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4 Efficient Productivity Frameworks to Manage Your Energy and Focus — Instead of Surrendering Control of Your Time (and Life) to Someone Else

4 Efficient Productivity Frameworks to Manage Your Energy and Focus — Instead of Surrendering Control of Your Time (and Life) to Someone Else
Photo by Kevin Ku

Self-Mastery 101: How time management makes aspiring creators, change-makers, and thought leaders less effective.

Time — What Is it Good For?

If you are an employee or have a full-time contract, a large portion of your day is essentially managed by the needs of a corporation or another person.

However, if you’re self-employed, are you truly in control of your time? What are your values about the time you spend working versus the time you allocate to enjoying the rest of your life? Whatever your working situation, you have the opportunity to better manage your energy and focus throughout the day when you know what you can control.

4 Productivity Frameworks that will make you a happier and more efficient creator.

  1. Mind Management Versus Time Management
  2. Schedule Self-Time Before Anything Else
  3. Chunk Your Day Into Time Blocks
  4. Daily/Weekly Review & Planning

Each of the 4 Frameworks cultivates the others.

You might want to put into practice the framework you think will have the most immediate or impactful difference in your efficiency and peace of mind. Each framework takes time to implement for your own needs. Be patient and allow yourself to fail while trying them out, adjusting, refining, and starting over as needed.

Let’s get started.

Framework #1 — Mind Management Versus Time Management

David Kadavy wrote what I consider to be one of the best books on this topic: “Mind Management, Not Time Management: Productivity When Creativity Matters.” For this article, I have added my unique perspective and approach that build upon Kadavy’s ideas. What follows, are the different types of energy and focus required to be a highly efficient creator, change-maker, or thought leader.

There are essentially 5 types of mind management work that support creative output and are based on your available energy, willpower, discipline, and ability to focus on a single task with minimal distraction.

The 5 types of mind-management work:

Let’s begin with the most essential work of a creator:

1. Creative Generation

For many people, creative energy is highest in the morning.

Mental focus is also often sharpest in the earlier part of the day. You can maximize your creative generation efficiency when you plan and practice minimizing distractions that suck your energy and focus. Specifically, plan to work exclusively on a creative project before you shift your attention to emails, reading news, browsing social media, or tasks that require critical thinking. Whenever you are most easily creative is the time of day you must protect at all costs if you want to accomplish your goals efficiently, on time, and have fun along the way.

If you make creative generation a ‘sacred’ and recurring block of time in your day, you also cultivate the potential for entering a flow state.

This affords you the highest form of playful creativity without judgment. When you’re in flow, your ego mind is at rest. For example, during my morning time block dedicated to my creative generation, I dictated a rough draft of this article, free from thoughts of grammar, spelling, structure, and formatting. The ideas were literally rushing — streaming — faster than I could speak them out.

The analytical mindset of production comes later.

Pure creative generation and critical thinking are like oil and water — they do not mix. Making creative generation a priority — a sacred time in your day — can be the most difficult of the 5 types of work to commit to. When work is fun and playful, it doesn’t seem like work. Isn’t that worth striving for?

Imagine how much you could easily accomplish if you tapped into your optimal time of day for creative energy and focus and had fun doing it.

2. Creative Production

When you set your mind to producing your creative work, you use the more analytical parts of your brain that you don’t want active during creative generation.

During your creative generation, you want to be free from judgment. But once you’ve done that work, you need to refine and polish what you’ve created by getting thoughtfully critical.

For example, to edit this article, I got into an analytical frame of mind to read for the things I mentioned above (grammar, spelling, structure, formatting). This allows me to better refine my message for clarity, ease of reading, and enjoyment for the reader. I may add more ideas and content, which requires creative thinking but is done through the mindset of improving the original draft.

As a creator, change-maker, or thought leader, you need to communicate your message effectively.

A lot of work goes into crafting a message that’s well-received and generates followers, dialogue, and clients. Creative generation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, nor is it always the first thing. Our raw ideas require the refinement of production, but also the support of research, administration, and income (so we can keep a roof over our heads to do the work we love).

3. Reading for Research and Inspiration

‘Readers are leaders.’

Reading that adds to your creative output, ideation, and critical thinking should not be a random event. To get the most out of what you read, you need to carefully choose what you consume, set up reading blocks in your schedule, and know when to stop if the material isn’t useful. For creative thinking and ideation, there are two types of reading.

#1. The first is reading for research.

This is the information you consume to support and validate your ideas, develop a new skill, add to your knowledge, or prepare for a work-related project like an interview or presenting a speech.

#2. The second is reading for inspiration.

This includes reading broadly outside your area of expertise to expand your knowledge, discover the intersection of disparate concepts, and spark new ideas as a result.

In my opinion, reading fiction for enjoyment falls into this category as well. Fiction teaches you about storytelling, style, and plot development (think pacing and development of your ideas) and depending on the author, how to write well. Besides developing knowledge and refining ideas, whether writing or speaking, the better you communicate and tell stories, the easier it is to build an audience that wants to hear from you and create paying clients.

