Have you ever enjoyed a caffeinated beverage then wasted the boost by flipping through a magazine or watching TV?
Have you ever woken up full of energy only to be seduced into surfing the Internet until an hour or two had ebbed away along with your enthusiasm for the day? It’s a case of using a high-energy time for a low energy activity and the practice greatly diminishes efficiency.
Not using peak efficiency periods can really be a set-back in achieving goals. There’s nothing wrong with reading a People magazine, but it is something to occupy low-energy moments or a few minutes in a waiting room, not precious hours of bright-eyed, wide-awake time. It’s easy to slip into a belief that low-importance activities like checking social media and email are urgent and important. The businesses that advertise on the Internet want you to think you are achieving something by checking in, but ultimately it won’t add much, if anything, to your day.
Take a look at your typical 24 hours: Sketch the outline of a day on a piece of paper or use a daily outline from a daytimer calendar. At what time do you rise in the morning? How is your energy? When do you have that first caffeinated beverage, if at all? When is your slump time? When do you typically eat meals and does your energy feel lower afterward? At what time do you turn the light out at night?
Schedule your important doing, thinking and planning times for the hours your energy is highest. Schedule errands, email checking, less complex reading and appointments for grooming or medical visits for times during the day when your energy would be lower anyway. There is nothing more agonizing than sitting in a dentist’s chair when your mind is racing ahead on an important deadline you could be focusing on.
Alternatively, a teeth cleaning can be almost enjoyable in the early afternoon while you are digesting your lunch. You could go into your next intense meeting with pep in your step and a super-sparkly smile instead of spinach in your teeth and a digestive torpor. The timing in the appointments makes all the difference.
It’s important to make these scheduling choices ahead of time. I know for myself, that if I’m a little over-caffeinated, every activity takes on an urgent and important tone. Gotta rake those leaves! Gotta devour that Vogue magazine! If I’ve planned ahead to be with a client, in a class, writing a column or researching a presentation, I’m already safely scheduled to take advantage of the extra focus I have at that time and not fritter it away.
In addition to planning your day around peak energy times, you will want to have given a good bit of thought to your loftier goals, that is, what you ultimately want your next five years, 10 years and so on, to look like. If you want to be speaking fluent Spanish on a month-long trip to Spain to celebrate your retirement in five years, then scanning Facebook for an hour each day might not take on as much importance as practicing Spanish for the same amount of time.
Even low-energy times can be used to further your goals, but the goal has to be juicy and attractive enough to provoke a change from indulging in TV and other “fun” activities in favor of practice, study and other effort. If you work full time and/or have children, sometimes our low-energy periods are all that is left for us to work on personal goals.
You can do your ‘visioning”—goal setting and planning — during low-energy times. Close your eyes and picture a scene where you have achieved your goal. You are in Barcelona conversing in Spanish with a waiter at a restaurant. You are walking along the Camino de Santiago, talking to the locals [insert your vision here]. Get as clear as you can. What is the weather like? What do you smell? How does it feel to have achieved your goal? What are you eating? What are you wearing?
As an example of something you can do to further a goal when low in energy or trapped in a car or on a train, are audio CDs. You can listen to audio books or language CDs or MP3s while commuting. You may have to work hard to keep your mind focused on the material or you may have to repeat the lessons if your mind wanders.
If you stay in touch with your energy levels and check in with your vision regularly, planning your day to take advantage of peak productivity times will start to become second nature. And if you occasionally use low energy time for siestas, pulp fiction and The Real Housewives of Orange County, you can do so with zero guilt knowing that for the most part, you are using your time incredibly well.