Laura Vanderkam, the time management expert who wrote Off the Clock and Juliet’s School of Possibilities, is here to answer your scheduling questions. Check back every week for more advice, and send your own productivity problems to email@example.com. (Your name will not be used.)
Dear Laura: I start the day full of energy, but every afternoon around 3 p.m., I crash and lose intensity. I looked up at 3:30 p.m today and realized I had lost 40 minutes to comparing prices on couches that I don’t actually intend to buy. Is there any way to avoid this?
Losing chunks of time down internet rabbit holes is a natural consequence of waning energy. After intense work, you need a break. If you don’t take a real break, your brain will take a fake one — which explains why you wind up at Pottery Barn’s website even though you don’t need a sofa.
But, sadly, finding a great deal for your imaginary living room isn’t all that energizing. Real productivity involves managing your energy alongside your hours.
Instead of working until your brain forces you to zone out for a bit, proactively plan real breaks in your day. This is a three-step process. First, assess when your energy slumps. Then, figure out what activities you find energizing. Finally, add in those energy boosters to your slump times. You’ll be unstoppable.
The first step is pretty straightforward. You probably already know roughly when you’re dragging, but if you’re not sure, try tracking your time and then giving yourself an energy score every 30 minutes. A 10 means you’re ready to run a marathon. A zero means you’re flat on your back. Most of the time, you’re somewhere in the middle.
Some of this is biological — most people have more energy in the morning and less in midafternoon — but some of it is situational. An intense, confrontational meeting is more draining than organizing your inbox. An extrovert might find a big group networking event energizing, an introvert less so. Once you monitor your energy for a few days, you’ll be able to see patterns. And that means, each day, you will be able to look at your schedule and pinpoint your deepest troughs.