Time flies“There’s not enough time.” “Time is running out.” “I wish I had more time.”

These are complaints we hear frequently. High-performing, high-achieving professionals often come to me for better time-management strategies. There are 24 fixed hours in a day, and after applying all kinds of self-depriving techniques we can find at most 12–16 hours of available time on a given day. How it is even possible to do more?

Time is fixed for everyone from the Dalai Lama to Barack Obama. I feel helpless! But wait, maybe we are looking at the wrong place.

Think about a very productive, fulfilling day of your normal life (pick a good day, not a typical one). During your morning coffee or drive to work you made a mental map of your day. What guided you when you planned that day? Did you just automatically react to whatever ended up on your plate, or was there something different that day?

Kerry, a client of mine, told me that it is the energy she feels inside that guides her on such days. The tasks that are exciting give her energy. Basically, her planning is mostly about deciding where she wants to focus her energy on that day and ensuring that she is able to do it. All tasks are not created equal. For Kerry, making breakfast and dropping her 2-year-old off at day care are part of making room to get to her most-desired activities. Even though her boss interrupts her with a boring task or a co-worker asks her to do a favor, once she knows what gives her energy versus what drains it, she consciously chooses how she responds to those interruptions.

Kerry’s job as a software engineer is full of challenges. Like any knowledge worker, she’s required to apply knowledge and intellect, performing some kind of research on a regular basis. This demands a lot of mental energy.

Recently, Kerry and I came up with an energy transaction profile for her.

Activities Energy Source or Sink
Walking, swimming, meditation, hobbies like sketching/painting etc  Source
Quality time with family and friends, meaningful conversation Source
Learning about happiness and productivity Source
Chores-“should”s, “have-to”s (Example:  following meaningless process, some household/work related chores ) Sink
Meaningful chores –Tasks that creates a better environment (Purposeful Cleaning, organizing, feeding her child, making dinner for the family) Source
Engaging/Challenging work projects, Social projects Source and Sink
Unpleasant issues/conflicts /relationship issues Sink

Kerry is aware that on top of eating and resting, it is important to do some energy-boosting activities, such as swimming, walking and meditation.

She also learned that some work projects can go either way (source or sink) based on how she deals with them. Last week, she had an assignment with lots of ambiguities. When she was trying to work on it alone without much guidance she got overwhelmed and stressed out. It drained lots of energy as a result. Noticing this, she shifted to her energy sources and went out for a walk. Afterwards, she felt more grounded and came up with some ideas to make progress. She asked around and learned more about the background of the work, leveraging some of the existing knowledge. Teamwork and collaboration are energy sources for Kerry. Once she had some more data about the project, she was able to narrow its scope and make more meaningful progress. In the end, she felt accomplished and energized.

These days, whenever a request or opportunity comes to her, Kerry prioritizes it based on its energy rating instead of how much time it would take. She is not only is more mindful about the energy sinks, she is more proactive about her energy sources.

The other day, Kerry had a key insight: Even though she tends to use the excuse of time shortage for certain tasks, she almost never has a problem making time for activities she feels truly excited about. The heightened awareness of energy management has opened up endless possibilities for her.

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This article was published earlier on the International Coach Federation’s blog.

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