How to work with your energy when it comes to time management

January 1, 2024

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Welcome! We're all about realistic time management designed for professional working women here in this little pocket of the internet. I'm glad you're here.

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One of the most effective time management strategies is working with – and not fighting against – your energy patterns. Let’s dig into more on it and talk about how to do it. 

Referenced episodes:

  • Ep. 9: Strategies to get more ease in your life
  • Ep. 17: Why white space is actually NOT helping you get more breathing space
  • Ep. 19: Know a hard work seasons is coming up? Let’s make Future You’s life easier (including building in recovery time) 

To learn more about and sign up for the Bright Method 8-week program, click here: https://kellynolan.com/the-bright-method-time-management-course-with-kelly-nolan.

Full Transcript

Episode 35. How to Work With Your Energy When it Comes to Time Management

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey, hey, and happy 2024! So full disclosure is that I have recorded this full episode before. I had sent it to my editors, and as I was listening to it, I didn’t like it. So I’m re-recording it because I basically just didn’t like that there wasn’t enough structure, so I’m trying to provide more structure this time around. But the sound quality might be worse, candidly. I hope that the content itself is better though. So that’s what’s more important to me – better quality, maybe a little bit worse sound. So I’m sorry in advance there’s not gonna be some fancy editing on this one. But here we go!

My 2023 Goal: Protecting My Energy – 1:06

So when I was thinking about what I wanted to kick this year off on, in terms of the podcast, my brain just went back to last year, and for those of you who have listened to episode nine, my 2023 goal or vision was really just to protect my energy. That was the main thing of I wanted my life to feel like it had more ease in it, and when I thought about what does that mean, what does that look like, it means that I have more energy because that gives me the bandwidth to kind of roll with the punches of the year and just feel more like myself and less prickly and all that kind of stuff.

So, if you want to listen to that episode, go check it out. It’s really about how to kind of create and protect energy in the new year from a practical standpoint. Things like how to protect sleep. Things I’ve done to protect my sleep like cutting out drinking as much, cutting out chocolate, and cutting off coffee, at a time, I should say. Coffee and chocolate are way too important to me than to cut out fully, but at a certain time of day I try to stop having those things so that I can protect my sleep that night.

So listen to that episode if that sounds in line with what you might want to look for because, at the end of the day, I really think that no matter what you’re looking to get out of your 2024, having more energy and feeling more like yourself and having that kind of emotional bandwidth to give and all that kind of stuff, I mean, it can’t hurt you. It’s only gonna serve whatever you’re looking for. And so, that’s really kind of where my brain went last year and continues to go this year because everything I talk about in this episode I’m bringing with me forward into this year.

And so, my brain is still there in terms of energy, but I want to take a different take on it for you today that you can use going forward on a more day-to-day basis. Some of that stuff that I talked about in episode nine of the year of ease, which again I’m bringing with me into the new year, is really valuable but it’s kind of like some lifestyle shifts. Where, what I want to talk about today is even if you don’t want to do those things, it’ll really help you manage your energy. That episode, as I said, is about creating and protecting energy. This one is gonna be more about how to work with your natural energy patterns, for lack of a better word, in your day-to-day life and in a more day-to-day way, so that I hope that no matter what you do, whether you have a goal for this year to have more energy or not, we all still have natural energy tendencies, and so let’s just kind of get a little intentional about them and really think about how we can work with them.

Matchmake Your Tasks to Your Energy Levels – 3:40

So, before I get into kind of the more practical applications, I want to talk about one overarching principle that I think is really important when it comes to time management. That is to matchmake your tasks to your energy levels. And so, I think you get this, obviously, in concept. I think a lot of us do. If you, let’s say, look at a to-do list, there are certain things that as you scan that to-do list to decide what you’re gonna do, you’re like, “What do I have energy for?”

Certain tasks require high energy. They require you to feel sharp intellectually. You need to feel like you can really dig into it and give it your best from an intellectual A-game perspective, and some things don’t require that. Some things you can do when you’re zonked. The obvious example that comes to my mind, because I do it when I’m tired, is folding laundry. But even doing the little email cleanup on the work front, things like that, low-energy task versus, on the work front, drafting a presentation or a brief or digging into medical research that you’re doing or whatever that might be probably requires your more sharper energy ability.

