The When and What Strategy
When at my lowest point of burnout, the quality of my questions kept improving, aiding my recovery, and returning strength. Using two simple words, “When” and “What,” I started logging my experiences and related activities by the hour paying particular attention to my emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual +/- energy and engagement.
Here are a few entries to give you a flavor of what I captured.
When: + 6 am feeling zip and zeal. What activity: + coffee and journal.
When: – 2 pm malaise and indifference. What activity: – answering email.
When: – 10 pm ready for bed. What activity: – “Hey, honey, can we talk about our marriage.”
Illuminated over weeks were natural recurrences reflected in peaks, plateaus, and valleys in both the quality and amount of my energy. Scientifically these dips and troughs are known as Circadian rhythms-our twenty-four-hour body clock.
My eureka discovery was that my What, the specific activities, tasks, duties, and relationships I was engaged in were impacted +/- by When, the time of day, resulting in an increase or decrease of energy and engagement. My energy journal taught me how to start aligning the task, project, and Activity with the appropriate quality and level of energy required. Doesn’t it sound reminiscent of the same lesson that I started learning while running my first marathon?
When Circadian Rhythm questions
When do I
-Naturally, feel a zip in my step, optimism, and enthusiasm?
-Feel a lower quality of energy?
-Experience a dip in my productivity, optimism, and focus?
What quality of engagement What/Which
-Do activities require my creative juices, focus, and clarity?
-Are relationships easy to engage vs. require more energy from you?
-Topics, meetings, projects are charged with positive + or negative – energy?
My owner’s manual reads
I’m a morning person. My sweet spot for productivity is from 6 am to 11 am (green zone). That’s my flow state for performance and focus. Around 2 pm (yellow zone), the maritime mental fog starts rolling in, and I’m ready for a break. Back to humility and learning to pace myself, I’ve accepted that there is no sense in pushing and demanding more from myself. My owner’s manual reads, “It’s time for a quick power nap and a walk outside” to replenish my batteries for a potential second wind again around 4 pm.
Life’s apprenticed me that a 10 pm conference call or a “hey honey, can we talk about our marriage” conversation will be challenging for me to bring my best self (red zone). At about 9 pm, I start plotting my exit to find a book and my pillow. Why fight it? Why pretend that you’re going to do your best work, deep thinking, problem-solving, or navigate relational friction at a time of the day you know isn’t optimal?
Keep going by right-sizing the task to the energy zone
An easy pro tip that I regularly use is that I plan my creative work in the mornings (high green zone energy) and administration work in the afternoons (mid energy zone). Sending invoices to clients is essential work, but it doesn’t require the same level of creativity that writing does.
7 am (high energy): Writing project (requires high engagement & focus)
2 pm (lower energy): Accounting tasks (low engagement & attention)
To go the distance and make your highest value contribution, we need to align our energy and engagement windows. Be courageous. Choose the people you love and learn how to keep going.
Download my free guide on How to Keep Going: Learning to Pace Yourself.