We all know that time management is key to being productive. However, energy management is an often overlooked piece that can make a huge difference in your ability to prioritize and accomplish your goals. When you have ADHD, anxiety, or other mental health issues, they can severely impact your ability to be productive. Everyone will tell you to manage your time better, but time isn’t the only thing you need to think about.
Prefer to listen rather than read? Press play below.
Do You Have the Time?
Many of us complain about not having enough time to get everything done. And it never fails that someone will point out that we all have the same 24 hours. If we just learn to manage our time better, we can do it all. In theory, that makes sense.
In reality? Not so much. The problem is that for many people they need to learn to manage their energy as well as their time.
We convince ourselves that if we had more time, we would accomplish so much more with our lives. We could start a side hustle, work out and get into shape, keep the house clean.
But as I mentioned, we all have the same amount of time in the day. How we allocate the time varies. The first thing you need to look at is where your time is spent.
This is not about judging yourself. The only way to know for sure where your time goes is to track it. It sounds silly, but most people don’t know where or how they’re wasting time. And if you have ADHD, you might be time blind. You really don’t know how long things take or how long you spent doing something.
You need to keep a log of where every minute is spent. Lying is useless because then you won’t have accurate information from which to work. You don’t need to show this to anyone. It’s only for your use.
You will be able to see the areas of the day where you aren’t being as productive as possible. Maybe you were scrolling Facebook or Instagram (or TikTok – that one sucks time fast because the videos are so short). Maybe you sat down to watch an episode of a new show and ended up binging 5.
When you log your activities, think about when and why you engaged in those “time wasters.” We don’t typically choose these activities because we want to slack off. We do them because we run out of energy for more difficult tasks.
We all think about how limited our time is, but we rarely consider our limited energy.
We tend to think that we can do everything that we want, as long as we can schedule it, but when that doesn’t happen, we feel like failures. Our goals go unfulfilled, and we worry about pushing things off.
The problem is that we do, in fact, overextend ourselves because it looks okay on paper. It’s not realistic, though. At least not without sacrifice, and sometimes, the sacrifice is too much.
What’s the solution?
You need to recognize that your energy is finite, and you need to plan for rest. Not planning for rest means that your mind and body will take it when they want. You won’t get a choice. By planning for time blocks of rest—or “wasting time”—you will be able to be more productive.
As you look over the time tracking you did, consider the when and why of your “time wasters.” Chances are, you had no energy, so you turned to an activity that wouldn’t require more from you. If you want to be more productive, then you need to learn to prioritize—and that doesn’t mean just prioritize your to-do list but also your rest.
Prioritization when you can’t focus
One of the characteristics of ADHD is a lack of focus. Because of this, many people believe that they get caught up in time wasters and distractions because they can’t focus on the important things. Instead, consider if you are not focusing because your energy is low.
Before you can start prioritizing effectively, you need to know what time of day is your most focused, most energetic, and most productive. Knowing this can help you organize your to-do list and accomplish the tasks you want to complete.
All of us have peak times when we prefer to work. I’m sure you’ve heard people call themselves night owls or morning people. There is a whole range of productivity times, though. Look at your time tracker. Where were you able to get the most done?
If you consistently power through tasks in the morning, that’s your peak time. But maybe you’re an afternoon person or an evening person. It’s possible that your best thinking time is at midnight.
Obviously, if you work a regular job, you’ll need to adjust things since your boss probably won’t let you work at midnight, but knowing when you can be most productive will help you plan your day by prioritizing your tasks.
Benefits of Prioritizing
- Simplify decisions – Once you identify the order of importance of the tasks you need to complete, making decisions becomes easier. Instead of jumping from task to task to try to get them all done (and usually not succeeding), you put your effort and energy into the most important (and urgent) things first.
- Accomplish more – There is a difference between doing more and achieving more. We all have had days where we ran ourselves ragged and felt like we got nothing done. We were “busy,” but not accomplishing the important things. Prioritizing will help you use your time more effectively.
- Reduce stress – Prioritizing will remove that feeling of not having enough time to get it all done. You learn to accept your limits and work within them, which reduces the amount of stress you put on yourself.
How do you prioritize when you struggle with focus?
- Build habits – Important commitments should have a regular time block in your day. These are non-negotiables. Maybe it’s dinner with your family or reading to your kids at bedtime. Whatever is important to you should automatically be part of your schedule. If it has a regular time, it won’t get pushed off or forgotten.
- Start strong – Fast wins are important for my ADHD-having friends. Your brain likes the feel of a win. If you accomplish something small first thing, you’ll be able to build momentum to keep going.
- Organize your day – When you plan your to-do list, put the most important and most urgent things during your peak time for productivity. Then filter the other, less important things around those.
- Shorten your list – Look at all the things on your list and cut the non-essential items or move them to another day. Decide what things need to be done well and which ones just need to be done. Cut yourself some slack; not everything has to be perfect.
- Write it down – Committing to a schedule is more likely to happen if you write it down. We all know that I am a huge fan of planners. Find one you like and use it. If you really can’t commit to a planner, have a notebook or pad of paper that you regularly use for your daily schedule or to-do list. Remember, habits build consistency, and consistency breeds success.
- Plan for breaks – Downtime helps restore your energy and focus. If you have a busy day that will drain your energy, plan breaks more often.
- Break it up – When you have difficult tasks that you know will zap your energy and tax your focus, break them down into smaller steps. Smaller steps are easier to accomplish and give you a quick win. You will be more likely to go back to complete the next step once you feel like you’ve achieved something.
Did you know that if you sign up for my newsletter, I'll send you a sample of printable planner pages to try out? Sign up here.
Prioritizing tasks effectively takes time and practice. It’s important that you don’t berate yourself if it doesn’t work the first time you try. Start off with making an appointment with yourself to make a list of what you want to accomplish and rank them in order of importance.
For daily tasks, you might want to consider doing this the night before. If you’re not sure how to rank things, use Covey quadrants to help you figure it out.
For larger, life elements, like personal goals, you might want to check in with yourself monthly or quarterly to see if your priorities are the same or if they need adjustment.
If you want to be more productive, the first step is learning your best times for productivity. Then, prioritize your tasks to suit you. You shouldn’t have to bend to the tasks.