So just take this from a general principle standpoint of time management, at least of The Bright Method. We want to matchmake high-energy tasks to high-energy windows of time and low-energy tasks to low-energy windows of time. Now, this is not going to be perfect. You’re going to anticipate having high energy at a certain period of time and then that day’s gonna roll around and maybe you didn’t sleep well that night or maybe you don’t feel well or who knows why you just don’t feel like doing that thing right there. That’s okay. We’re not aiming for 100% to make this worth it, but the more we can get intentional about, “You know, when do I have better energy? When do I not,” and then matchmaking our tasks to those windows of time, the more likely we’ll feel kind of in that flow state where you’re in the higher energy and you really dig in, you get into it, you really can focus on the stuff that maybe you would struggle to focus on if you were tired. On the flipside, when you’re low energy, you’re kind of giving yourself layup tasks to do so that you can still get stuff done but in a way that is a better fit for what you’re feeling at that time.

So basic takeaway here is matchmake your tasks to your energy as best you can. So high-energy tasks go to high-energy windows, low-energy ones go to low-energy windows. That sounds great, maybe, but how do we apply this in a practical way? There are two different places my brain goes to. One is your baseline, what are your baseline energy patterns and let’s work with that. Really, what I want to talk about today, and we dig into this a lot more inside The Bright Method program, but you can just start gaining awareness of what those baseline patterns are, and we’re gonna talk about that. The second point of this is more like the departures from that baseline. So I want to talk about both of those things today.

Plan With Your Baseline Energy Patterns – 6:38

So application one is really just thinking through and just knowing your baseline energy patterns and then planning with them. Now, when it comes to your baseline energy patterns, I think you can kind of think about it in multiple different ways, and you should think about it in these multiple layers. It’s not just like pick one approach and go with that. I would kind of think about this in a more nuanced way.

So the first one is your daily energy patterns. This is that kind of stereotypical productivity thing of are you a morning person or are you not, and while that can maybe be overplayed, there’s definitely value in that. And so, you might want to just think about when is your energy best? Is it best in the morning? Really get clear on what does that mean. Is that 5:00 AM to 11:00 AM? Is that 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM? Roughly, I’m not saying it’s not like an alarm clock goes off, but just generally speaking, what do you think your energy is during those periods of time? You might not be a morning person, and so, when does it kind of click on for you? Do you hit your stride in the afternoon? Do you hit your stride in the evening? There’s no right or wrong to this. You just want to get clear on what are your energy patterns from a kind of natural standpoint.

What I’ll also say here is this is a little bit of a departure from energy, but we’re all about reality here and sometimes reality interferes with our ideal energy patterns. Sometimes we can’t take advantage of our most natural high-energy windows. So, for example, when I was single, I loved to be really productive, basically, from 5:00 AM to 11:00 AM/1:00 PM. That would include a workout, but it also included getting into the office really early when it was quiet. I could have hot coffee and I could get a lot done before people showed up, and I loved that. I was never the person who could stay late just because. I really crash around, as I said, even as early as 11:00 AM, sometimes 1:00 PM. Sometimes I’ll get a rebound but not always. And so, that morning energy is that best period of time.

That said, I now have two little kids. I cannot rely on great sleep every night. I really prioritize my sleep during this phase of my life. And so, I don’t get that early morning window as much as I would like to, even if I could get up at 5:00 AM, it’s kind of over by 6:00 AM when my kids get up, maybe even earlier. And so, even if all things go well and I could get up, I’m still with my kids around 5:30/6:00 AM because they get up really early. They do go to bed really early, so don’t feel bad for me. But then, until they’re kind of in school and I’ve walked my dog and things like that, it’s like 8:30 at the earliest I’m gonna be sitting down to work. And so, that’s a situational thing, right?

So, while we want to think about energy, I also want you to think about your situation because even if you don’t have kids, there are situational things that can interfere with when your energy might be best. It might be time zones you work with, and so, your meetings are really early in the morning, and you would rather not give your high-energy windows of time to those things but it just kind of is what it is for your work. Or maybe you don’t deal with time zone differences but you just kind of walk in and because of your industry there are just gonna be fires or curveballs that are gonna hit you right when you walk in the door and they’re gonna chill out by 1:00 PM.

So, for you, even if your energy is technically best in the morning, we just might have to work with the reality of your industry or your personal situation or whatever it might be and find the better time for you. So I don’t want you to live in total ideal world, ignore your situation, and then get really frustrated every day when you don’t get your ideal window of time to do this great work. We do have to kind of accommodate the realities of our life. But what I want you to see is if you could try to reclaim some of that, what would that look like? This is where you can get creative of trading off with a partner or hiring some help to alleviate some of the childcare duties in the morning or whatever it might be. Shifting meetings around, protecting one day a week from those phone calls, whatever it might be, we can get creative on trying to protect that time for you, and I do work with clients on that front.

