7 Time Management and Energy Optimization Techniques

EQ Durban, EQ South Africa
Written by: Avril Kidd
Category: Life Skills
Here are seven time management and energy optimization techniques to help your productivity and put your emotional intelligence into practice by using self-awareness.

Time management is really a misnomer. The challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves. [STEPHEN R. COVEY]

 You know that old saying, ‘If you want something done, give it to a busy person’? Well, that has resonated with me so strongly since South Africa locked down in March 2020. Having had all my workshops and travel cancelled, I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands. One would think that this was a great opportunity to get things done – that to-do list that has been hanging over my head: re-do my website, do my tax, prepare new workshop material, do a clean up at my house and so it continues!

Well what should have taken me a month or maybe 2 has stretched over 6 months. I normally accomplish so much more with less time and so it was that I started to recognize my pattern of procrastination. I am never idle but being busy is very different to being effective. Admittedly, I have managed to exercise more now than ever, which is a positive, but my effectiveness and productivity has dropped.

Productivity is directly related to your energy levels.

Here are some time management and energy optimization techniques you can use if you’re facing the same challenge that I was!

1. Recognise when your most productive hours or times are

It is during these times that you need to schedule what we refer to as ‘deep’ work ie. your most critical or complex work. Do low-value and low-energy tasks (also known as ‘shallow’ work), such as responding to emails or unimportant meetings, in between those hours. If you are a morning person, do your most critical work as you get into the office. After lunch, your energy might crash a bit so it is a great time to clean your desk, respond or clean emails or update spreadsheets. In my case I need to do my research and preparation work earlier on in the day and then do my more mundane admin when my energy is lower, usually around mid- afternoon.

I remember when I was at university, we used to refer to our post prandial dip, this is the point at which your energy was at its lowest and we tended to feel drowsy and nod off in lectures (oops!). Exams scheduled for afternoon sessions were dreaded as, mentally, most of us felt less alert than for a morning exam, this is also related to food intake and is linked to blood sugar levels. Besides our food intake, Science suggests that we are hardwired to have an energy drop in the afternoon. Our bodies are governed by circadian rhythms which ebb and flow through the day. Research shows that we experience dips in alertness during the time we are usually asleep, midnight to dawn but also a secondary dip between 1pm and 4pm, when some of our European counterparts cleverly take their siesta.

Once you understand your energy levels, you can plan your work load accordingly. If you are planning meetings, the morning is preferable as people will be more alert. If afternoon meetings can’t be avoided make sure that they are short, focused and interactive. Also provide low GI snacks to help maintain energy levels. Avoid big lunches prior to meetings, especially with food that has a high refined sugar content. If you can include some form of physical activity during a long meeting that will also help!

It may be beneficial for you to start tracking your work and energy levels in a spreadsheet for a couple of weeks until you uncover your productivity patterns.  

Once we understand and maximise our energy levels what else can we do to be more productive?

 2. Be intentional: keep a to-do list

Drawing up a to-do list might not seem like a groundbreaking technique, but it’s one of the most powerful ways to become more productive. Before leaving the office or even going bed, spend 5 minutes writing a to-do list for the next day. These tasks should help you move towards your professional and personal goals. By planning the night before, you will be better prepared mentally for the challenges facing you and there won’t be any room for procrastination in the morning.


3. Prioritise your tasks

Every day identify your most crucial or important task and tackle it first. Your most important task (MIT) should be something that has the greatest impact on your work for that day and getting it done will give you momentum and a sense of accomplishment early in the day. As Elon Musk says “Focus on signal over noise. Don’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t actually make things better.” 

Look at your to-do list and decide which tasks help you get close to your goals and make progress in meaningful work. It is so rewarding to tick off your to-do list, especially when it is your MIT for the day; or the most dreaded task. Knowing how to prioritize your work is an essential time management technique. Projects, however small or large, need clear priorities. When everything is a priority, nothing is. There are several models that you may find beneficial in trying to prioritize, such as the Eisenhower Matrix.


 4. Be focused: manage distractions

Distractions come in many forms: social media notifications; Whatsapp messages from friends and groups; emails coming through continuously; or possibly even the chatter in the office. Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time, so every time you get distracted, it takes a while for your brain to refocus and continue where you left off. This may sound like it doesn’t take up much time but think about how many distractions and how many minutes and, eventually, hours are lost to distractions.

In my time as a general manager, I did an exercise where I recorded my activities every time they changed, or after certain periods of time, and my single largest recording once cumulated was distractions. This was mainly from people popping into my office for just a ‘quick word’ or my emails popping up continuously. That was before the days of social media – so now we have the added distraction of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!


5. Be structured: time blocking may assist in creating structure

This is a technique where you allocate certain days of the week or day to specific tasks or projects. This helps to increase focus and avoid distractions. In many roles there will also be a degree of crisis management which cannot be planned for, but by not time blocking, you run the risk of never tackling those critical tasks as perceived crises can totally overwhelm you and distract you from what really needs to be done.


6. It is also important to be self-aware

Self-awareness is critical in identifying and understanding your typical habits or patterns of behavior, as well as your peak and trough energy and productivity times. My habit is to keep pushing aside tasks that I don’t enjoy or find difficult. I will find many justifiable reasons for why I don’t have time to do them.

There are 2 aspects that have helped me in this regard. One is to have a ‘carry-over’ list of tasks: everything that hasn’t been completed in my day on my to-do list gets highlighted and written down on the top of my next day list. It sounds so simple, but if it isn’t highlighted and carried over, we can often lose sight of it.

My second technique is to reward myself when this difficult task is done. If I complete the hard task first thing in the morning, I then can spend time on the tasks or projects I really enjoy.

By focusing on and improving time and energy management you can:

  • reduce stress,
  • improve effectiveness and productivity
  • establish a better work life balance
  • improve your health and fitness


7. And finally, please also make time to have FUN!!

As Bruce Lee once said …

“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”


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This article may not seem to be related to EQ but in putting these techniques into practice, you will be putting your emotional intelligence into practice by using your self-awareness (Know yourself) to recognize your patterns, improving your self-management (Choose yourself) through applying consequential thinking and engaging intrinsic motivation and finally your Self direction (Give Yourself), by understanding what is important to you in the long term and using this energy to drive you forward.