Picture this. You have to finish an urgent business proposal for a high-value client.
But wait.... someone just asked you to do a "quick fix" on a project from last week and you know that will take away at least an hour of your time. Meanwhile, team members working on the project you manage need you to answer some questions before they can proceed.
Simply put, you have three or more pressing tasks and they're all of equal importance. Stress levels are mounting quickly. What do you do?
Method 1: Regimenting Your Day
You could implement a highly structured schedule by separating your day into 30 to 60-minute chunks, and according to Brian Tracy (Eat that Frog), you'll be highly productive. But think about the last time one innocent work email threw off your entire day. You can't control your environment—and once something new inevitably pops up, you'll soon be far behind schedule with no hope of ever catching up.
Method 2: Harnessing Random Minutes
Spend all those five minute breaks you would normally use to browse Facebook working on tasks that would increase your productivity. Lauded in Peter Bregman's 18 Minutes, the strategy is often called "attacking the open space" — maximizing every single minute of your time, the story goes, will turn you into a hyper-productive Superman. But making every spare minute productive is extremely tiring—and probably requires incredible will power over time.
So what are you to do? Could there must be a third way—one that doesn't involve trying to control time?
Method 3: Maximizing Your Energy
I'm sure you've noticed that one hour of highly focused work can be more productive than three or four hours when your energy level isn't particularly high. So why do we insist on pushing through our most tired, unproductive hours instead of taking an energy-boosting break?
Set aside time for your most important tasks when you'll know you'll be the freshest — for instance, right in the morning when you get into work, or right after lunch when you've been refreshed. During these periods of focused productivity, steer clear of phone calls, incoming e-mails, rowdy coworker Slacks, and anything that might draw down your energy during these key hours.
That's how I grew my first business — a publishing company based around writing books and courses. If I didn't write at peak times during the day, I'd only get a fraction done of what I would want to accomplish.
But setting aside time for tasks isn't the only key to maximizing energy; you have to keep track of what causes you to replenish or extend your energy bank account. Make a list of those work tasks that get you excited and make you feel accomplished. Then, schedule time to do them when you can tell your energy is flagging. Riding this energy will turn these dull moments in your day around, and get you ready to be even more productive in the future. These special tasks will turn that one hour of focused productivity into two ... and eventually to three or more.
Following this principle is how I grew my next venture—a public relations firm. In the PR business, lots of moving parts need to be coordinated. One minute you're finishing an urgent client proposal and the next you're chasing a breaking news story. I plan my less exciting, but necessary tasks (like task review of team members) per moments when I don't need maximum energy, like early morning or late at night.
By managing energy instead of time, you'll beat yourself up less for to-do tasks that don't get checked off right away. You'll get more done in less time—and in the time you have left over, you'll be able to plan strategically for the future.
So, how will you use the hours of time you're getting back?
About Ben Kaplan
Ben Kaplan is a best-selling author, popular speaker, and CEO of PR Hacker — the world's fastest growing viral marketing firm. He has been featured on more than 5,000 TV and radio shows including appearances on Oprah, Good Morning America, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, NPR, and the BBC.