety of official ways to audit you and your employee's energy, you can do more informal energy mapping as an activity at a staff meeting quite easily. A good starter level is to have employees set an alarm for every hour, and on the hour, rate their energy level from 0-10. Doing this on a couple of different days may help to establish a baseline.
Low energy times may not be times where it is possible to stop working entirely, but instead are times when your brain requires much more rote or simple tasks in order to remain productive. For instance, if you eat a big lunch and then attempt to do some complex creative problem-solving, your sleepy mind may wander and "waste" the hour. However, if you plan ahead and schedule some downloading and re-uploading of photographs in a new location or addressing of letters for the mail, your sleepy mind may have no trouble accomplishing these simple and repetitive tasks, making the hour useful.
Similarly, high-brain-power should be reserved for the most energetic parts of the day. Maybe you notice that you are mostly energetic early in the morning, but also can have afternoon energy about half an hour after another cup of tea or coffee. Documenting these times allows each employee to mentally schedule out his or her most difficult tasks for their highest energy times.
Offer For Employees to Re-Allocate Their Eight Hour Days
One way to reallocate according to energy is to allow your employees to break up their eight hour day into multiple sessions. Perhaps, for instance, a 3 hour break to eat lunch, run errands, and swim at the pool, is enough to gather strength for a longer and more energetic afternoon work session. Other workers may be satisfied with a 5 hour on-site session in the morning and a comfortable 3 hour remote work session from home after dinner when their night-owl-brains come alive. Letting each worker clock their hours based upon internal rhythms of energy can result in happier workers who don't feel like they are wasting their own time or their company's resources.
Note the Rejuvenating Energy Levels Post-Weekend, and Replicate With 4 Day Work Week
One feeling that a lot of people find is that they either get boosts of energy right before the days off of the weekend or right after. No matter how a person experiences time off, having more of it may be a real boon! One way employers have used energy mapping is to place a third day off somewhere in the week, reducing their workers to a four day work week. This workload may result in fewer total hours worked per week, or it may result in longer days on the four days of work.
There are multiple energy gains from this solution. Employees can schedule many of their tiring pre-work or post-work errands and activities for their new day off, leaving more energetic hours on their working days. The motivation of getting an extra day off may produce energy gains on the day right before this additional day off.
For individuals who find themselves run-down or tired by the end of their multi-day stretch of work, fewer hours worked in total, such as a 30 or 32 hour work week, can be an answer. Studies of individuals who overwork show that, for instance, going from 50 hours to 55 hours a week of work yields almost no additional productivity because the person is so tired. The inverse is also true: when you only work 30-32 hours a week, you offer your employer your best possible hours and then recharge to offer those hours again next week.
When Needed, Redistribute Work Between Workers Based on Energy Levels
Another option is to notice even more specifically what kinds of tasks require lots of energy for some people and less energy for others. Your team may discover that you have person A assigned to do a lot of a certain task, which requires tons of high-energy time for him, when person B would love to do more Task A, and it is so routine for her that it can be done in low-energy times. This doesn't work for all tasks, since some people really treasure tasks that require a lot of high-energy time, but if there are any natural swaps (where each person feels like they are getting a "good deal" by exchanging the responsibilities), the energy map can help clarify why that would be a good idea.
Overall, the energy mapping task is less about an exact science of energy mapping than about noticing tendencies and taking advantage of one's best moments for the tasks that suit them. Your team will feel more effective without working extra hours, and employers love that kind of gain in morale and productivity!