I’m drinking a latte in a café at the Hidden Gardens. I am not doing any Open University work today, despite a looming assignment deadline and the final exam in a few weeks. I was at Crossfit this morning, I’m here this afternoon, and I’m going to a Passover demonstration tonight. This might seem like a strange approach for someone who is determined to succeed in their degree…
I can achieve a surprising amount in a short space of time, if it has my full attention – far more so than in a full day of distracted effort. I can do two or three hours of academic work (of the focused kind) before my concentration and productivity sharply decline. Sometimes I will push on for longer, filling the later hours with less strenuous tasks. And then I’m done.
I have heard people say, ‘Don’t manage your time; manage your energy.’ This advice has been incredibly helpful to me. I’ve stopped beating myself up when I can’t achieve all I’d like in a ‘free day’, because it’s rarely through lack of effort or motivation; just tiredness. As importantly, I now take proactive steps, rather than waiting until I’m burnt out.
Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but it’s important: You get no marks for being miserable. You get no marks for being stressed. You get no marks for chaining yourself to your desk and being an academic martyr. You get no marks for the number of hours you work. You get marks because of productive work.
I need plenty of time – time away from a project – to be productive. I need to restore my energy, my creativity, and my connection with what’s going on in the present. If I let long-term goals completely control my mind, and let the ‘struggle’ become more important than actual productivity, then all I will achieve is a stark white page and crippling anxiety.
So, today I am managing my energy, in some of my favourite ways: getting exercise and fresh air, writing because I want to, watching people enjoy their day out, spending quality time with my family, and musing over lots of little things that are important now.