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Forget about time management. Focus on this instead.

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dog sleeping

A while back a friend came to me for some advice. He complained how he wasn’t feeling productive the past few weeks and he wasn’t sure why. Considering he has read Eat That Frog and Getting Things Done – how could you not be productive?

Sure, everyone has unproductive days. Those are easy to turn around. But unproductive weeks? Then we might have to look closer.

After a couple minutes, I realized what the issue was. It wasn’t time management. It was something else.

The One Thing That Comes Before Time Management

To illustrate what I mean, let’s imagine for a moment that it is your birthday and that I’m your best friend. For your birthday I’ve decided to buy you a new sports car equipped with futuristic iOS integration – a gorgeous dashboard with nifty graphics, stats and navigation. On top of that, it has a slick steering wheel, an engine that roars and seats that are more comfortable than your own bed.

It’s arguably the best thing since fried rice.

There’s only one problem: the car came with no fuel.

You have this amazing car in front of your house but there’s literally nothing you can do with it. It’s just sitting there looking pretty. The only thing you can do to get any utility value out of the car is to add gas to the tank.

Why am I telling you this?

This analogy applies to us too. Without energy, we can’t be productive. Without energy, we can’t go from point A to B. Without energy, we can’t focus and pull through.

Instead, we procrastinate. We put things off. We will “do it another time”.

It wouldn’t matter that you know GTD inside-out. It wouldn’t matter that your Pomodoro timer is your best friend. It wouldn’t matter that you know technique X, Y and Z.

When you have no energy, you don’t have the foundation to be productive.

You can’t do manage your time when you have no energy.

That was what my friend was suffering from. His lack of energy made him unproductive. Even though he has read all these time management books and knew all these techniques, it didn’t matter because he was too fatigued to do anything.

Our bodies need raw fuel to perform and that it what I kept telling him. Forget about time management. Focus on energy management first.

Once you have a good understanding how to manage your energy, time management will naturally follow.

I basically told him to read The Power of Full Engagement but I summarized it to him with this Energy Pyramid:

The Energy Pyramid.

The Energy Pyramid.

The Energy Pyramid

As you can see, there are four layers to this pyramid. I’ve covered this in-depth in this post on energy management. If you haven’t read it, go read it now.

No, seriously. Read it. It will change the way you look at time management and productivity. Do not read the rest of this post until you’ve read that post.


Cool, good to have you back.

It’s important to understand that each layer in the pyramid builds on each other. The physical layer provides the raw fuel for our bodies and brains to operate. When we give ourselves the right nutrition, enough exercise and plenty of sleep – that’s when we literally feel our best.

The other layers in the pyramid will usually take care of themselves, but it all starts with having enough energy to perform.

When we don’t have enough energy, we can’t focus. We can’t feel positive emotions and thrive. We can’t be engaged and live a life of purpose.

We first need energy to feel our best. The rest will naturally follow. That’s exactly what I told my friend with one simple action step he could take action on right away.

What to know what that was?

Sleep, sleep and sleep

It wasn’t a magic pill. It wasn’t some secret productivity hack. It sure wasn’t a patented Asian Efficiency technique.

It was good ol’ sleep.

I told my buddy to start catching up on his sleep and pay off his sleep debt as soon as possible.

All of us could use some more sleep. In fact, virtually everyone I meet doesn’t get enough sleep and is carrying around sleep debt of many years that hasn’t been paid off yet.

Sleep is the first thing we tend to sacrifice when life gets busy, but it should be the last. When we don’t get enough sleep, our decision making skills, quality of focus and engagement drastically go down. Every book on neuroscience I’ve read verifies this.

The problem is that we tend to mask it with 3 cups of coffee a day but that doesn’t fix the root cause. Then when friends and family come to me for a solution, they look at me weird when I tell them to sleep more.

It sounds so counter-intuitive, but it’s that one thing that actually makes a huge difference.

So my friend made a commitment to go to bed an hour earlier than normal and catch up on the weekends as much as possible. A few weeks later, I caught up with him and he looked reborn. He was energized, happy and Asian Efficient again.

Not because he reread GTD. Not because installed a new fancy productivity app. Not because he implemented a technique.

No. Just because he slept more.

Remember, energy management comes before time management. Let us all get some more sleep, shall we?

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Posted by Rohit C.  | January 17, 2018 at 1:41PM | Reply

Thanks for this post and the other one on energy management. This changes my perspective quite a bit and I will buy the book.

Posted by Mitko Ivanov  | March 11, 2015 at 5:32AM | Reply

Wow, are there still people calling themselves productive and not getting to bed at 10 p.m. latest??

Keep up the good job guys, lovely post!

Posted by Levi Koenig  | July 10, 2014 at 9:09AM | Reply

Love it!

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