4. Client-Facing Work

This is the time for which you are getting paid — the reward for your creative ideas, skills, and wisdom.

This could be working face-to-face with clients, or indirectly — meaning you are on the clock completing a project which has a delivery date.

If you’re paid by the hour, you need to be aware of your true rate. This is the time you spend with a client, including travel, preparation, and administration, that happens outside the time spent facing the client. For example, if you charge $200 per hour and spend 30 minutes travelling to your client and another 30 minutes of preparation or follow-up, your true rate is only $100 per hour — 50% less than what you thought you were earning.

If you charge a flat rate by the project or bill by retainer, consider including the above ‘hidden costs’ — but beware of the tendency to give away too much of your time if you don’t establish limits and boundaries with clients.

5. Administration

This is a broad category consisting of tasks and projects that generally speaking don’t need creative or playful energy.

A word of caution: Some administrative tasks can be routine and require little energy to accomplish, while others require a high degree of mental focus. Working on a complex budget in a spreadsheet is a good example of requiring mental focus — you want to avoid screwing up your numbers or finances!

My suggestion is to schedule your recurring administrative tasks in your day or week based on the energy and focus required. Posting on social media might be something you can do later in the day. Responding to comments might be something you do after lunch, depending on how engaged you are with your audience or the level of priority.

Administrative tasks may include,

  • Managing your finances like invoices, receivables, bill payments, and budgeting;
  • Managing your email inboxes and responding to comments;
  • Networking in person or virtual meetings, and on social media;
  • Posting content on social media to support your business, and;
  • Daily and weekly planning and review sessions.

Framework #2 — Schedule Self-Time Before Anything Else

Before you schedule anything work-related, book your vacations, long weekends, sabbaticals, recovery days, date nights, time with your family or partner, and leisure as a priority in your calendar.

It can be challenging to put yourself first.

Most of us have been taught the value of productivity, the ‘Protestant work ethic,’ getting things done on time, being hyper-efficient, and goal-focused, and the value of hard work or the grind and the hustle. There’s nothing wrong with any of those individual ideas by themselves, however, most of us were not taught the importance of making time for ourselves. We were not taught to prioritize introspection, recovery time, rest, daydreaming, and play.

The truth is, the reason you were not taught about prioritizing time off is that you were trained in elementary and high school to be an obedient worker.

You were taught to go into the workforce as soon as possible and become a human widget of someone else’s design without complaint. If you’re self-employed or an entrepreneur, you may have chosen this path because you want to be in control of your life. The only problem is that old habits die hard. We picked self-employment, thinking we would now have all the freedom in the world. Yet, we manage ourselves the same way we were taught to be managed — which means you’re now your own boss and over-worked employee at the same time!

If you don’t prioritize self-time and manage your energy, someone else will.

The shortest and quickest path to emotional and cognitive burnout is to prioritize work responsibilities instead of your humanity.

For example, I recently realized the importance of taking more time off and have implemented this practice. For the summer months of July and August this year, I am not working on Fridays. When I first blocked off Fridays in my calendar, I felt a bit of panic and guilt, as if I wasn’t allowed to make this decision for myself. Yet, when I finally made adjustments in my agenda and long-term planning to accommodate recurring Fridays off, I felt a sense of relief and joyful anticipation.

As of this writing, I’ve now enjoyed two Fridays in July off from work — and I did not feel guilty whatsoever!

There’s a longer backstory to the necessity of this decision. It was a matter of, if I don’t make a change now, I’m going to get sick or worse. Occasionally, we need to be literally up against a wall before we realize we’ve forgotten to prioritize our mental, emotional, and physical health.

Framework #3 — Chunk Your Day Into Time Blocks

Give priority to your single most important project, goal, or dream.

Consider using this focusing question from Gary Keller’s book, “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth About Extraordinary Results:”

“What is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will happen on its own or is unnecessary?”

Your answer is the ONE thing you should prioritize preferably in the morning and for 3 to 4 hours of uninterrupted, distraction-free time if your schedule permits.

If you’re self-employed, you’ll have the freedom to structure your days this way. The benefits to focusing on your most significant project or your ONE thing are numerous. If you think about it logically, when you prioritize your most significant project to the earliest part of your day, you’ll have the most energy, willpower, and discipline to remain focused.

When you schedule your most critical project first thing in the day, you are less likely to need willpower or discipline to get started.

If you wait until the end of the day, there will always be a good reason to skip it or do something that seems more important.

Choosing to prioritize your ONE thing shouldn’t feel like you’re limiting your freedom.

If you’ve practiced the habit of doing your most significant project first thing, you should feel freedom and joy from doing what matters most — and enjoy the results of more efficient production in your business.

Framework #4 — Daily/Weekly Review & Planning

Which came first? The plan or the review? This is the yin and yang of efficient productivity: you can’t have one without the other.

