Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Accounting for Energy

I’ve been thinking about personal energy and our plans recently.

Often, we tend to make our plans based on our best case scenario.

We’re feeling healthy, energetic, our best selves. We then make our plans and set our timelines accordingly.

Then we beat ourselves up when the average to bad days kick in and we don’t get done what we intended to get done.

Energy management is particularly acute for those of us suffering from chronic conditions or extended illnesses.

We have good days and bad days. Sometimes, it’s tough to predict which days will be good and which ones aren’t. Sometimes, we don’t even know until we get started and realize that we either a) feel better than we thought or b) don’t. Sadly, b happens more frequently (at least in my life) than a.

I’ve been experimenting with leveraging the Scrum project management concept of “story points” as it applies to my personal projects.

First is figuring out the complexity of what I’m trying to do. Both the cognitive load required (high/average/mindlessly repetitive) and the amount of focused time I will likely need (lots/some/”this will just take a few minutes”)

Second is figuring out my energy patterns and what a realistic cadence looks like.

In Scrum – each sprint has a set of available points based on the cadence set by the team. In a personal context, you have a set of available energy points based on your productivity patterns.

You then look at your “backlog” (or the “to-do” list) and assign “story points” (or level of effort points) to each task.

Ideally, you match the tasks you intend to get done that sprint (or week) with the energy points you have available and the priority of the task.

Example: I have a high story point task I need to get done this week (such as “Finish Chapter 3 of the book” – high complexity/cognitive load AND requiring lots of focus time). If I’m going to get that task done, I shouldn’t plan to get much else done beyond previously scheduled client work (which also takes up energy points). I might find a mindless, low focus, need-to-get-done task from my backlog to fill in extra time and get it off my plate – but only if I underestimated either my energy or the amount of effort the main task takes.

I find keeping track of my to-do list (what I planned to do that day) and my done list (what I actually did) over a week or two helpful in determining what I can realistically get done. If I’ve never done this type of tracking before, I would consider doing it over 4 or more weeks – to account for any hormone fluctuations, illnesses, life patterns, etc. This tracking sets up the “energy points.”

Tracking my productivity patterns becomes especially important when I am going through a health flare-up, such as the back injury I was fighting last year or a visit from the Cookie-Monster Bathrobe.

Instead of beating myself up over what I haven’t managed to get done, I use that information to set realistic weekly sprints for myself and resetting expectations.

Any big change in your health or stress levels should trigger a re-evaluation of your energy points.

Right now, I find myself saying “no” a lot more frequently – only because I don’t have my usual number of energy points to work with on top of having high story point tasks on my plate.

I’d rather disappoint someone up front and find them a different resource that will help them with their issue than to promise something I can’t deliver. My ego hates this. I want to be able to do all the things at the pace my ego wants to set (which is instantaneous).

When it gets right down to it, maintaining positive relationships by doing what I say I’m going to do when I say I’m going to do it to the best of my ability is more important to me than serving someone poorly.

What are your current energy levels?

What tasks are on your plate, how complex are they, and when are the deadlines?

How do these match up in your life?

Let me know if you find this framework helpful.

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