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It’s Not Time You Need To Manage, It’s Your Energy


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There’s continuing evidence that working longer hours and more days hinder production instead of improving it. Unfortunately, modern construction schedulers and planners don’t take that into account. And, because of deep-seated business views on workday length, it’s not likely things will change any time soon.  

Time Robs Productivity

Studies on workday productivity loss generally find that the longer you focus on one thing the less productive you become. It’s true of people who mostly do mental work, and of those involved in very physical work.

A widely-cited statistic is that whenever people work more than eight hours, or 40 hours in a week, they become less efficient, suffer from physical fatigue and become irritable. In one of its technical papers, the American Society of Civil Engineers made the case that construction needs an updated work model because of overtime’s negative effect on productivity.

When you are fatigued you are also going to have trouble focusing, understanding, and solving problems. But, you still need to work the hours necessary to get the job done.


And, for construction there are complicating factors. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine named long workdays, heavy workloads, lack of sleep, environment, and medical conditions as prime contributors to fatigue on the job. The environmental items are especially troubling for construction workers. Heat and cold, noise, vibration, working in confined places, repetitive motions and focusing closely for long periods increase fatigue even more.

When you are fatigued you are also going to have trouble focusing, understanding, and solving problems. But, you still need to work the hours necessary to get the job done. Here is practical advice for managing your energy, starting with taking stock of how your personal choices affect your energy stores.

Harness Meaning and Purpose

If you’re working at something you hate you are getting a double whammy on energy loss. First, you’re losing energy doing something you dislike. Second, you’re not gaining the energy that comes from doing something you do like. Many people find themselves doing jobs quite by accident. They had to pay the bills. So, it’s not a character flaw. It’s just what is.

To harness this you must do some soul searching to find your priorities. Then, chart your path away from what is meaningless, and to what is meaningful.


You have a better chance at more rewarding life experiences if you are doing things that have meaning to you. If they help you find purpose, that’s even better. The energy that flows to you when you feel inspired and valuable is a deep well of energy that rejuvenates even as you work. In Maslow’s Hierarchy it is the start of self actualization, where you are on the road to your greatest potential.

To harness this you must do some soul searching to find your priorities. Then, chart your path away from what is meaningless, and to what is meaningful. Would you find a more meaningful experience estimating, rather than project management? Does electrical system design call to you instead of installing electrical components? Would you rather be working in another industry? Move toward those things that have meaning and purpose to you, and you’ll find the place where you feel effective, absorbed, inspired and fulfilled.

Lock Up Energy Thieves

When you have internal conflicts you don’t resolve, they constantly drain your energy in the background, according to Randi Gunther Ph.D. You either need to face them and resolve them, or decide to take one course until you decide to take another. Expecting the unlikely, reacting when there’s nothing you can do, procrastinating on the inevitable, staying with or not accepting bad deals you’ve made, and living in yesterday or tomorrow are other drains on your energy.

Of course, physical things like not getting enough sleep also steal your energy. Meanwhile, eating a balanced diet provides the fuel for energy, and getting regular exercise increases your energy efficiency. Taking responsibility for the personal factors you can control, improves your energy reserves.

Embrace the Break    

Humans have “ultradian rhythms” where their bodies move from high energy to energy troughs. You’ll know when you are entering a trough because you’ll start yawning, feel restless, get hungry and have trouble concentrating, according to researchers.

The good news is that after several minutes of removing yourself from an activity you’ve been focused on for an hour or two, your reservoir of energy will refill. But, you have to disengage. Examples include walking to another place and back, sparking up a conversation about something other than work, and listening to music. If you work at motion-repetitive tasks, or must stand or squat in one position you might need breaks more frequently to reduce physical fatigue.

Sprint Through Your Tasks

Stop losing a quarter of your task time by falling prey to distractions. The idea is to fully focus for 90 to 120 minutes, take a break, and then move to the next task. If tasks don’t take that long, then focus on a series of like tasks.

When you take control of your energy, time slips into the background, leaving you to focus on what’s important right now.


You might have to change your physical location to find where you can focus without interruptions. If you can’t change your location, then try blocking out or turning off distractions. Your smartphone and your tablet are probably robbing more of your concentration than you know. And, they’re also robbing your energy. Email, instant messaging and social media know no bounds so it’s up to you to establish them. Tell people when you aren’t taking calls or to only call if it’s an emergency. Turn off notifications to further distance yourself from distractions.

To increase the likelihood you’ll get through the more creative or challenging tasks, identify the task with the greatest long-term reward and schedule it for the first thing in the morning. That way you won’t delay the challenging tasks, or worse be forced to rush them at the last minute.

Time steadily passes, and you can’t control it. But, your energy flows in waves that you can control. When you take control of your energy, time slips into the background, leaving you to focus on what’s important right now.

If you liked this article, here are a few more you might enjoy: 

Project Management Guide Part 1: Planning

Project Management Guide Part 2: Scheduling

Project Management Guide Part 3: Project Controls

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