You must know yourself and respect your productivity times.
7 min read
The opinions expressed by collaborators are personal.
A confession: When I started writing this article, I had to stop a few times and then start again. Words didn't flow, so I quit and went to the gym.
Two hours later, my thoughts began to flow, almost like magic.
If I had endured and forced myself to articulate ideas, it would have been wasted time, because in my thirteen years as an entrepreneur I have learned that going against my productive times only produces half-results. Better, I hope to feel fresh, alert and creative.
Of course, there is never a lack of apps to help me organize my calendar, but they are of little use if I am not aware of the times when I am at my best.
In his enlightening story for the Harvard Business Review , professor of management and entrepreneurship Erich C. Dierdorff points out that “using an application, without the prior skills to manage time, is unlikely to produce positive results.”
We've all had moments like the one described above: starting a demanding project and realizing that you just don't have the energy to do it. We could try and force ourselves to do it, believing that we are making the best use of our time. But was the quality of the work done really worth it, considering the pain it took to do it?
Many of us have tried different tools to manage our days, but the reality is that there is no better trick or tip that can help us accommodate our time than simply knowing ourselves. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be honed and developed.
Better time management is about being strategic
Time management has been shown to help us organize our personal and professional lives, leading us to higher levels of well-being and job performance.
According to Dierdorff, people who can take advantage of their productivity use three key skills for successful time management:
They are realistic about time and are aware that it is a limited resource.
They organize their goals and agendas to use their time effectively.
They are flexible and able to adjust to interruptions, changing their priorities when necessary.
Imagine that you had to keep awake taking care of your sick child, and in your calendar the next morning it appears that you have to work on an important report for 90 minutes. The problem is that your thoughts are going to be entangled, between the lack of sleep and whatever crosses your mind, which is honestly not always the right thing to do.
In the end, you will not have written your best report.
Rather than forcing yourself to follow that rigid schedule, being flexible and realistic about your energy would allow you to perform better.
It all comes down to listening to yourself.
A little self-awareness makes all the difference
“Self-awareness is our ability to separate ourselves and examine our thoughts, motives, history, scripts, actions, habits, and trends” – Stephen Cover
As the founder of JotForm, a company with more than 150 employees and 5.3 million users, preserving valuable brain power has been essential to making good decisions. In the end, the cornerstone of my growth has been reduced to becoming aware of and working with my natural rhythms (a process that requires a lot of trial and error to get it right).
But understanding when I am at my best is only half the equation to be effective. “Self-awareness is useless without an equally important skill: self-management,” writes Jennifer Porter, something she defines as demonstrating more productive behavior. I am excited to go to the office every day when I can channel my productive energy into creative work.
Here is a (mini) guide -without lies- to manage time:
Take advantage of your moments of greatest productivity
Keep a personal diary in which you record your activities and assess the energy level you had while doing them. This doesn't have to be a very time consuming task, try it for a week and pay attention to the moments when you feel brighter. Dierdorff recommends dividing our normal day into three or four periods and classifying them from the most to the least productive. This will also allow you to be more realistic in evaluating the amount of time you think it takes you to do something versus the amount of time it actually takes you.
Observe your energy levels, and plan accordingly
Just as you shouldn't force a more creative job after staying awake caring for your sick child, it's also important that you allow flexibility to reschedule when the unexpected arises. If that morning meeting took longer than you had planned, avoid starting a major project later. There's no point in forcing you to actively engage in a workload right now. Instead, go for smaller, less energy-intensive tasks, such as administrative work or answering emails.
Give yourself space for a break
Relaxation encourages creative thinking, and giving your mind a chance to roam freely will contribute more to your work than forcing you to work all day. A vital part of successful time management is allowing for these moments of recovery. There's also evidence showing that even small distractions from an activity can dramatically improve our ability to focus on that task for extended periods of time.
Respect and honor your rest time
In today's competitive workforce, many of us are tempted to glorify the hustle 24/7, trying to squeeze every drop of juice out of it every day. But contrary to what Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of digital marketing company VaynerMedia says, I don't recommend founders to work 18 hours without a break. I like to think that one of the things that sets us apart at JotForm is our dedication to maintaining a balance between work and personal life. For this reason, I encourage my team to pay attention to their most productive hours, and to honor their time away from the office, removing Slack from their phones and using all their vacation days.
I don't know what is going to work for everyone, but I do know this: there is no app or trick that can replace listening, recognizing and respecting your needs.