This article is a sub-topic of the ultimate guide, How to Stop Procrastinating (Even If You’re a Lazy Bastard). Check it out if you’re interested.
I’m not a student anymore, but the lack of energy is still my number 1 reason to put off work.
Back then, I procrastinated by playing Skyrim or binge-watching anime for 5 hours while watching at 2X speed. (totally worth it)
Things have changed, though. Now, it’s okay for me to procrastinate but only if I do it strategically when I really can’t focus and am low in energy.
But I don’t even prioritize time management anymore—because energy management is wayyyy better.
The truth is, you don’t manage time—you manage tasks. And tasks require energy.
Therefore, proper “time” management requires putting your energy into consideration.
In this post, I’m going to share with you a bit of scientific advice and wisdom that I’ve learned from at least 5 different books.
These will help you figure out when you should procrastinate, and how to maximize the time where you have the most energy and willpower.
I’ll also tell you how you can get more willpower in the first part of this article.
As you’ll soon discover, they’re pretty “common sense”, yet almost nobody gives attention to them.
By learning about them now, you can start intentionally doing them and reap the benefits for yourself.
There’s a reason why you don’t see people working 20 hours straight and finish 20 hours of work. It’s just not possible.
If you’re not accomplishing work, then why not just stop working and spend it to refuel your energy?
Just to be clear, we’re not talking about physical energy here, but rather mental energy.
Let’s talk about what’s actually draining your mental energy within the day, shall we?
Managing Your Willpower: Where to Get It
As I’ve discussed in my first post on procrastination, it’s likely that we “give in” to the desire to put things off because we’re running low on willpower.
Yes, willpower is a limited resource. And it’s also an “energy” that we use to avoid procrastinating in the first place.
UPDATE (3/26/2020): My perspective changed on this one. Some studies show that willpower is basically unlimited, but I still stand by the fact that it’s not a good idea to rely on a fluctuating resource like willpower. (which uses mental energy, by the way.)
Since you make worse decisions when you’re tired (mentally or physically), it’s already one reason why you shouldn’t put things off because later in the day, the chances that you’ll “give in” significantly increases.
So, this is the first advice I’m going to give you:
Choose to do all of your important tasks earlier in the day and put off less important, and less fun ones later in the day.
But that ain’t going to magically stop you from procrastinating, am I right?
It might be the case that you’re feeling lazy first thing in the morning; a totally solvable problem.
The good news is, you can develop your willpower in the most effortless way possible.
Lately, that’s what I’m aiming to accomplish using this blog; to help you solve your procrastination and learning problems in the most effortless way possible.
But anyway, in order for us to do that, we’ll borrow ideas from the world of Mindfulness Meditation.
Did you know that meditation actually strengthens your self-control?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to meditate because I just know it’s incredibly tedious to push yourself to do it.
If you’re like me, you might not even think you have the willpower to do it in the first place.
The thing is, you can actually get meditation-like benefits for self-control WITHOUT actually sitting down and meditating.
Here’s Dr. Mcgonigal via The Willpower Instinct:
Athletes who relax through deep breathing and physical rest recover more quickly from a grueling training session, reducing stress hormones and oxidative damage to their bodies…We’re not talking about zoning out with television or “relaxing” with a glass of wine and a huge meal. The kind of relaxation that boosts willpower is true physical and mental rest that triggers what Harvard Medical School cardiologist Herbert Benson calls the physiological relaxation response. Your heart rate and breathing slow down, your blood pressure drops, and your muscles release held tension. Your brain takes a break from planning the future or analyzing the past.
You can combine deep breathing and the act of feeling the sensations in your toes to further enhance the benefits.
Yes, it’s a mindfulness technique used by charisma expert Olivia Fox Cabane to increase your presence, one of the top three most important ingredients for charisma.
The reason is that we don’t often take the time to feel something in the present.
And your toes require a bit of focusing before you can feel them, so they’re the perfect place to start your mindfulness practice.
But why am I telling you willpower stuff anyway?
Because It’s FAR EASIER to continue working rather than to START working.
By knowing how to instantly regain your willpower at times where you “want to get up, but can’t”, you can literally push yourself to start working in just seconds and continue to do so for HOURS.
Sometimes, however, you can’t just rely on your willpower to start doing the things you need to do, and for that, you want to rely on other proven strategies I discuss in my articles below:
- Choice Architecture: Avoid Procrastination WITHOUT Willpower
- How to Motivate Yourself, Intentionally
- How to Break Your Procrastination Habit (Realistic Solution)
That said, let’s move on to the next step so you can learn how to spend your energy wisely.
Manage How You Spend Energy, And When You Spend It
Ironically, I put off this article to watch Skyrim videos on YouTube. But I did it on purpose.
You’ll learn why I did that in this section.
Step #1. Eliminate Low-Value Tasks/Schedule Them at Your “Suck” Times
There are some hours in the day that we normally suck, thanks to our Circadian Rhythm.
