Do you ever feel like you are so caught up in the everyday, ongoing activity in your business that you can’t actually find time to make decisions about your business?
Do you take on tasks that you shouldn’t?
Do you really need to be the person who runs to the post office to mail off the patterns you sold?
Do you need to run to the office supply shop when you are out of staples?
If the answer is yes, when do you have time to look at your numbers and make hiring or buying decisions if this is how you spend your time? We all know the answer to that one; you don’t.
While you may not see yourself in the above scenario, I’m sure you aren’t always working smarter in your business. And, it’s not really a function of managing time. We all have the same 24 hours. It’s more about managing energy. You can actually do something about your energy. And, if you can learn how to manage your energy, then you can put attention and focus where they belong — on your business.
You can think of energy in four areas: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. You need to learn what it is that drains your energy and what replenishes it. This is often specific behaviors or rituals that you can delete or add to your life.
For example, on the physical side, if you wake up exhausted every day, look at what causes that. Do you need to go to bed earlier, give up the second glass of wine, get more exercise, etc.? Are you eating healthfully? Do you need to set specific breaks during your day for energy recovery? If you understand what drains you, you can take steps to renew yourself. Look for how you can add a ritual into your day to improve the physical. For example, I walk most mornings with some of my neighbors. This ritual has a positive effect on the energy I have.
On the emotional side, think of when you feel positive energy or negative energy. Try to learn what triggers the negative. Journaling or even making a note in your calendar/planner when you notice this is a benefit. Rituals that might work in this area are deep abdominal breathing at the time of negative emotions, reframing the situation or stories you tell about the events in your life, or a simple daily gratitude practice. You may find starting a meditation practice makes a difference, even if it is just 5-10 minutes sitting in silence.
With mental energy, you need to learn to focus for 90-120 minute, take a real break and then fully focus on the next activity. These are like little sprints in your work. No multitasking. Did you realize that it can take up to 20 minutes for your brain to refocus to the task at hand if you multitask? Here are just a few little rituals that creative entrepreneurs I know have put into place to capitalize on their mental energy:
- Leave the office/shop and go to a place without distractions to work (no phones, email).
- Let all your calls go to voice mail and set a time to respond to them.
- Look at email only twice a day.
- Focus systematically on activities that have the most long-term leverage
- Utilize time blocking. Schedule everything and stick to it.
- Track where your time goes.
- Set boundaries and learn to say no.
We know that three types of mental activities take the most brain energy: prioritizing, making decisions, and creativity.
Prioritizing. Your brain likes structure, so you need to create space for prioritizing on a quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily basis. I mentioned time blocking above. This concept requires you to take your calendar and block off time for various activities, whether that is prioritizing, business development, creative time, even family time. By time blocking, you are more likely to be productive and accomplish your tasks. It’s similar to setting an appointment with yourself to do your work.
Since prioritizing takes so much brain power, how can you decide where to place those priorities? I like to look at what brings in the most cash with the least effort. I also look at what has the longest-range return. To start, list all the activities or tasks you do in your business. You can do this for one day or several days. This will give you a good picture of where your time goes. Once you’ve got your list complete, star those that are in your brilliance. When you are working in your brilliance — and you’ll know it — you are bringing in money to your business. For example, teaching may be in your brilliance; buying shop supplies is not. Also make a list of what you need to make space for, those things that you should be doing to build your business that you aren’t. Block that time first.
Making decisions. Decisions take up a lot of brain energy. That’s really what we are doing all the time, making decisions. If we can find ways to make decisions in advance whenever possible, then we don’t strain our brain with simple decisions when it wants to work on complex ones. For example, what decisions do you make every day that you could make in advance? I’m going to give you a simple one that I do. When I go to Houston – or really any business trip – I check out the weather where I’m going, as I’m sure you all do. I print it out and use it to pack. I write down on this weather sheet what I am wearing each day so I don’t have to make a decision each morning. It’s all done for me. Something else I do is make appointments in advance. Once a year I make hair appointments, doctor appointments, and anything else I can reasonably schedule ahead, and that time is blocked in my calendar when I want it. I don’t have to think about, i.e., decide later.
Creativity. If you take care of prioritizing and making decisions, you’ll have more mental energy for what most of us enjoy most — creating.
The fourth type of energy is spiritual energy. This type of energy is engaged when your work is consistent with your values and with what gives you a sense of meaning and purpose. To access this energy you need to clarify your priorities and set rituals in the other three categories. When you do that, your spiritual energy comes alive. And when that happens, watch out! You are in the zone!
How do you manage your energy?