Happy, Unstructured, and Grind Time

Over the years I have learned that managing my energy and focus, versus time management, is the key to enhancing productivity.  By shifting the focus from time management to energy management I work on what I want to, when I want to, and under my desired environmental conditions.

My goal is to match the type of work with my mindset and energy level.  When done well, I avoid stress, burnout, and the feeling of not being in control.  I triage my work activity into one of three large buckets: Happy Time, Unstructured Time, and Grind Time.

  1. Happy Time

I define Happy Time as the part of the day in which you are the most productive.  This is when you have the most energy, mental focus, and desire to be productive.  For me, it has always been early in the morning.  Even when I was in college, a time for late night partying, and dreading morning classes and work, I was up and running by 6:00 a.m.  When writing my career development book, I was most productive when writing between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.

In contrast, my mother and sisters are all night people, able to be creative and have lively debate into the midnight hour.  When I was a banker and would travel to New York to visit my sister Lisa who worked in advertising at the time.  We would go out to dinner, I would be tired, so she would accompany me back to my hotel, and then tell her friends she would be right back to work and socialize into the night.

Identify your “Happy Time” and link it with the most important activities that will lead to success.  Communicate it with your leader and colleagues to minimize disruptions.  As a manager, ask your employees to identify their Happy Time and try to protect that time for the most important work.

  1. Unstructured Time

With overscheduled calendars and the push to be more and more productive, how do we create space for greater awareness and new thinking that can inspire positive change?  Allison Holzer, co-founder and Principal Consultant for InspireCorps, shares the answer to this question in her brilliant TEDx Hartford talk “The Gift and Power of Unstructured Time.” (LINK)

Allison shares that unstructured time occurs at the intersection of three components:

  • No agenda – we are not pursuing specific goals or tasks.
  • Automatic activity – we are doing something where we can zone out and tune in at the same time (e.g., driving, walking, or taking a shower).
  • Relaxed – we are not stressed.

Allison shares the supporting research and examples through history of how unstructured time creates space for new thinking, innovation and positive change.  It seems ironic, but we need to deliberately take the time to be unstructured.  For me, being on a tennis court, or listening to classical music helps me relax and be inspired.

  1. Grind Time

The last bucket of time I call “Grind Time.”  This time is the opposite of my happy time, when I have the least amount of energy and or desire to focus, but it still occurs during the workday.  For me that time is 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. during the day and Friday afternoons – when I am looking forward to weekend activities and spending time with friends.

To be productive during these low energy states I focus on routine tasks that require the least amount of complex thinking on my end.  When I owned my own business, I filled this time sending out invoices and other administrative duties.  When I worked for companies, I spent this time answering non-urgent emails or completing expense reports.  As long as I was not interrupting others’ “Happy Time” it was also a good time to check-in with others, network, and get the latest gossip.

Take some time to review your calendar and reflect on your patterns of peak and low energy.  Use that information to manage your workload and achieve maximum results with less effort.

Bottom Line

To maximize productivity, manage your mindset and energy level and triage your work activity into Happy Time, Unstructured Time, or Grind Time.

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