How to Find More Time – It Often isn’t the Problem you THINK it is

Have you ever been in your kitchen just after school pick-up, finding a snack for everyone and your kids says, “MOM! Can we play Harry Potter?? [or car races, or build legos, or any other thing your kid is currently obsessed with]

And while you don’t have anything on your schedule the next hour, you’re just. too. exhausted?

Yeah. Me too.

So you sit down on the couch and start scrolling instead. While, if your kid is like mine, they continue to ask you 3000 questions. ????

Oftentimes, when we’re trying to figure out how to get things done, we think of it as a time management problem. “I just don’t have the time,” we say, and attempt to figure out how to fit something into our day.

But here’s the thing: in this situation, you do not have a time problem. You have an energy problem.

The time is there. The energy is not.

Here’s something to think about:

What if energy management is actually more important in being productive than time management?

A couple years ago, I read the book The Energy Clock by Molly Fletcher, which focuses on maximizing our energy to do the work that matters most. The ideas I present here are a combination of Fletcher’s work, but I also have to give credit to Rich Litvin for the energy categories I use below.

Anyway, Fletcher’s theory is that the most effective way to maximize productivity is to plan our calendars not around time, but around energy.

In order to do this, we break everything we do up into three categories:

  • Things that energize you
  • Things that drain you
  • Things that are neutral

Fletcher suggests writing out your week’s schedule and putting everything in one of these categories, using a green highlighter to note energizing items, red to draining, and yellow to neutral.

Because we’re used to looking to see if we have time for something, looking at our calendar this way means changing how we think about how much we do and how exhausted we feel.

If your day was filled with red tasks or even one giant red task, it doesn’t matter how much open time-space you have – your energy is used up. Recognize and honor how much energy that’s taking. If you don’t want to do anything the rest of the day, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you – it just means your energy is used up.

When we can notice those tasks that drain our energy, we can use that knowledge to maximize our productivity, rather than just berating ourselves for not getting more done when our energy level is on E.

Okay, now that you have your calendar mapped out in terms of energy, it’s time to take a hard look at what you’ve got going on. Let’s start with the red.

Get the Red Out: How much red do you have in your calendar? How much red do you have on each day?

One of the best things you can do for your productivity is to either eliminate red activities or at least limit the number of them on any one day.

To start, take a hard look at your calendar: are there red tasks that could be eliminated, automated or delegated?

Because even if requires a hard conversation, a hard choice, a pain-in-the-ass-but-I-only-have-to-do-this-once-set-up, or an additional line item in the budget, getting red out of your schedule to keep more of your energy is one of the single quickest ways to make your days better.

Unfortunately for all of us, there are usually at least some red tasks that we can’t eliminate or delegate. What to do then? When it comes to red tasks that are must-do, that’s a flag to give yourself a lot of space around the red things, because you can anticipate you won’t have much left for other people or projects that day.

Again, suspend your judgment here. Stop telling yourself you “should” still be able to get X done, even though Y drained you of the will to live (being a tiny dramatic, but you get it ????).

Letting go of judging yourself will allow you to create space for those tasks while honoring your energy level.

Great Green Goals: On the flip side, where can you add more green things to your week? What things give you that glowing energy boost, and how can you get more of them in your life? In our old way of looking at things, you may have told yourself that you “don’t have time” for that walk with a friend or stop at your favorite place. But if doing that thing gives you an energy boost, think of how much more productive you’ll be, once you’re zipping around like the energizer bunny in your post-green state? ????

If you’ve got some red things you just can’t eliminate from your schedule, how about sandwiching them between some glorious greens?

An alternative approach: For some people, looking at your calendar and categorizing tasks doesn’t feel helpful. You can also approach this same idea from these five categories and think about which ones give or drain energy:

  • People
  • Places
  • Projects
  • Habits
  • Thoughts

A Key Caveat – What About the Red You Want To Keep?

I’m all about cutting the red out of your life wherever you can, but sometimes there’s a red thing that’s deeply meaningful to you.

These are the red things that might still take a lot of energy, but they are so important to us, think of these as more like little red hearts. Still draining, but a meaningful, fulfilling part of creating the life you want and being the person you want to be.

Here’s what I mean:

I have a client who is doing a lot of work in her marriage right now. This is important to her – it ties into her values and has long term major implications for her family and happiness.

But frankly, it’s a red item. It’s taking a TON of energy. But it can’t be automated or delegated. She has to be the one to figure out, devote the energy to it. It’s a necessary, even essential red item that’s also requiring a ton of energy every day.

What to do then?

Our solution was to figure out how to minimize all the other red as much as possible, even if it’s temporary, and increase the green, knowing that her situation isn’t forever.

How often do we have a big red item happening in our life, but we still expect ourselves to keep juggling all the other stuff?

During these times, we see open space on our schedule and feel like we’re not maximizing our time and productivity. There might be room time-wise, but there just isn’t room energy wise, and it’s important to honor that.

My client made these changes: pulling her kids out of an after-school activity that had a terrible draining commute (red), stocking her freezer with pre-made Costco meals so she could rest at night instead of cook (red), scheduling a non-negotiable walk with her best friend every week (green), postponing a new project launch by a couple months (red – not in a bad way, but knowing it would take a lot of energy), and scheduling time every other week to go get a manicure or massage (green), and starting the bedtime routine earlier so that everyone gets more sleep (green).

Because of these changes, she now has the energy (and space) to devote to the big work of focusing on her marriage.

It’s an important red task that won’t last forever, but while it’s happening, she’s honoring that hard work by making space for it. She’s also giving herself the energy she needs to fuel herself through that hard work, meaning this hard red time might not last as long as it otherwise would have because she isn’t trying to do it while scraping the bottom of the energy barrel.

And when this hard red task is over, she can reconsider some of those other red tasks she eliminated and see if they feel worth it. She could take on those work projects or re-enroll in the after school activity. But for right now, she’s prioritizing the big picture: her marriage, and also, herself.

The Bottom Line: A Big, Juicy Green Life

So, I’ve got a question for you, my peep: where in your planner do you need to carve out a break for yourself, a blank space? Or where could you fill the blank space in with the green highlighter so it signals time to recharge?

We often think of our lives as a productivity end-game: how can I get more done? But what if we turned that upside down and thought of it this way: how can I fill my day with mostly energizing activities and minimize draining ones?

Because when we do that, we are creating a beautiful life filled with joy.

Isn’t that a much better epitaph on your tombstone – “She created a beautiful life, filled with joy,” rather than “She maximized her schedule, every week of the year.”

And isn’t that really the point of all this? The reason you started your own business anyway?

You are capable, resilient, and resourceful.

I believe in you – go make that life for yourself. ♥

XO – Raina

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