And it doesn’t matter how easy the task is, how much we want it–it’s just so freaking hard to work (let alone start working) at those times!
But we could also embrace it and make the most out of it.
I bet you have low-value tasks lying around and guess what? This is the perfect time to do them!
Productivity expert Chris Bailey even does most of his low-value tasks on a separate day which he calls “Maintenance Day”.
All of his most important tasks are scheduled either early in the morning (where he has the most willpower) or at his Biological Prime Times. More on that later.
Low-value tasks that require almost zero focus and energy like doing your laundry or cleaning your room should be done at these times of the day.
Better yet, you should just take a nap during these periods of low energy.
Step #2. Here’s How to Determine What’s Worth Your Time
Did you know? When we see a task as a “choice” rather than a “chore”, the areas of the brain associated with taking action (aka your motivator) lights up like crazy.
And it’s a pretty good thing–knowing that you’re in control of a result is actually a HUGE motivation booster.
Because you can now choose to do your most important tasks and choose to put off your less important tasks, you bet that it’s going to help you beat procrastination and as a bonus, make you even more productive than most of your peers!
As an activity, list down ALL of the tasks you are responsible for doing and then find the most important thing by asking this question:
“If I do this one task all day, every day, would I be able to reach my goals?”
Even better, ask yourself:
“What is the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will become easier (or unnecessary)?”
I got that one from “The ONE Thing”, an excellent book written by CEO Gary Keller.
To add more oomph, find your “why” behind the task; you can’t tell if you are productive if you don’t have a purpose for doing something.
Let me repeat that for you to impress upon you that it’s really important: “You can’t tell if you are productive if you don’t have a purpose for doing something.”
Step #3. Schedule High-Value Tasks at Your Biological Prime Times
Biological Prime Times, as Sam Carpenter puts it (emphasis mine):
“BPT is the period of the day when you’re the most energized, a stretch of time lasting six to eight hours in any twenty-four-hour period. Like many people, my BPT begins the moment I wake up, and I’m out of gas by early afternoon. BPT is the segment of the day I’m strongest and smartest, so it’s ruthlessly devoted to accomplishment, at my work mostly.”
It’s common sense, right?
But as you may have realized, common sense isn’t common action.
When you schedule your most important tasks at your biological prime times, you get it done more quickly because you essentially use your brain’s full capacity to do it.
And in the context of procrastination, you can strategically put off important tasks such that they would align with your BPT.
But right now you might be thinking, “If willpower is highest in the morning, and my BPT is at noon…am I messed up?”
Nope! You could actually see it as a blessing than a curse.
The thing is, once you use your fully-charged willpower early in the morning to tackle your bigger tasks, you’ll automatically have more motivation for your next tasks. (See my article on How to Intentionally Motivate Yourself)
And once that motivation is set up, you can get your task done even better once your BPT comes up.
However, it might also be the case that you have no control over your morning schedule.
In that case, aligning tasks with your BPT is your best bet.
Doing high-value tasks at your BPT is like driving on a highway. Except you’re driving a Ferrari.
And there’s no traffic. You’ll get to your destination much, much faster, don’t you think?
Manage How You Restore Energy: Because You Can’t Restore Time
Imagine you are a Lamborghini.
You can run a whole mile in just a short period of time.
But it doesn’t matter what your top speed is like if you can’t even start moving.
And all of what I’ve said doesn’t even matter if you don’t have enough fuel, to begin with.
The same goes for you. You NEED fuel to function efficiently.
Have you ever slept for just 1 hour and told yourself you’re going to be the most productive person that day? Of course not!
You’ll feel incredibly tired, and you won’t even feel like doing anything at all.
Remember: Sleeping 8 hours a day puts procrastination away.
Sleep restores your brain function more than anything you do, period.
And it’s not just ‘sleep quantity’ that matters, but also sleep quality.
In the book, Why We Sleep, sleep expert Matthew Walker says you should make your room Dark and Cold in order to get the best sleep possible.
#2. Take breaks the right way
Earlier you learned that you can work the proper way by putting the highest value tasks in your BPT.
Similarly, we can take breaks the proper way as well.
Breaks are like cakes. They give you a short burst of energy when done properly.
And the proper way to take a break is to access our “Wandering Mode” not our “Focusing Mode” by doing something that requires focus–usually scrolling through social media platforms.
If you want to break that habit, then check out this article:
Whether you have a procrastination problem or not, taking breaks the right way is the most surefire method to restore your focus and motivation.
It’s difficult to motivate yourself when your energy is the one against you, am I right?
Bottom Line: Manage Your Energy, Not Time
Managing your time (or tasks) does not matter if you don’t have the energy to begin with.
Which one will you try out first?
I’m constantly looking for new blog post ideas regarding productivity and procrastination, so if you have any suggestions, please leave a comment down below!