Schedule your energy, not time.

    Posted on Monday, Apr 30, 2018

    We have less hours of energy than hours of time available every day

    I commute every week between College Station and San Marcos. I plan to listen to audio books for the two-hour trip. After many trips, I find that I can only remember the first hour's contents and have no idea of the second hour's. Last week, I suddenly realized the mistake that I schedule my available two-hour time instead of my available energy to listen to audiobooks. What I overlooked was that driving consumed my energy as well.

    Excluding sleeping, eating, transportation and wondering around, I may have at most 10 hours to work every day. However, I may only have 6 hours energy that I can work and think efficiently. In the rest four hours, my brain will go blank and I can only work on tasks such as organizing files, cleaning data, taking notes of researches, or browsing emails, etc.

    After a whole day working in the Lab, I will come home and sit on the coach to watch TV shows. After reporting research progress in the weekly group meeting, I may hit some golf balls on the range. After submitting a manuscript that I write for a few months, I will play some video games. These are what I actually do in the real life. But they are far different from what I would have planned and expected. The following may be a schedule that I plan for the next Thursday: work 8 hours in the Lab -- go home -- cook -- eat -- rest 30 minutes -- go back to Lab to work another 2 hours -- sleep. But what really happens mostly follows this plot: work 8 hours in the Lab -- buy some fast food -- go home -- eat -- rest 3 hours playing the cellphone -- sleep. The reality is that even though I have 11 hours available, I am not a perfect machine with a 100% efficiency. After I consume all my 6-7 hours energy every day, I shut down.

    Three years ago, if I could not finish my schedule, I felt frustrated. After a few tries, I gave up making schedules. Last year, I started to use checklists to schedule my activities (please see my other post). In practice, I find I have to schedule much less tasks than I used to do. Now, I find the answer -- I have less hours of energy than hours of time available every day.

    Can we make more energy?

    I think the only way to get us more energy is doing sports. There used to be some situations that I could not understand. For example, I found myself much more productive in the week that I walked two rounds of golf. At a first glance, playing golf takes too much time because it takes 4-5 hours for a walking round. Now I understand that golfing with a bag of irons exercises my legs, improves the function of my lungs, and the beautiful colors of the golf course enlighten my mood. All the time I spend in golf courses bring me more energy that fuels my productivity. The famous Korean song writer, singer and producer, JYP, said that he wakes up at 4 AM every day and works out for two hours.

    Schedule less

    In my expectation, I am a rational person that will wisely use all my available energy. The truth is that I am an emotional person that has peaks and troughs in my mood. Even though I have energy, I may spend it browsing news or videos sometimes. Or, I may feel down and do not want to follow the plan. Currently, I only put less than 5 important tasks on my checklist every week.


    I think knowing the limit is very important. My current limit is that I only have at most 6 hours energy to work productively every day. So, I'll use these 6 hours to work on 2 or 3 important tasks, such deducting some formulas or reading a few paragraphs of an important research paper. Playing within my limit keeps me confident, because it feels good to get things done.

    Dunyu Liu
    Dunyu is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geophysics

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