When we think about how we can be most productive at work, the conversation usually centres around time management. How can we fit more into each day? If we can be more time efficient and tick more items off the to do list, then we should be more productive, right?
I thought this way too, but my research took me down a different path. The problem with time management is that it doesn’t focus on the outputs, but simply the inputs. There are limited hours in a day and if we spend those hours trying to squeeze in as much work as we can without scrutinising whether that work is actually leading to better outcomes, it’s a recipe for burnout, not productivity.
This approach to work drains our energy, makes us unhappier and unhealthier, and makes us less productive. It’s a lose-lose.
When I had my daughter just over a year ago, the limitations of time management came into much sharper focus. Running a business is already a serious juggle. Combine that with family responsibilities and it became obvious that something needed to give.
Focusing on energy, not time
We started by looking at high performing business owners and how they juggled it all. It became clear that first they delegated well and then spent more time in the “zone of genius”. In other words, they focused on the tasks they were good at and enjoyed. Tasks that gave them energy rather than depleted it.
As Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr say in The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal: “The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not.” To be a consistently high performer, you have to manage your energy, not your time. Energy refers to our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical capacity.
We decided we wanted to become energy efficient not just time efficient. We realised that by maximising our energy it would lead to a clearer mind, clearer decision-making, more focus and less rework. If we could maintain our energy at a level that kept us engaged, productive, healthy and happy - time efficiencies would follow, without the burnout.
An energy audit
The Atelier Wealth team sat down and looked at what work gave us energy and what work sapped our energy. By getting a handle on this, we had a clearer picture of what work could be delegated, outsourced, automated or eliminated. There are always going to be parts of our roles which we don’t love but it’s about ensuring we do more of what we are great at.
What work energises you? What are your strengths? When do you experience “flow” - a state of mind when you’re in the moment, immersed in the task at hand and losing track of time? What work de-energises you? What feels like a slog? What are you not as good at? What work takes double the time because you don’t enjoy it?
We also looked at the other inputs which help sustain our energy. For many of us it's the straightforward things - sleep, diet and exercise. Going to bed earlier, making time for a run, meal prepping and so on. A healthy body really does lead to a healthier mind. Carving out time during the day to switch off and recharge is also important.
Task-oriented vs. outcome oriented
We decided that our old, task-oriented method of working wasn’t working for us, but against us. While ticking everything off the to do list might feel good, the sprint to the finish line was contributing to burnout. By the time I got home of an evening my energy reserves were drained. That didn’t leave much energy for my family and life outside work. Burning the candle at both ends wasn’t working for us. We realised it was a recipe for resentment, physical burnout and business collapse.
We set out to make our days as productive and “energy-efficient” as possible without working longer hours. This involved better prioritisation of what needed to be done. We began to prioritise tasks based on outcome, not just urgency.
What tasks are important and urgent? These are your tier one tasks. This could be writing a loan. It’s important because it brings in revenue and its urgent because the client has a settlement deadline.
Which tasks are important but not urgent? These are your tier two tasks. This may include finalising the marketing or sales plan. While these tasks may not be urgent, they’re pretty crucial for winning new business. These are the tasks many of us end up procrastinating without realising it, meaning much of the important work doesn’t get done.
Which tasks are urgent but not important? These are the tier three tasks. Examples may include returning emails or admin obligations. Many people spend most of their day in tier three. No wonder we feel burnt out and like we’re not achieving enough. This kind of busy work distracts us from the work that is actually important.
Tier four is the work that isn’t urgent or important. This work can often come off the list altogether.
Once you prioritise work in this way it becomes much easier to understand what should be at the top of the list and what should be at the bottom.
Single-tasking vs. multi-tasking
While it may be all the rage to multi-task, science has proven that humans really cannot do it well, if at all. While it may seem more efficient to work on multiple tasks at a time, ultimately it will take up more time overall, with each task completed at a poorer standard.
At Atelier Wealth, our process is to start with the first task on our list and focus only on that task until it is complete before moving onto the next task. We batch our emails, only responding at certain times of day to reduce distractions. We also found that some of us worked better in the mornings and some later in the day, so we schedule tasks accordingly. We are mindful to not interrupt other team members unless its unavoidable.
This gives our days a sense of momentum and achievement. Yes, there are interruptions, but we are better able to accept this and go back to resume the current task in progress.
Focusing on energy over time has been truly eye-opening. We are performing at a higher level and more efficiently, without raising our cortisol levels. There is less rework, oversights and mistakes. Work is more enjoyable and less anxiety inducing. The team has reported higher levels of satisfaction, engagement and productivity.
Many self-employed people “fall out of love” with their business, due to stress. This process has helped us to continue to love our work at Atelier Wealth. While we still work the same hours, we are getting the important work done in the time we have.
The challenge in small business is that you will always find something that needs your attention! The new approach ensures that we’re focusing on the right things at the right time. For Aaron and I, that means spending more time working on the business rather than in the business. Focusing on energy rather than time has been freeing for all of us.
So, how can you better manage your energy at work?
About Bernadette Christie-David
Bernadette Christie-David is a Director and Co-founder of Atelier Wealth, an award-winning mortgage broking business with a difference. Bernadette is a specialist broker, focusing on Self Employed and Self Managed Super Fund lending.
In 2018 Bernadette was recognised as a Finalist for the NSW Connective Empowerment Award for her work on the MFAA Young Professional and Women in Broking initiatives. In 2019, Atelier Wealth was recognised as Highly Commended as Brokerage of The Year at the Australian Mortgage Awards.