But I just want to throw it out there for you from the standpoint of when it comes to your daily energy rhythms, think about your energy and then also think about the situational constraints on that, whether it’s your personal life like kids or it’s work like meetings and things like that.

I also want you to think about it from a weekly perspective because I think, you know, I’m not surprising anyone to say that your energy on, let’s say, a Tuesday morning is different than a Friday morning. So you just might want to think about, throughout the week, what days is your energy best? I think, stereotypically, we think Monday through Wednesday might be higher energy than Thursday or Friday. I’ve noticed for me — and I’m sharing this stuff not to be like my way is the only way, but just to bring it to life a little bit more — when I have little kids, especially when I’m solo parenting on the weekends, which happens a lot because of my husband’s job, Mondays I’m actually not the most energized. I’m kind of recovering from the weekend, and so, giving myself a little bit more breathing space on Monday to ease into work and to kind of maybe do some personal things in the morning and then get back into work, that works better for me. And then Tuesday, Wednesday are my really good days, and then from there, my energy can dwindle during the week. I have found mine doesn’t dwindle substantially, but I know for some people it does, so I want to throw that out there for ya.

I also want you to think about this from a seasonal perspective. I don’t know if I necessarily feel this way, but especially if you are someone who has Seasonal Affective Disorder (I think that’s what it’s called) or something similar and you just feel the winter months or the early darkness more deeply, that’s something you might want to think about. When it comes to your energy patterns, your energy patterns in the spring or the summer are gonna be probably pretty different than the depth of winter. And so, these are things you can think about.

This doesn’t all have to apply to you. I don’t want you to overthink it. If that doesn’t resonate with you right off the bat, don’t create a problem that’s not there. But for some people it really does. And so, I’m throwing all these things out there for you, that as you think of your baseline, typical, not-100% energy patterns, think about your day, again, in terms of energy and just situational stuff. Think about your week and how your energy changes throughout a week if it does, and then also think about seasons and how it might change during the actual summer, fall, spring, winter, those seasons, how your energy might be affected. Again, it doesn’t have to, but it’s worth thinking about so that you can understand what’s going on with your energy from a baseline, doesn’t have to happen 100% of the time, but typical perspective so that you can start thinking about, “How do I matchmake my energy with my tasks?”

Two little things on this before we keep going are your life phases also can have a bearing on this. I think I’ve basically gotten at this. As I mentioned, I used to really have total control over my early mornings and now I don’t with little kids. But I really look forward to reclaiming that someday, and I know it’s a short-term thing, so it is what it is. So just also know that you might discover a great kind of — you’re working with your energy patterns, it’s feeling really good, but a year from now, suddenly you’re like, “This isn’t working anymore! I feel like this is a lot harder than it used to be.” You might just want to re-evaluate. Maybe your energy has shifted or your personal or work situation has shifted, that what you thought was a good high-energy window to work or do things however you want to do them, matchmake, whatever you want to during those high-energy windows, those high-energy windows might not be in play as well as they used to. So just know it can shift, know it can change, and I just don’t want you to be surprised by that and work with it and reevaluate.

If You Don’t Know, Observe – 14:53

The second point on this before we keep going to the more abnormalities is it’s okay if you don’t know this stuff. I would say I don’t know what the breakdown is. A lot of clients are able to be like, “Yeah, okay, I can identify this kind of stuff and run with it.” Some people, though, are like, “I don’t know when my energy is best. I don’t really know.” I don’t want you to feel bad about that. I don’t know, necessarily, why some people don’t know as well. I think it’s a great exercise to observe. Don’t judge yourself. Just say, “Okay, I don’t know. Let me observe how it’s going.” I’ll maybe take some notes even in my calendar of how I feel at different times of the day, the week, of the season, and I’ll start learning it, but maybe you just don’t have big ebbs and flows. Maybe you do a really good job — maybe it comes down to the food you’re eating, and you’re not having spikes and crashes and things like that, and your energy is more consistent, and that’s wonderful. So for you, if that’s you, maybe just work with your circumstances more, the circumstances of your workday and your personal life, and just use those to guide how you matchmake your tasks to your energy. Again, when I say energy it’s more situational in that standpoint.

