Work Better: A Christian Primer on Productivity
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Productivity is Energy Management, Not Time Management

One of the biggest misconceptions about productivity is that it's all about time management. People figure they just need some tips on how to squeeze a little more out of the hours and minutes. But this outlook is fundamentally flawed. Productivity is all about energy management, not time management.

The Timing of Energy

Not every hour is created equal. Our energy is different throughout the day, so some times are better suited to different tasks.

In general:

Morning - High energy, High focus tasks

Afternoon - Low energy, High Focus

Evening - Low energy, Low focus

We naturally have more energy in the morning because nothing has happened yet to drain us. If you're the first one up, mornings can also hold the least distraction, giving you greater focus.

Energy, and thus the quality of our productivity, dwindles as the day wears on. We are all familiar with the early afternoon decline into a non-productive stupor. By 2pm or so, the day's requirements have worn us down considerably. This is not the time for important work that takes lots of focus and energy.

Instead, use your energy peaks and valleys to your advantage. Compile all your high-energy, high-focus tasks at the beginning of the day. The best time, and often the only time, to get these things done is by scheduling them first. Afternoon is better for social and lower energy items. This is the time for repetitive or "busy work" tasks. Evening should be off or very low energy responsibilities.

Not every hour is created equal.

My Energy

The blocks of energy management work out for me like this:

  • Early Morning, 5-7a
  • 7-8a Break
  • Morning, 8-11am
  • Afternoon, 12-5pm
  • Evening, 5pm-bedtime

Early Morning - These are the hours for my morning ritual - daily necessities like exercise, meditation, and devotional time. I know I'll lack motivation for these later in the day I do them first or else they usually don't get done at all.

Break - Drink coffee, talk with my wife, plan and get ready for the day.

Morning - Blocked off for reading, writing, and my Most Important Thing for the day. I almost never have morning meetings.

Afternoon - Open for meetings with people, checking email, prayer, simple to-dos, and other low energy tasks.

Evening - Generally off for rest and family time, but if I do have work it is usually social events, easy tasks, and pleasure reading.

It may be different for you. Maybe mornings are chaotic because you're getting everyone else ready. In that case, your high-energy time may be late morning or just after that early afternoon cup of coffee. Others are night owls and thrive after everyone else is in bed. What's important is knowing your high-energy, high-focus time and planning for it.

~ Evaluate the main things you do in a week. What are their relative energy and focus requirements? How might your productivity improve just by changing the time of day you schedule and tackle these tasks?

Productivity is about energy management, not time management.

Seasons of Energy

Energy is also seasonal. Every job has natural ebbs and flows. There are busy and slow periods. Energy management means taking these seasons into account. You wouldn't try to read and take notes on a complex book during your midday slump. And you shouldn't expect your energy to be the same in December as it is in June.

I am about to become a father for the first time (yay!). I have no doubt this will be a low energy season for me. I don't plan on waking up early to blog, but to change diapers. I don't plan on having a tightly controlled schedule, but a work-when-I-can mentality. I'm not worried about it. It's a season.

Productive people don't somehow avoid these seasons or maintain a herculean schedule. That would be trying to force time management. They see these times coming and plan ahead. They use the predictable ups and downs of seasonal energy to their advantage.

One minister in my denomination who worked on a college campus was legendary for the way he used his down time. While most ministers only worked on their sermons the week they preached them, he wrote 12 sermons every summer. He knew the fall would be crazy as new freshmen came to campus. When it was chaotic in August and September, he'd already done the heavy lifting for his preaching. Then he was free to focus on other things. That is smart energy management, and it made him much more productive.

~ What seasons are particularly busy or slow for you? How could you use a slow season to prepare for a chaotic one?

Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any boss, manager, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

~ Proverbs 6:6-8

Hi, I'm Jacob! I'm an at-home Dad and pastor in Fort Worth, TX, writing about productivity and rest. I'd love to hear from you about how I can write things that will help you specifically. You can talk to me via Facebook, Twitter, or email. And don’t forget to grab my free e-book!