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Energy Management vs. Time Management: Why Energy Should Come First

Coping with workplace stress? Learn how to manage your work around your energy levels, not your time, using these energy management tips for agencies and freelancers.

Do you ever wonder where the day went—and why you didn’t get more done? You aren’t alone. In our 2022 Mailchimp & Co Benchmark Report, an invaluable resource that details what over 2,000 surveyed agencies and freelancers from 63 countries think, 30% of surveyed freelancers said that time management is one of the biggest challenges they face. Similarly, 34% of surveyed agencies said that deciding how they spend their time is one of their top priorities.

The temptation to resolve our time management conundrum by parking ourselves in front of our desks is strong; after all, the more time you spend working, the more work you’ll produce, right? In some circles, this attitude can lead to burnout, as manifested in mantras like “I'll sleep when I'm dead”—a glib joke, but also an uncomfortable admission that we subconsciously seem to value productivity more than life itself.

In reality, being obsessed with productivity can become unproductive and potentially harmful. If you adopt an all-work, no-play mindset, you might jeopardize your physical, mental, and emotional health, not to mention your performance. And once you’ve fallen into overworking, it can be hard to pump the brakes. Soon enough, you may experience burnout: Insomnia, fatigue, increased distraction, or even more serious health problems could be some of the telltale signs.

If you’re a budding freelancer, that can mean you’re working solo, which can become exhausting. If that’s you, it can be tempting to stay in “work mode” for hours on end without shutting off. Or maybe you run an accomplished agency, and have a tendency to respond to rising demands by working longer hours or taking on more responsibilities. When these things happen, people often look to improve their time management as a way to accomplish more. The problem with this strategy? Time is a finite resource over which we have no control.

That’s why, to avoid excessive stress and burnout, you can learn how to manage your energy, not your time. A shift from time management to energy management means doing more things on your terms: when and where you work, under what conditions, and with whom. It works from the premise that it’s not the hours in the day, but how you spend them, that really counts.

Before we dive into tips that can help you manage your energy, don’t forget to download our Energy Tracker to record your daily activity throughout your work week. This sheet can help you identify how you do your best work and when you may need to adjust your schedule to better align with your energy levels.

Here are 5 ways you can learn how to manage your energy, not your time—and maximize your productivity.

1. Identify what increases (and drains) your energy

Running a business means juggling a lot of priorities—often competing ones. As an agency owner or freelancer, you may respond to these increasing pressures by investing more time working to stay on top of your to-do list.

Creative professionals are definitely keeping busy. In this year’s Benchmark Report, 39% of surveyed agencies who reported earning under $1 million in revenue said they’re too busy working in the business to work on it, while 22% of responding agencies who reported earning over $1 million in revenue said the same. But being busy doesn’t necessarily mean higher productivity. Working nonstop can siphon off your energy if you aren’t careful, so it’s important to start thinking about how to harness and direct it.

It’s easier to manage your efforts if you identify what replenishes your energy and reduces it while working. And implementing energy management techniques can help you view your daily tasks as more manageable and fulfilling. Here are a few tips you might consider adopting.

Monitor your screen time

Imagine you’re at a beach overlooking translucent turquoise waters, feeling the solemn resolve of someone on vacation and out of office. No calls buzzing in your ear. No need to fire off a response at the drop of a Slack ping or client email. Sounds great, right? Of course it does. Every now and then, we need a break from taking in data constantly. That’s why that day at the beach is so blissful—and why we come back to work feeling recharged.

When you can’t actually get away to the beach, you can still get some much-needed R&R by reducing your screen time. Set times during the day when you’ll read something on paper, talk to someone in person, or just shut off the screen and close your eyes for a few minutes. Like that beach getaway, taking a break from screens and alerts can help you feel more energized when you get back to business.

Keep a food diary

It’s hardly news that poor nutrition can sap your energy, interfere with your focus, and harm your overall well-being. Despite knowing better, sometimes we develop unhealthy eating habits when managing time constraints and high-priority demands at work. Make yourself more aware of what you’re consuming and how it might be contributing to your energy levels by logging your daily food intake. For example, you can pay attention to whether your energy spikes or dips after you eat lunch. Did you eat a little or a lot? Was it a burger or a salad? Keeping a food diary can help you spot patterns you weren’t even aware of—and then act on them.

Stick to a sleep schedule

You’re slumped over in your chair, eyes squinting, reading over client emails and work requests, and you’re feeling worn out. And here’s the really bad news: it’s only 10:30 am. You’re hoping caffeine will revive you, but after 3 cups, no such luck.

It seems like an obvious question, but it’s one many don’t ask often enough: have you gotten enough sleep? Getting a good night’s rest every once in a while is not enough. Ample, consistent rest time and having good sleep hygiene can help you manage your energy.

One challenge for agencies and freelancers is that they can sometimes bear the brunt of time zone differences and irregular working hours, impacting their circadian rhythm and sleep routine. If that’s the case for you, don’t despair: hitting the sack and waking up around the same time each day—even if you’re not on the classic 9-to-5 schedule—can help you feel more energized throughout the day.

Everyone’s sleep needs are different, but one rule is universal: find out what you need, create a routine, and stick to it.

2. Set boundaries to help preserve your energy

Boundaries, like good old-fashioned fences, help regulate access between you, your relationships, your work life—and how closely they can interact. When setting boundaries, zero in on the environments and people that help you feel more (or less) energized. Where do you get your best brainstorming done? Why do these spaces and faces give you an energy boost? Answering questions like this can help you set boundaries that have the power to increase your energy—and shield it from what can drain it.