Okay, so that wraps up the first application of this which is, again, your baseline typical week, day, season, that kind of stuff. Again, the point of this is to get clear on when is your great high-energy windows of time that are realistic that work with your workday and things like that, and how, then, can you leverage those high-energy times to matchmake with high-energy-required tasks?

Then the flipside of that is for those lower-energy tasks, you can matchmake them to different periods of time, and you can kind of go through all of this, if you want, with low energy. I tend to focus on the high-energy stuff and then kind of default everything else to somewhat low energy. But you can do this if it’s more clear to you on the flipside of when your energy is low, feel free to kind of take a first cut of it in that lens and then look for the reverse of it for the higher-energy windows of time. You can kind of make this what you want, but the principle stands. We want to matchmake high-energy tasks to high-energy windows and low-energy tasks to low-energy windows. Again, if you don’t know your energy or you don’t feel like your energy ebbs and flows quite as much, then really focus on it on the situational, which is gonna actually become more clear to you as we talk about the next application, which is more of the disruptor stuff where we’re gonna look ahead in our calendars for those more energy disruptors and plan around them.

Plan Around Energy Disruptors – 17:33

So, just to be clear, these are energy disruptors that — hopefully it becomes more clear as I talk — can be good or bad. I don’t want you to just look for bad things and be like, “I’m gonna be really tired after this,” and only look for bad things. This can also be good things can wear us out too. And so, taking a step back, what I mean by this is that looking ahead at your calendar, my guess is you could pull your calendar out for the next two weeks or month and look for big things on the horizon, big presentations you’re giving, big court hearings you might have, big meetings that you might be involved in, whatever it might be, whatever is in your industry that might wear you out, big personal things coming up like a big doctor’s appointment that you know is gonna really wear you out and take away your energy for the rest of the day. All of those types of things, good or bad, can leave you more depleted of energy afterwards.

And so, for example, I love running The Bright Method program. I absolutely love the calls. I love getting to know the women. It weirdly energizes me during the calls. But then the call is over, and I just really shut down after it, and now I know that. I know that after running it so many times. And so, even though it’s a good thing and I look forward to the calls, I now also protect time for that depleted energy period of time after the calls.

So what I would love for you to do is start looking ahead at your calendar. I teach this in a more practical way within The Bright Method program, but for now just know that you can look ahead at your calendar and just look at it with the lens of, “When might my energy be affected by what’s going on?” This can be smaller-type things, like, as I said, this could be a presentation or a call like I have that I’m leading that I get really into. It’s an hour that I’m on, and I know that for pretty much the rest of the early afternoon I‘m gonna be really tired after it. And you can look for similar things for you like what’s going to deplete you when you go through that?

This could also be a much bigger thing. I talked about this in the busy season episode, which I can’t remember the number of, so I’ll put it in the show notes. But looking ahead, you might have a trial or a multi-day conference or something that’s really large on the horizon that you’re gonna need more than a few hours to recover from. And I want you to think of this in terms of recovery time. That gets that energy, but I also want you to just be really aware of even if that period of time after that presentation typically would be like a medium- or low-energy period of time for you, it might be a really low energy time for you compared to what it might be on a normal day without that presentation. I want you to start matchmaking, again, activities that would fit that energy level for you.

Now, to be clear, if you can take time off, I’m all for that. But for a lot of us, we can’t just fully check out for the rest of the day a couple times a week when we’re tired after meetings or even once a week when we’re tired after meetings. And so, what I want you to really focus on in that scenario is look for the low-energy tasks of what you need to do and matchmake them to those windows of time.

So, just to give you some examples, that could be when you do a haircut. If you have a big presentation coming up, you can see it, and you’re like, “Well, I also really need something like a haircut,” that’s a great window of time to do it. Just make sure you build in some wiggle room if the presentation runs over and then give yourself some time to drive there and maybe get yourself some food on the way, and then book a hair appointment during that time that would be after that period of time. That’s a great match for what your energy’s going to be because it’s a low-intellectual lift after that that will match what your brain’s probably capable of after that period of time.

Along those lines, I’ve often gotten asked how do I structure errands, and I don’t have a Bright Line rule on errands. You know, I don’t have an errand day or things like that. But if you wanted to pick an errand-type day, I would pick a day where you anticipate your energy being lower by that point so you’re not wasting your high energy on running to the dry cleaners. And so, that’s what I like to do. I look for those low-energy windows of time. Typically for me on a daily basis, that’s kind of around 1:00 PM, but it’s definitely, again, if I’m giving a big corporate workshop or something like that, after it I block the rest of the day or two hours after it, and as I’m planning out my weeks, which we’ve talked about in that planning episode which I’ll also link to because I also don’t know the number for it, that’s a good time for me to say, “Okay, I know I’m gonna be really zonked then. Why don’t I run to Target during that time.”

