In the business world, it would seem that time management is the holy grail of productivity. When I first became interested in productivity, I also focused on time management. I thought that if I could manage my time as efficiently as possible that would be the answer to achieve all my goals. For a while, it seemed to work. Then, a few years after nearly burning out, I realized why this was the wrong approach. Especially because I'm introverted.
As a young scientist, I was really eager to prove myself. There were many reasons that lead to this urge. I'm an immigrant, a woman, and I was taking my first steps in the demanding academic world. I needed to make sure I at least kept up and better yet, excelled. Getting my footing during my studies was tough and it took long hours in the library to make up for what I perceived as my lack of knowledge and skill. I started implementing time management hacks: I found extra hours in my commute to catch up on literature, I used my breaks to answer emails, I set up filing systems and the like to make my work more efficient. Finding these nooks and crannies was helping to get more stuff done and to "keep up".
Then, in the last year of my post-grad, I found myself standing in the lab one day. A protocol in my hand that I had performed hundreds of times and I couldn't understand the words on the page. For a brief moment, I thought I was going crazy. But then I started losing my concentration regularly throughout the day. I would forget things like my notebook on top of the trash bin. I started losing interest. In everything. I would stare at the screen for hours at an analysis that used to get me really excited. I lost interest to sit with my colleagues who I loved at lunchtime. I became withdrawn and I had to fight the urge daily to run out of the building just to get away.
It's been years since that happened and I was lucky to recognize the symptoms early and get the help I needed to prevent a total burnout.
My focus on time wasn't the right approach for 2 main reasons.
First, it's intrinsically capped because there will always be a limited amount of hours. We can never create more time, so there will always be a limit to how much we can do. But let's say we could actually have more time. Would this solve the problem? Imagine that we had twice as many hours in the day and we would sleep the same amount. Sounds awesome, right? We finally have time to work off our massive to-do list. The downside is that even when we have more time, we end up doing more of the same things. We add more to-do's to our list, we check our email more often or we spend more time on social media. Pretty soon we start feeling busy again and like we don't have enough time...
My focus on time wasn't right for me for another, more important reason. In my quest to become more efficient, I forgot an essential part: The need to recharge. I never factored in that I needed to recharge my mind and my body. I now know that this is even more important for introverts and that, by ignoring this, I pushed myself way too hard too fast.
The main difference between introverts and extroverts is how they process energy. An introvert gives energy with activity - especially social interactions - and often needs solitude to recoup that energy. An extrovert received energy with interaction and doesn't need solitude as much. As an introvert, recharging wasn't a luxury, it was a physiological need.
As an introvert, recharging wasn't a luxury, it was a physiological need.
Although we don't really think of it this way, working at an intense level - like I did in academia and I do now in my business - is comparable to competitive sports. I'm not really one for sports analogies, but living with an ex-semi-pro basketballer turned CrossFit instructor, I have heard a thing or two about the athlete's mindset. And I can see the parallels. An athlete's process always has two parts: train AND rest. Resting is as essential as training because the body needs time to recoup and regenerate. The next training is more efficient after proper rest and the athlete can improve faster without injuries. In the academic and corporate world the "Work hard, play hard" mentality is more predominant. When you're introverted, like me, this can cause you to deplete yourself very quickly.
So instead of asking yourself "How can I manage my time more efficiently?" I would like you to start asking yourself "How can I manage my energy more efficiently?" We need to get over the notion of wanting to do it all and it's important to recognize when we are pushing ourselves too hard. I believe that we can do anything but we can't do everything. Nor should we want to. It's much more effective to be intentional about where you spend your energy, and thus your time. To me, this means carefully choosing the things I want to do and then working at them consistently.
Taking enough time to recoup my energy is now an important part of how I design my life. In my business these days, I actually rest more hours in a week than I work. And I find that my productivity has increased because of it. For example, I have written more articles in the past 2 months than I have in the 4 years prior.
When you start becoming more intentional about where you spend your energy, making choices about what to spend your time on becomes easier too.
When we're more intentional about how we spend our energy, we start to engage in fewer activities that distract us or deplete us. And eventually, we even find that sweet spot of productive flow; when we engage in deep work and become energized by the things we do.
Wishing you a lovely flow today,