Whether you end up working from home or manage to be mobile, being your own boss allows you the freedom and flexibility to set your own schedule. This is one of the biggest perks of being self-employed. That said, managing your time effectively can be a little tricky as you transition from corporate to freelance life.
The rules below, backed up by research, will help you redefine how you set your schedule and hopefully change your life for the better.
Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 8.7 hours daily Monday through Friday. This schedule, a vestige of the Industrial Revolution, came from factories that needed to maximize their output as much as possible.
However, in today’s modern, internet-driven workforce, this schedule is archaic at best, especially when you consider there’s little relation between how long someone works per day and how efficient or productive they actually are within that time.
As PickTheBrain.com points out, “In the case of the modern information worker, nearly all tasks involve creative or strategic thinking. The way someone answers an email or interprets a piece of information can differ drastically depending on his or her energy level. Nobody does their best work at 5:30 in the afternoon after they’ve been sucking down coffee all day to stay awake.”
If you agree with this sentiment, you are not alone: There is a global campaign to instigate a standard four-hour workday without reducing income. Sound crazy? Not if you consider the research of Tony Schwartz, who created The Energy Project to restructure how we work. His philosophy can be boiled down to a single quote: “Manage your energy, not your time.”
Schwartz articulated that we have four different types of energies to manage every day:
- Your physical energy: how healthy are you?
- Your emotional energy: how happy are you?
- Your mental energy: how well can you focus?
- Your spiritual energy: what is your higher motivation?
According to The Energy Project, 59% of workers are fatigued at their jobs. As the Energy Project’s manager of business development Michael Frisbie states, “People are often being asked to do more and more each year, but we’re not investing in their capacity to meet this.”
According to their philosophy, the way to meet this increased demand is by managing our energy efficiently. We are often conditioned to view our working lives as a marathon. In actuality, our working lives are better measured as a series of sprints. The marathon approach is liable to make us more unproductive than anything.
The Importance of Sleep
Consider, for example, a Federal Aviation Administration study of pilots on long flights that shows the crucial importance of resting when your energy levels are low:
- One group of pilots was given an opportunity to take 40-minute naps mid-flight and ended up getting an average of 26 minutes of actual sleep. Their median reaction time improved by 16% following their naps.
- Non-napping pilots, tested at a similar halfway point in the flight, had a 34% deterioration in reaction time. They also experienced 22 micro-sleeps of two to 10 seconds during the last 30 minutes of the flight. The pilots who took naps had none.
Of course, these results don’t just apply to airline pilots. Anyone who pushes him or herself too hard for too long puts themselves, their teams, their companies and the general public in serious jeopardy, says Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, the Baldino Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.To him, encouraging a sleepless workforce culture is worse than nonsensical; it’s downright dangerous and the “antithesis of intelligent management.”
He notes that while corporations have all kinds of policies designed to prevent employee endangerment—i.e. rules against workplace smoking, drinking, drugs, sexual harassment and so on—they sometimes push employees to the brink of self-destruction. Being “on” pretty much around the clock induces a level of impairment every bit as risky as intoxication.
Some of the health risks associated with sleep deprivation include:
- Weakened immune system
- Mental instability
- Shortened longevity
- Impaired memory
The Rhythm of Productivity
But even more compelling is the fact that our brains aren’t organically wired to work for such unforgiving stretches. The Ultradian Rhythm dictates that our minds can focus on any given task for approximately 90 to 120 minutes at a time—which, not coincidentally, is the average length of a movie. After this period of focus, a 20- to 30-minute break is generally required for us to renew our minds before tackling the next task. Instead of thinking about “What can I get done in an eight-hour day”, start to change your thinking to “What can I get done in a 90-minute session?”
- If you break up your days into four, five or however many 90-minute windows, you will be able to have approximately four tasks that you can get done every day much more easily.
- “Strategic renewal” includes daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations. Even little things, such as getting away from your workspace for your lunch break, can have a positive impact on the rest of your day. Let’s face it: no one wants a sad desk lunch.
So given the science behind the rules above, consider re-structuring your schedule away from the standard eight-hour workday. Focus on being as productive as possible, not on pushing yourself to your limits. And remember, one of the biggest advantages of avoiding the corporate lifestyle is the ability to work smarter, not harder.
When you can honor your body’s natural energy cycles and use them more efficiently, you will find that working when and how you want will improve your productivity, your business—and your health—substantially.
By: Marco Mannone