If you are not working from home but you’re in the office, those are the periods of time where, when I was practicing law, I just loved (this might sound weird) cleaning up my office during them. If I knew I was gonna be really tired after something, but I knew I couldn’t necessarily leave or I didn’t really want to leave the office at that time, that was a great time where I would tidy up my desk. I would pull all the rogue paper around, make sure I’d bridged everything into my calendar, gotten the meeting notes that I needed to processed, put everything in the file folders, even gotten wipes out that I kept in my drawer in my office and cleaned everything down, wiped it down, organized my Post-It notes, just all that stuff. It’s a great low-energy task to do, and it benefits you so much because you come back to this really clean desk when you have high energy so you can hit the ground running.

More to the point, what I really want you to hear is anticipate when you’re going to have low energy and embrace it. Work with it. Don’t fight against it. Don’t try to finish a huge presentation and then try and go draft up some document that requires your brain to be on. Your brain’s gonna be tired. It’s gonna feel like you’re banging your brain against a brick wall if you try and do that. So instead, protect better, high-energy time to do that at a different point and then work with your brain at the level of energy it’s going to be at. As I said, clean your office, go get a haircut, run some errands, go grocery shopping, workout, go on a walk in the woods, take a nap. If you have to work, I really do encourage you to take a nap and just give into how exhausted you’re gonna be, and then there’s a better chance of you being more rejuvenated after.

The main thing that so much of The Bright Method comes down to is embrace reality and then work with it. I never liked to just leave it at that. I really like bringing things practically to life, and so, this is an example of that. Know when your energy will be lower due to those disruptors and work with it.

Recap – 24:29

All right! So that basically wraps it up. Again, the principle is matchmake your tasks to your energy. You get it by this point. I’ve said it a thousand times. The first application of that is really be aware of your natural baseline tendencies. Know that it’s not gonna play out perfectly every day, but on the whole, if you can guess when you’re gonna have a higher energy, matchmake high energy tasks to that. When you’re gonna have lower energy, matchmake lower energy tasks to that. Know that it’s okay if you don’t fully know what yours are. You can observe and try and figure it out. You might also not have them, in which case, work with the more situational stuff, which has kind of been point two.

Then point two is think about those disruptors that you kind of know, “Meh, maybe I’d have medium energy here, but I’m gonna have zero energy because of this thing I have going on.” Look ahead at your calendar. Issue spot them. Block out your availability so that you protect that time and then matchmake lower-energy tasks or total breaks to those periods of time to work with your lack of energy so you’re not just trying to bang your head against a wall trying to do high-energy things when you have no energy to give.

If this stuff is clicking for you but you want a more practical system to build it within, so you know all this stuff, but you’re like, “I’m not gonna remember to do this when it’s time,” that’s what The Bright Method is. It is a system that helps you both do the matchmaking that we’re talking about but also take the pause once a week to look ahead and plan and look for these disruptors and build in that recovery time and matchmake your tasks to the right energy levels and all that kind of stuff.

I can’t really do it justice, but it is the system that helps you bring all of this knowledge to life when it matters and helps you remind future you to do the things you want to do (high energy, low energy, all that kind of stuff, all the planning, all that kind of stuff) at the right times and protects time to do it so that all of these concepts that you might have some familiarity with already can really play out in your life.

And so, if you’re interested in jumping in The Bright Method program to learn it and to spend eight weeks really learning it so it can benefit you for decades to come, I encourage you to jump in my January through March 2024 program. It’s open for enrollment. I won’t run it again until late September at the earliest in 2024. And so, there’s a big lull. So if this is something you really want to jump into, jump into it now. You can learn all about it at www.kellynolan.com/bright. You’re also welcome to ask me any question you have. Just feel free to shoot me an email at ke***@ke********.com, and thanks for being here!

I’m gonna link all the episodes I referenced in the show notes, so if you’re wondering, the year of ease one is number nine. There’s one on getting more breathing space if that’s something you’re also interested in in the new year. That is episode 17. There were also a couple I referenced, and I’ll put those numbers in the show notes as well.

More importantly, here’s to a wonderful 2024 with more clarity and less stress, and I look forward to hanging out with you this year! Happy new year!

[Upbeat Outro Music]

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