You can’t manage time.
Productivity hacks are often nothing more than forms of “mental masturbation.”
When it comes to the type of productivity that moves the needle in your life, it’s much more important to focus on your energy.
Think of the average person in society today.
What word or phrase would you use to describe them?
They’re burnt the hell out.
Why do we all seem so frazzled, busy, stressed, depleted, cemented in draining monotony? Because we don’t properly manage our energy. We don’t place importance on how we structure our days, treat our bodies, and interact with people for energy’s sake.
What do I mean?
Let me explain.
Odds are, you have some sort of major distant goal for your life. You want to start a business, become a writer, create art, switch careers, etc.
It’s not that you don’t have the skills to pull it off, you do.
It’s not that you lack motivation, you have it.
And it’s definitely not because what you want to achieve is hard, per se, it isn’t. Just time-consuming.
I use time-consuming because it expresses what happens when you spend time doing something. It consumes energy. The less energy you have, the harder it is to tackle a major goal.
It’s no wonder your passion hasn’t gotten off the ground when you commute an hour to work, work for 8 hours, tend to your family (if you have one), squeeze in time for friends, and run errands. With all that going on, how could you have the energy to pursue something on top of all that?
If you want to properly manage your energy, you need to understand this:
All obligations aren’t created equal.
People get drained because they bow to the altar of productivity and try to get everything done. Instead, focus on putting your energy to the things that matter most in your life, let everything else be secondary, and be willing to let some things fall to the wayside.
After four and a half years of work, I quit my job and became a full-time writer. Prior to that, I had to write on the side while doing my 9 to 5.
I wrote in the mornings. Not because I wanted to have a morning routine. Who wants to wake up early? Psychos and readers of The Miracle Morning. That’s it. I’ve talked about this many times — the routine was a means to an end, not the end itself.
I wrote in the mornings because I understood how my energy worked. My day job as a marketing director required equal parts deep work with creative thinking and petty managerial tasks. My writing involved deep work too.
I knew the first 3-5 hours of the day had to be dedicated to deep work because my engine stops working after that. I’d write for 1-2 hours in the morning and then to 2-3 hours of focused work at my marketing job. Then, I’d hit lunchtime.
At lunch, I didn’t eat heavy and fatty meals. Not because I look down on people who do, but because those foods made me feel sluggish and useless in the afternoon.
I’d spend the afternoon on minutiae then either head home or to the gym. I worked out for about 3 days per week.
On the days where I did work out, I’d go straight to the gym without stopping home because I knew going home would create negative inertia. I’d almost always be tired when I got to the gym, but I’d work out anyway and end up refreshed by the end of the workout.
This gave me energy for my family afterward and my off days gave me time to heal.
See how this all works? Habits in and of themselves aren’t all that special. How you use those habits to direct your energy to a goal or mission is everything.
Think about your life. Where are you needlessly spending energy? How could restructuring your life help you move closer to the life you want?
Let’s walk through some ideas that might help.
Do you ever feel like you’re very active but you don’t actually get much done?
It’s annoying. You’re spent but for seemingly no important reason.
You feel this way because you let petty annoyances, trivial errands, and other random dumb shit sap your energy.
Some ways I’ve counteracted this are:
In your case, you want to think about things you do, but don’t really need to do. There are a lot of them. Once you realize that productivity is about what you produce, real outcomes, as opposed to being just active, you’ll realize how much energy you’re wasting and you’ll learn to say “no” more often.
The more you say no, the more you put blinders on, the more energy you have to focus on your mission.
On the way to building a full-time writing career, I started cutting things out of my life that didn’t serve a larger purpose because I wanted to conserve as much energy as possible.
I took it too far.
At times I almost became a recluse focused on writing and never did things like go out for drinks on the weekends. Regardless, focusing on my mission above everything else did help me avoid energy-sucking activities.
The moral argument for partying is stupid. I don’t care if you party and have fun on weekends. I don’t think you’re “less than” for doing so either. But from a purely pragmatic standpoint, living it up on the weekends takes energy away from your mission.
Think about it. Drinking isn’t exactly an energy-boosting activity. Then, you usually aren’t eating healthy organic food when you’re tipsy now are you?
This spills over into your health life too. If you start drinking a lot your motivation to exercise will go down because your results will be slower if you drink because drinking a bunch of empty calories isn’t a great diet plan.
So you’re sapped, work out less, and get back to the grind on Monday, just to do it all over again and create an energy-sucking flywheel.
I’m not saying have no fun ever, but understand that you will have to sacrifice fun to do meaningful things in life. And, again, this is simply for energy’s sake.
Changing the way I ate made a huge difference in my productivity.
Many people start their days with coffee, cream and sugar, and a high-carb snack like a donut. Foolish. The coffee in and of itself is kosher, but eating a bunch of sugar is a great way to have a glucose spike turned crash and burn.
Again, I could care less about your habits from a judgment perspective. We’re talking about usefulness here.
There’s a strong link between the health of your body and productivity. I know you know that, but are we all really cognizant of it or do we just pay lip-service to it?
A colleague of mine wrote an article about how NBA star Andre Igoudala’s shooting percentage and points skyrocketed after he focused on getting more sleep. He also became the MVP of the NBA finals. The same logic applies to “knowledge athletes.”
I sleep 8-10 hours a day. I started intermittent fasting because I realized my brain is lighter and clearer when I’m not full. Now, I eat between 1-7 p.m. I do Yoga every day. I’m not “on a diet,” but I eat a lot of protein and vegetables.
All of this is for energy management purposes. Sure, I want to look good naked and live longer, but honestly I’m doing this to fuel my purpose above everything else.
This is a great way to think about habits in general. You want to link them to a higher purpose — a true desire that means a lot to you. Most people read productivity articles and do nothing with the information because…they don’t have a real reason to follow through.
Take care of yourself so you can serve others on your mission.
My energy skyrocketed after I used this deceptively simple technique.
I stopped following the news and current events altogether.
The big stuff still reaches me. I didn’t realize how much of the negativity in the media was affecting my work until I stopped paying attention to it.
Think about it. Today’s political landscape is like a giant bundle of cortisol filled C4 stacked on top of a stack of mentally harmful dynamite. Even if the issues are important to you, is it worth your energy and sanity to stay so dialed in?
Some of my Facebook friends constantly share articles about the President because they hate him. I know these people can’t be following their passion or purpose when bathed in so much negativity. Impossible.
Again, not because they’re wrong or unjustified, but because their energy is focused on a direction that’s not useful.
You’re not going to change the world by sharing CNN articles. It’s counterproductive. Stay away from the b.s.
This goes for people too. Negative people suck energy from you. Political debating devil’s advocate types suck energy from you. Sad and depressed people rub off on you. Avoid. It’s up to you. I’m sure there are people you care about who suck the life out of you. Are you going to drown trying to save them?
The world, in general, is full of b.s. noise. Which is why I’d often get lost in an old novel, work on my writing in silence, and only spend time with a handful of like-minded people.
When you spend too much time living in the Matrix, the code eats away at your energy, your soul. When you look at the way society operates from an energy-draining, it makes sense to opt-out altogether.
I’ll leave you with this.
You don’t become sprier with age.
I’m not saying you can’t chase a dream when you’re old, ask colonel sanders, but it’s much harder. This is why people have mid-life crises. It’s not that they don’t think they have time. They don’t have energy.
I’m ~30. I’m going full throttle for the next three decades because that’s just about as much time as I’ll have. And it’ll go by faster than I think.
Your time isn’t slipping away. Your energy is. Go.