After taking inventory of what refreshes and what exhausts your energy, then setting a few boundaries, don’t be surprised if you find that your routine needs some adjustment. Boundaries aren’t meant to be fixed or punitive; instead, they’re put in place to help you foster awareness of how you allocate your energy throughout the day, so you’re using it in a way that works best for you.

3. Delegate tasks to help you stay energized

As an agency owner or freelancer, you have mounting responsibilities that can sometimes become overwhelming. The best leaders recognize that they can’t accomplish everything on their own. With delegation, you can hand off specific responsibilities to team members or subcontractors and create more opportunities to achieve the tasks on your plate. If you haven’t built your team up yet, you can hire a subcontractor as a freelancer to help you delegate responsibilities better.

Delegation isn’t about forgoing responsibilities or micromanaging; instead, it’s about leadership that promotes collaborative work to achieve more. Just ask Alessandra Farabegoli, Mailchimp pro partner, email marketing specialist, and co-founder of Palabra. She shared this insight in this year’s Benchmark Report:

“For me, leadership is about sharing goals, resources, attention, and knowledge. When team members share common goals and take part in defining the corporate culture, you can stop micromanaging and start investing your time and energy into reaching greater heights.”

Make delegation part of your work culture to help reinforce the message that maintaining a thriving business and keeping everyone energized is a team effort. Not sure where to begin? Here are a few tips that can help you learn how to delegate.

Share responsibilities…but responsibly

If there’s a task you regularly perform, but another person on your staff has shown they can handle it, why not let them take the reins? Giving team members autonomy over projects can help them develop new skills and boost their confidence. And since it takes tasks off your plate—giving you more time and energy—it’s a win-win.

That said, you can’t delegate every task—and you shouldn’t. To minimize friction and burnout, delegate work to others based on their skills, abilities, and current workload, not solely based on what you need off your plate. By learning your team’s strengths and weaknesses, you can devise a plan for how to transfer duties to the appropriate person at the right moment, freeing up your own time.

Set your team up for success

Doling out unintelligible briefs with unclear deliverables isn’t delegating—it’s dumping. Be sure your briefs and project outlines are thorough and unambiguous before handing them off to team members. Items that should be spelled out include:

  • Project name
  • The goals you’d like to achieve
  • Logistical breakdown of deliverables
  • Target audience
  • Timeline
  • Metrics of success

Before delegating projects to another person, find out if they need training or resources to complete the task. Without proper guidance, your staff might not achieve the outcome you’re looking for, and you may wind up adding that project back onto your to-do list.

Focus on the desired outcome, emphasize why completing the task can help your organization succeed, and help address any gaps between your staff’s capabilities and the project’s requirements. In doing this, you’re not only helping to reduce your own workload and stress, you’re learning how to build a more skilled and resilient team.

Check in and cheer on

Paramount to delegating well is mastering the subtle art of giving your team new tasks and responsibilities without micromanaging them. As you hand off projects and free up your time, you don’t want to disappear, either.

Keep an open line of communication so that your team can ask you questions if need be. Set up regular check-ins to help you address blockers and stay apprised of your team’s progress without controlling the whole process. And don’t forget to acknowledge your teammates once they complete the project. Candid feedback is the key to growth.

4. Multitasking? Try monotasking

Remember that beach vacation? Part of what makes it so appealing is its simplicity: fewer distractions, fewer decisions, and fewer “what file was I looking for again?” moments. While we’re programmed to bounce between emails, phone calls, and other notification nuisances, we can often accomplish more by doing less.

Instead of multitasking as a default, try monotasking. Monotasking means focusing on one thing at a time. This practice can help you learn how to reduce distractions and errors, and allow you to funnel better, more focused energy into each task. Need help getting started? Here are a few ways to make the move from multi to mono.

Jot down your main tasks

Create a list of your top priorities to help you learn how to identify what you need to accomplish before anything else. Decide what can get done today. Then tomorrow. Choose the time of the day when you feel the most energized to tackle your primary tasks.

Schedule focus time on your calendar

Your time is valuable. Make sure you protect it. Reserving focus time on your calendar helps signal to your clients, coworkers, and managers that to get more done, you need to work without interruptions. So, just like you schedule meetings with others, add some blocks of focused time to your calendar and treat them with the same respect as you give to any other meeting. Setting an appointment with yourself each day, to do things on your terms, isn’t an indulgence. It’s an integral part of managing your energy and output.

5. Automate to help you achieve more in less time

Here’s one last thought as you ponder how to get your tasks done while preserving your energy: Have you considered that you might not need to do them? Ask yourself how automation can help you blaze through your to-do list and tasks we used to do by hand. It might be more than you think.

As a Mailchimp user, you might have already tinkered with our automation tools, like our Customer Journey Builder. But if you haven’t gotten to try it out, this tool helps you build custom, automated marketing workflows for your clients. With built-in triggers for everyday activities, automation tools like these have the power to help you maximize your clients’ marketing. Unlock our builder’s full capabilities to help your clients send the right messages to the right people at the right time. And if they’re happy, you’ll unlock more opportunities to relax and restock your energy supplies—and maybe, just maybe, get away to the beach, too.

Mailchimp & Co can help energize your business

Our community of like-minded and supportive marketers is committed to helping freelancers and agencies like you do your best work. Join us today and unlock a wealth of free tools and resources that can help you stay on for your clients even when you’re logged off.

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