There are more templates, programs, and ideological approaches to planning and review than anyone could try in a lifetime. The truth is that the planning process is relatively simple, but doing it well does require time, focus, and commitment. What I’m going to show you is my process — not a template — which will hopefully inspire you to create your own process based on your unique needs.

End-of-Day: Review Today and Plan Tomorrow.

  1. Review what you accomplished and what’s undone.
  2. Review tomorrow’s plan and adjust it if necessary.
  3. Journaling prompt: What well today?

When possible, I try to end my working day and do my review before I have dinner. This doesn’t always happen, but when it does, I feel so much lighter and free to enjoy the evening. Occasionally, this process takes 5–10 minutes, and other times I find myself lost in the process for 30–60 minutes.

If an hour-long end-of-day review surprises you, allow me to explain.

Having done this process for almost a year, I recognize the value of planning ahead to make my creative work focused, more intentional, and efficient. When a review takes longer, it’s because ideas sparked in me causing me to consider the bigger picture, a longer-term goal, or I’ve hit the proverbial fork in the road and need to review and redraw my map. At that point, I might be reviewing my calendar, long-form project notes and ideas that I’ve created in my personal knowledge management app, Roam, and adjusting my plans accordingly.

Just because you have a map, a plan, and a direction, doesn’t mean you,

  1. Never get lost or frustrated;
  2. Suddenly realize you don’t like the path you’re on, or;
  3. Recognize that you’re in uncharted territory, and need to take a 10,000-foot view to map out your next steps.

Returning to the simplicity of this process, I review my To-Do items that are not completed and either reschedule, defer, or delete them. This may affect my previously planned agenda for tomorrow. This is why it’s necessary to review your plan and to consider, What’s the ONE thing I can do that will make the biggest impact on what I want to accomplish.

Then I finish my end-of-day review with the journaling prompt, What Went Well Today?

If you want to feel accomplished, happy, and grateful at the end of your day, try this easy 5-minute journaling practice.

First, list 3 things that went well in your day.

This is as simple as it gets. Take a few moments to consider what went well today by reviewing your calendar, agenda, emails, texts, phone calls, and any notes you’ve made. Write down the first thing that comes to mind — no matter how small — and then write two more.

Next, for each positive event, write more detail by asking only one of the following questions:

  1. Why did this good thing happen?
  2. What does this mean to me and specifically, how does this make me feel?
  3. How can I have more of this good thing in the future?

If you only take one thing from this article, make it this process!

Earlier this year, I was focusing on my struggles and the goals I hadn’t accomplished.

My mindset was becoming negative and depressed. Within days of implementing this process, I began to feel contentment and satisfaction that I did something meaningful. I still might feel behind on my tasks or have had a difficult day, but my mindset shifted from thinking about, “What’s not working?”, to feeling empowered and accomplished — a superior way to end my day on a high note.

End-of-Week Review and Planning Next Week.

  1. Journaling prompt: What went well this week?
  2. Plan next week

Step 1 is a great way to remind yourself of what went well each day of the past week.

You could use the same prompts for the What Went Well Today process — just replace ‘today’ with ‘this week.’ Or review each daily entry for What Went Welland reflect on what you wrote or add new notes to deepen the appreciation of your accomplishments and what you’ve learned. Come up with your own framework or questions to create a process that cultivates efficiency and contentment.

Here’s my framework for planning my next week.

The planning and review process should be organic. I have templates that I use in my Roam app that I modify regularly. Things change, your work hours change, and your goals change. This is the yin and yang of planning: when one thing changes, you have to adjust what’s in relation to re-balance your productivity.

When I plan my next week, I start with my weekly admin.

This includes administrative tasks like backups, reviewing my budget and invoices, and so on. Then I populate my agenda with my daily templates that outline my ‘time chunks’ for each day of the week. Next, I add calendar bookings for events and meetings that are time-based and require my presence. Lastly, I review my list of writing ideas and projects, podcast episode ideas, business growth plans, and so on. I assign tasks and notes associated with those projects to specific days in my agenda.

For example, my publishing plan is to release two articles and one podcast episode per week.

There are numerous tasks associated with each of those projects from writing the first draft, editing and polishing, research, production, writing social media updates, and so on. Those tasks are scheduled in my agenda on different days and at different times of the day based on when I have the best energy and focus to be most efficient in my work.

If you’re not familiar with integrating your calendar, agenda, and note-taking or personal knowledge management system into an organic whole, read this short article I wrote.

The beauty of having a well-designed system for energy and mindset management is that you can park your ideas and unburden your mind from having to remember what’s unnecessary.

If you’re always running late or missing appointments, you need a framework of practices in your life as I’ve described in this article. If you’re constantly stressed out, and feeling like you have too much to do, you’re probably stuck in your head, disorganized, and without a clearly detailed plan.

Time is something we create — It’s only an idea and it’s not real.

You can’t manage time, but you do have the power to manage your energy and focus to efficiently grow your business as a creator, change-maker, or thought leader.

With the frameworks I’ve described in place, you can thrive in your work and enjoy greater freedom, happiness, and contentment in your life.