"Stop managing your time. Start managing your energy." - Susan Fowler

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The internet is teeming with time-management tips for coping with the dramatic changes in our COVID-19 lifestyles. I don’t know about you, but I find all the good advice can get overwhelming. Even the recommendations from my hero Marie Kondo to create a calm environment by tidying up seem to create pressure—I haven’t vacuumed in two weeks; my sheets are beginning to smell; I just noticed how the afternoon sun highlights all the dust collected on my desk.

Despite good intentions, most time-management techniques do not generate the positive energy needed to sustain them. I plead guilty. I authored a popular audio program on time-management years ago. Overcoming Procrastination was filled with great ideas—but you had to overcome your procrastination to use them! Experts often offer up a collection of ideas but lack a systemic approach that helps make sense of the ideas over time.

I think my ideas on time-management have evolved along with my understanding of motivation science. At the risk of promising more than I can deliver, I offer an alternative approach to time-management. The idea is to do what you already do but with a change in focus. We need to evolve from managing time to managing energy. 
Time is finite. Energy is infinite. Why not focus on the infinite? We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Why is it that some people do more in that 24 hours than others do in a lifetime? Energy. Motivation is the energy to act. But not all motivation is created equal. Positive and sustainable energy comes from optimal—or healthy—motivation. Erratic energy like you get from a sugar high followed by an energy crash comes from suboptimal—or junk food—motivation.

The nutrients of optimal motivation are the three psychological needs for Choice, Connection, and Competence. When these needs are satisfied, we flourish. When they are eroded, we languish. You need to create Choice, Connection, and Competence to achieve goals, start and end habits, build trust, develop resilience and grit, and even overcome grief.

Since motivation is at the heart of everything you do and don’t do, a robust model of motivation is essential for managing your energy. The good news? No matter who you are, you can generate the positive energy for making the most of your 24 hours. You simply need to create Choice, Connection, and Competence.

For example, stop making a to-do list. A to-do list almost automatically robs you of a sense of choice. Start making a list of today’s choices. That simple reframing from things “I have to do” to a list of “choices I’m making today” generates positive energy. Now, choose to focus on the items on your list that create the most Connection and Competence.

If you are interested in learning more, I hope you’ll check out this month’s SmartBrief on Leadership. I demonstrate with real-life examples and explain the evolution of the famous 4-quadrant time-management matrix, thanks to motivation science.

One Family’s COVID-19 Story—the Saga Continues

We shared the Murphy Family’s story in last month’s CHOMP. You might remember, circumstances found my friend and colleague, Paul, separated from his wife Sun Li. They and their two boys had traveled from their home in Hong Kong to spend Christmas with Paul’s family in the UK. Sun Li then took what was supposed to be a short trip to celebrate Chinese New Year with her family in China. But due to COVID-19, she got stuck there. Last month, Sun Li finally made it back to their home in Hong Kong and through 14 days of quarantine.

As we struggle with the demands of wearing masks, social distancing, working from home, and dealing with hyperactive kids, I hope the Murphy family might provide some perspective.
Pictured here: Edward, Alexander, and Paul’s father.
Alexander and Edward have not seen their mother for four months. Like many parents, Paul feels he is “failing miserably” to home-school his rambunctious boys. Understandable, under any circumstances, but especially given Paul’s demanding full-time job is being conducted virtually from his parent’s home where he is also caring for his father who is recovering from cancer and highly vulnerable for COVID-19 and making deliveries to his 90-something grandmother who lives alone in the country. He is aware of all the risks that come with being the middleman between young children and aging relatives. The family already suffered the death of an aunt from the virus—and the grieving that must be done without gathering with family.

Back in Hong Kong, Sun Li is tasked with single-handedly packing up their household and finding her way to the UK. Unfortunately, shipping their belongings may prove easier than getting Sun Li back to her family.

After spending two weeks in isolation, she is clear to travel, but unfortunately, there is a risk she contracts the virus on the trip back to the UK. That means she cannot stay at Paul’s parent’s home for another 14 days, even in an isolated room. Paul’s sense of humor is just one of the things I appreciate about him. He writes, “As such, we are trying to be creative about how we take care of her for the first couple of weeks (a tent in the garden has been proposed… 😊).”

I also appreciate Paul’s pragmatism. Sometimes he feels inadequate but focuses on his choices and finds ways to create connection and competence. He reflects without wallowing in self-pity, describes the situation, and continues to grow: “I would say an upside of this is that I am spending a lot more time with family chatting, playing board games, and gardening. These are crazy days we are living in. Hopefully, we will see the other side soon as everyone is starting to go a little loopy. Cases of domestic violence in the UK have spiked massively. I think what you teach and write about is becoming more and more important.”
Paul and his family not only provide me with perspective. They inspire me. I hope they remind you to create Choice, Connection, and Competence so you can thrive, even if—or especially if—you are starting to go a little loopy.
With gratitude,

"What's Your MO?" Survey

Mastering your motivation right now may seem like a mountain you can't conquer. But, with the right tools, you can! Now more than ever, I encourage you to take my free What’s Your MO? survey to help you identify where you are on the motivation spectrum. No matter what your results are, you'll receive a detailed email with practical applications to sustain or shift your motivation. 

After you receive your results, I'd love to hear how your personal story about shifting your motivation—or how you’re still challenged with suboptimal motivation.
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Copyright © 2020 Susan Fowler, All rights reserved.

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