The Theory of Limited Energy

"The Theory of Limited Energy" Lightning in Clouds

A few years ago, I was a member in active working mom board on Babycenter, and the topic of time management came up on probably a weekly basis. One of the women posed the theory of limited energy, which I’ve learned to apply to everything in my life.

It was her belief that she has a certain amount of energy. She can use it at work, taking care of kids, cleaning, doing dishes, cooking, etc. If she used all of her energy on “stuff” there wasn’t any leftover for her husband. So, he could choose- if he wanted sex, and attention, he could help with stuff around the house.  

Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and self care, taking care of children, exercising, sleep, and meal preparation are at the top of my list. What is left over is the time, and energy I have to dedicate to my business, and other things in life. I’ve found that what I want to do is usually way more than I can fit into the time that I have left. I’ve also found that usually what I want to do requires more thought power and brain cycles than I have left some days.  

Most days it’s like pouring 10 quarts of stuff into a 5 quart container. No matter how hard you try, it’s not going to fit.

Leslie Flowers is the Task Crusher Guru, and is a time management master. You have to manage your time to manage your goals. It’s important to block off the important stuff on your calendar. Otherwise, you end up filling your calendar with things that aren’t nearly as important, and you likely will start resenting the time away from your family. One example she gives is how we as women entrepreneurs will schedule appointments during dinner time or family time, because that’s when the client is available for a call.
Instead, she suggests flipping the concept around, and making sure that you are not available for calls when you should be spending time with your children.  

Time management is critical, no matter who you are and what you do.  The sooner you master it, the better you will do.

Energy and time are not exactly the same thing.

Let’s take it one step further.

Each task I do requires a certain amount of brain energy or thought. Researching and writing a new article requires me to put forth a certain amount of energy and time.

I could, however use that same amount of time to drive kids in circles.  Those are two tasks that require time, but do not require the same amount of mental or brain energy.  Driving for me is similar in energy to spending time on Facebook. Which is to say, not very energy intensive at all.  

When I’m scheduling tasks and activities, I have to be mindful of the amount of mental energy I’m scheduling for a given day and week, and how the different tasks work both with and against one another. I can obviously steal from a few days forward, but I certainly can’t steal too much from the future, because it will come back to bite me in the butt, and I will wind up with migraines, tired, and cranky as all get out.  

Each task needs to have a rough amount of “energy” as well as “time” assigned to it when scheduling and blocking off on your schedule. 

It’s Time * Energy Coefficient = Total Output.  Know what your total output is for a given day, and do not exceed it. 

I usually think of creative time as using about 2 X Energy Coefficient, And things like Facebook time are closer to a 1.0.  So, if I normally have about 16 hours a day that are ” awake time” that I can schedule, I need to be aware of how much energy I’m burning. I can get about 8-10 good hours a day of creative time, if I turn off for the rest of it. If I don’t, that number goes down.

The third component in this equation that people don’t talk about as much is being vividly aware of the times of day when you are most productive.  Are you a morning early bird?  Or a night owl?  I have found that one way to bend the above equation, and maximize my productive times is to pay attention to my body, and how I feel at certain times of the day.  It is far easier for me to create articles at 10 PM than it is for me to create them at 10 AM.

By being aware of:

  1. Time it takes to do a task
  2. Energy it takes to do a task
  3. Your own natural rhythms

It becomes much easier to figure out what you are really capable of, and how much down time you really need, in order to be maximally productive.  

Being productive isn’t just about trying to cram as much stuff into your day as possible, but rather twisting it around a bit, and thinking about how much you can realistically accomplish, and doing the important stuff.


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