Obligation Management

blog boundaries Jun 25, 2020

Listen. If you are a driven woman, you have simply got to get in control of your day. Otherwise, it will control you. I am a bit of a productivity fanatic, so I am always on the lookout for every new app, brain hack, and planner that promises to help me get more done in less time. BUT, none of those tools are going to make a bit of difference unless you make and follow some simple rules about where your time goes, and to whom. 

For years, I called my efforts to get shit done "time management". There's a shit ton of info on the internet about how to manage your time better and I have tried all of those things. Some of them even worked, at least for a little while or as long as I actually used them, more on that later. It took me a long ass time to recognize that it wasn't really my time that I needed to manage, it was my energy and my obligations. Let me explain. 

Some of us are larks and some are owls. I happen to be a lark (don't hate me.) I actually wake up early on my own (as in, without an alarm) and I always have. My eyes pop open somewhere between 5 and 5:30 AM naturally, every day of the week. I used to wake up about an hour later, but I honestly can't "sleep in" (you know, like 7 AM) no matter how late I hit the sheets. That part actually sucks, because if I choose to go to bed at midnight or later for whatever the reason, I will still wake up in the 5's and get short-changed in my sleep for the night.

Tons of driven women have to drag themselves out of bed in the morning but can stay up long after I am snoozing away and even get their best work done then. Just not me. But whether you are an early riser or a night owl, your energy level changes throughout the day. Nearly all of us have distinct periods of time each day when we are energetic and times when we are less so. If you are self-employed, a freelancer, independent contractor or remote worker and have flexibility in your schedule, you can leverage the hell out of this, by scheduling different tasks to match your energy level at that particular time of day. 

Let's say you're like me, an early riser who is more energetic in the morning (assuming I got my minimum daily requirement of restorative sleep ( more on that later). If this describes you, you are like a battery that is fully charged in the AM and you are gradually depleted as the day goes by, until you are spent and need to recharge before you can do anything more. In this case, you can arrange your tasks to take advantage of these natural rhythms by doing your most important work first, then less important and so on, until you are no longer capable of sustaining the necessary level of motivation and effort to keep producing. I think of this as energy management rather than time management. 

If you're more of a night owl, you can schedule your tasks in the reverse order, saving the really juicy, important stuff for those evening or middle of the night hours when your brain is churning out great ideas or plug numbers into spreadsheets or whatever it is you do. And if you're more of a biphasic, you can plan on two distinct periods of productivity during the day, one in the morning and one later on (I get my second wind in the late afternoon or evening) after an adequate rebooting period. I think of this as my Spanish Holiday Schedule and just pretend I am in Barcelona or Madrid and give myself a nice long siesta in the middle of the day, separating my work cycles into two phases. 

But, in addition to managing your energy in this way, you must, must, must also manage your obligations. I'm referring to all of the stuff that you do for others, both the things you choose to do and the things that are expected of you. The funny thing about obligations is that most of the time, they are unspoken, unquestioned, and have never even been agreed to. They are the things you just do because you just do them. 

If you want to get in charge of your energy, focus, and motivation, you must figure out how to manage your obligations.   If I don't know why I am doing something or if the only reason that I am doing it is that 'they" expect it,  I take a good, hard look at whether it makes sense to continue.  You might want to make a list of these things in your life and then get serious about reducing or eliminating them. 

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