5 Steps to Maximize Efficiency by Managing Your Energy, Not Your Time

05/27/2014 08:37 am ET | Updated Jul 27, 2014

8am: Get to work, check email.
9am: Write recruiting memo, send to boss.
10am: Spend the next seven hours doing mediocre work and trying to look busy because I got up at 5am with a screaming toddler and researching this report is way too involved for my exhausted brain today...

Time management is hyped as one of the great tools of achievement. Schedule your day, allot a set amount of time for each task, and stick to your agenda to ensure success. Some days this works well, but other days the motivation to get everything done to the best of our ability just isn't there. This seeming failure is frustrating and induces unnecessary anxiety. Energy management is an approach that often succeeds where time management fails. Learning to harness whatever energy you have, whenever you have it, can reduce stress, enhance productivity, and give you the space to relax when you need to.

1. Boost Your Energy
Unlike time, energy does not come in discrete, finite supply. We have the ability to increase our energy from one day to the next. Getting enough sleep, eating well, and taking short breaks to walk or breathe can significantly increase energy. To start, choose one energy-upping strategy to employ each day. Spending just 15 to 20 minutes jogging or meditating in the evening will make a huge difference the next morning.

2. Make a List (But Not a Schedule)
I derive a perverse joy from crossing items off of lists. Even if you don't share this particular brand of neurosis, lists can do amazing things for you. Itemize everything you would like to accomplish, including work tasks ("Update sales reports"); tasks of daily living ("Pay cable bill"); and personal tasks ("30-minute run"). Unless there is an external reason that something must be accomplished at a particular hour ("Pick up kids from school," "Client meeting 10 a.m."), don't assign time slots. If you have the flexibility to do so, making a weekly list rather than a daily list is also a great approach.

3. Evaluate Your Energy Level
All mornings are not created equal. Some mornings are infused with a sense of promise and purpose, while other mornings I have to drag myself out the door and hope no one talks to me. The latter scenario portends a "low-energy day," and for me at least no amount of espresso can overcome that opening slump. Spend a few moments each morning taking stock of how your physical body feels, your emotional state, and any thoughts that are preoccupying you. Use mind-body inventory to set realistic goals for the day. Bonus: Just going through this process of physical and mental assessment can give you an energy boost.

4. Prioritize
On low-energy days I sometimes feel crushed by my to-do list. I look through my tasks and ask myself which items, if not completed today, will have a concrete negative consequence? Usually most items don't make the cut. Non-work related tasks like "Do laundry" (Slash!) or "Go to the gym" (Vindicating scribble!), and any items that start with a phrase like "Work on..." get axed. What's left are the Priority 1s, the things that must be completed to avoid harming your career or relationships. On low-energy days, get through this bare minimum, and then do one thing to help boost your energy for tomorrow. On medium-energy days the Priority 2s stay on the radar. Tackle some "Work on..." tasks, get the kitchen cleaned up, and go to yoga. And, if you wake up feeling like Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe's character in Parks and Rec), it's time to dig into the Priority 3s --those lingering tasks you'd like to get done but don't have the oomph for most days. Clean out the garage? Heck, yes!

5. Be Flexible
After years and decades of good time management, we have embedded mindsets about when things should be done. Work is relegated to business hours, grocery shopping is done Thursday evenings and Zumba happens never. This type of thinking is contrary to an energy-management approach. Awake at 4 a.m. and can't go back to sleep? Put your phone down and take a run. Excited by a new idea on Sunday night? Start executing now instead of waiting until Monday morning. Felt flat this morning but somehow found your fizz? Put some of those Priority 2s back on the list. Break your mental boundaries so that you can effectively direct your motivation whenever it materializes.

What are your energy-management strategies? What are your obstacles? Share in the comments below.