Most are familiar with philosophies around time management and how time is becoming harder and harder to manage. In a relatively short period of time, our world has morphed into a 24/7 non-stop action-packed must-do kind of place. Our culture fosters do-more-with-less. How can we succeed at mastering our time if we continually fill the voids with more tasks? This mindset means that we never complete all our tasks, and this approach can cause enormous stress over time. I know for myself, my endless “to do list” was never completed. There was never an opportunity to celebrate the end, it just kept getting longer and longer. It caused me great stress, which forced me to work harder and longer to try to overcome the never-ending jobs. This is not a healthy option long term.
The pressure and commitment of always being “on” creates a never-ending loop of things to do. The more we do, the more we add to our plate. We know that time is a constant, but we continue to pile tasks on. Is this really being productive or is it just an illusion? Is all this busyness really paying off?
What would happen if we reframed our days (time) into energy management instead of trying to manage time? There is no one way to be productive. It includes a variety of habits, but adding this to your energy management may be of great benefit.
With many of my coaching clients, I have noticed a common thread and that is the desire to effectively manage time. I hear: “Not enough time in the day,” “I have too much to do,” and “How do I prioritize what I need to get done?” As firefighters we have daily tasks and special projects inbetween emergencies. Does that list every get fully completed? Does it stress you out, never seeing an end to it?
Consider reframing your views on productivity so they are guided by your energy levels instead. Our bodies and mind run on fluctuating energy levels. Maximize those times to do amazing work.
Our 1440 minutes in a day are all we are given. We cannot add minutes, even though we keep trying to squeeze more into each day. I am a recovering workaholic. Busyness felt like a requirement for the job. Now I know that way of thinking is not sustainable or produces your best work. I cherish those 1440 minutes, and dedicate energy to my productive times, less energy on menial tasks, and most of all, I allow time for whitespace and recovery. When you create whitespace, you provide opportunity for reflection, and a distraction free environment to thrive in. When we are in moments of whitespace, we are building our resilience and energy reserves. The secret is to use your energy curve to your advantage by tackling tough complex issues when your energy tank is full. If you form this mindset, you will be managing your days in a more productive way.
When we start to manage our time around energy, we begin to get more done, and experience less stress and overwhelm. When we identify our own unique energy peaks and valleys, we can increase our performance.
The Yerkes-Dodson Law, a classic model, shows that small, simple, everyday tasks can be improved with a bit of added stress. The Yerkes–Dodson law, originally developed by psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson, states that performance increases with stress or mental stimulation, but only up to a certain point. When levels of stress become too high, performance is found to decrease. Now that we know this, does it seem right to expect optimal productivity when our energy capacity is low?
One effective way I found was to track my energy over a few weeks by journaling those high and low energy periods. Some studies have shown that our energy ebbs and flows throughout the day roughly every 90 to 120 minutes. Over time I recognized my optimal time for decision making and learning, and times that my capacity was low. I identified that my valley of low energy is between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. Knowing this, I can schedule my day to get the hard complex jobs done outside of those hours and leave 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. for light activities. I built a habit around doing something between these hours that recharges my body and mind, such as exercise, being outside, reading, or having a great conversation. These are all activities that can help refill your human battery.
Some of us may be early birds who rise early to take on the day and some of us may be night owls who are most productive later in the day. Everyone is a little different. As you move through your career, it may be of great use to know your own energy curve.
As firefighters we have studied the power of energy. Fire is the energy we know, and we know what it needs to thrive or be snuffed out. It’s time to consider our own body’s energy and hack it for better decision making and a stress reduced lifestyle.
As firefighters, most of our decision making comes under stress, which can impact our attention, memory, and decision making. But firefighters can’t schedule in emergencies that match our energy output. With a good grasp on our energy curve, we will at least have awareness around our potential and our weak areas. Knowing this may help you schedule when you can, do hard work in your prime hours and leave space for recharging.
With this power, you can now attempt to design your days to work for you.
Arjuna George retired as a fire chief in November of 2021 after serving the department in Salt Spring Island, B.C., since 1997. He is now a fire service coach and consultant. Visit silverarrowco.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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