Over the past several years, there has been a burst of enthusiasm for productivity “hacks.” From books about the psychology of habits to apps that help manage your time to old-school productivity methods like to-do lists, analog clocks, and paper planners, there is no shortage of advice available for getting the most out of your day.
But what if we’re looking at productivity in the wrong way?
The truth is, no amount of productivity hacking can help you improve your energy if you aren’t taking care of your health at the most basic levels. And most people can tell the difference between the excitement and productivity of working at a job you love and the drudgery and lack of productivity that shows up when you work at a job you hate.
We see energy and engagement as a function of four different energy zones:
You are in the performance zone when you have high and positive energy. Ideally, this zone is where you will perform your work. You’re enthusiastic, optimistic, challenged, absorbed, passionate, and engaged.
When you have low energy and positive energy, you are in the recovery zone. Think of this zone as how you feel after a positive, productive day doing something you love. You’re relaxed, peaceful, grateful, calm, and receptive. You leave this zone feeling rested and renewed.
On the other side of the energy spectrum, there are times when you have high energy and negative energy. This is the survival zone. In this zone, you may be impatient, irritable, frustrated, angry, defensive, fearful, anxious, and worried. Everyone experiences this zone, but it’s essential to move out of it as soon as possible.
The real danger zone is the burnout zone. In this zone, you have both low energy and negative energy. People in this zone are exhausted, empty, depressed, sad, hopeless, depleted, discouraged, and lost. While everyone feels these emotions at times, prolonged periods of low and negative energy can result in burnout that’s tough to overcome.
While adverse and unpleasant events are unavoidable, and while everyone experiences low energy at some point, when it comes to your work, it’s important to manage your energy to maximize productivity. Most productivity will take place in that performance zone, and if you are driving all of your productivity with hacks and apps while trying to survive on low or negative energy, you will end up burned out.
To help you stay in that performance zone, start managing your energy in the following ways:
1. Take care of your body
As human beings, we are bound by the physical limits of our bodies, and we need to take care of ourselves before we burn past those limits. You can improve your physical energy by sleeping six to eight hours per night, eating a well-balanced diet, getting moderate exercise, and reducing or eliminating damaging habits.
Sleep is particularly important to managing your energy. While not everyone needs a full eight hours of sleep each night, everyone needs some regular sleep. You can put your brain in the right mode for sleep by disconnecting from devices at least an hour before bedtime and putting a bedtime ritual in place. Even something as simple as setting up a coffee pot or laying out clothes for the next day can signal to your brain that you are winding down for the night. In addition, avoid sleep disrupters, such as alcohol, heavy meals, exercise, and intense TV shows in the hour or two before bed.
2. Take advantage of your peak productivity
Set your work day up for success by taking advantage of your personal peak hours. Some people find their most productive hours to be early in the morning, whereas others are most productive in the afternoon. Block those hours for the tasks where you need the highest energy or the most focus.
As much as possible, plan your work to match your productivity. In addition, prioritize your tasks to take advantage of peak productivity. Your most important tasks may also need your peak focus, but they may not overlap.
3. Take breaks
Even during your peak productivity hours, you still need to take breaks for renewal. One productivity method, the Pomodoro technique, builds five-minute breaks into two-hour focus sessions with a more extended break at the end of the two hours. Even a five- or ten-minute break every hour or so can renew and reset your energy.
In addition, whenever possible, take meal breaks away from your desk. While in the office, eat with co-workers or find a quiet spot to read while you eat. If you eat at your desk, at least take half an hour to get up, walk around, or step out for some fresh air. If you work from home, eat in the kitchen or at your dining table, or occasionally step out for lunch to get away from work.
4. Intentionally Recover
As part of managing your energy, it’s essential to recognize that you need some time in the recovery zone every day. At a minimum, you must take care of your body with sleep, good food, and movement, but other recovery zone activities can help you renew your energy.
Recovery zone activities are varied and depend largely on personal preferences. Do you recharge by reading a book or engaging in a hobby? Or do you prefer to connect with your community through clubs and organizations? Perhaps your recovery comes from being outside, camping, hiking, or boating, or maybe you’re more interested in dressing up to take in concerts and plays. Whatever you do for fun, make sure those activities leave you feeling renewed and ready to return to work.
If you find productivity apps and hacks helpful, there’s no reason not to use them. But remember that you don’t have to be a slave to the apps and hacks, and be sure to focus as much or more on your energy as you do on time management. By managing your energy and making time for renewal, you will ultimately find yourself more productive—and happier and healthier—than you will be through any app.
- What is a recovery zone behavior that works for you?
- What is recovery zone behavior that works for your hybrid team?
- What is the one thing you will do to manage your energy?