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.

Evolution Happens – How You Can Work With It

How is your life different from last year?

How is your life different from 5 years ago? 10 years ago? 20 years ago? Since you left college (or high school)?

How has your life evolved over time?

Is it an orderly progression of steps towards mastery?

Is it a series of plateaus punctuated by periods of change and confusion?

Are you where you thought you would be?

Did everything go according to plan?

Did you find challenges you didn’t expect?

We continue growing and developing as we age.

We’re not stuck with our initial decisions around “what we’re going to be when we grow up.”

We learn new things through experience – especially if we allow ourselves time to reflect on that experience.

If we manage to get some clarity around what we want our life to look like in the future, we’re able to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

We don’t have to wait for a wrenching event outside of our control to move towards our desired future.

We may be able to evolve more gently.

How can you ease into your future?

Can you combine what you are doing now and leverage your existing skills and experience with what you want in your future?

Can you set aside some time to make future-building a priority? Are there particular skills you will need that requires more concentration than combination will allow?

As you ease into your future, what will you ultimately need to let go of?

What will you need to prepare to say “no” to?

What obligations and contracts will you need to break?

What relationships need to change? What relationships may need to be abandoned?

In an ideal world, we are all doing this evolution mindfully.

We are taking responsibility for our experience of life and for what our life looks like.

Often, we’re reacting to what life throws at us. That’s OK. We can’t predict all-the-things and we control very little.

The best we can do is take one more step towards our desired future.

Look around and see whether an opportunity has surfaced that helps us along the way.

Occasionally discard things from the pack that weigh us down.

And continually check to make sure we are still going in the direction of our dreams.

Learning How to Learn

Many of us have been educated in schools built to produce good Industrial Revolution era workers. Learn by the clock, perform to standard, don’t question the teacher.

When I pursued my graduate degree in Instructional Technology (early 2000s) – much of the conversation centered around how a child’s brain developed.  Adult learning theory focused on embedding any new information into the frameworks that adult had already developed.  Though there was a sense that humans continued to develop once they hit adulthood, there was an implicit assumption that continued development was limited to a select few and everyone else quit growing. 

This assumption mapped to Frederick Taylor’s belief that there were a select few “college men” (i.e. managers) who were capable of making all the decisions and everyone else could do the work.

Maslow’s “self-actualization” level was a “nice-to-have” if you got lucky.

The past 20 years has produced research confirming the plasticity of the adult brain. These findings are only now appearing in the popular culture.

The ability to learn new things quickly has become increasingly important as our environments evolve at a seemingly faster pace than ever.  Knowledge rapidly becomes outdated. Years of mastery becomes irrelevant.

Harold Jarche has put together a nice framework that helps us practically learn new things quickly – Personal Knowledge Mastery.

Harold sees Personal Knowledge Mastery as consisting of three interwoven processes:

  • Seeking – Finding and receiving information.
  • Sensing – How we make sense of the information we find and receive and putting it to use (or not).
  • Sharing – Exchanging what we learn with another. Making the necessary adjustments as we receive feedback.

In my experience, the Seeking process starts with a question and getting a general lay-of-the-land. 

The Sensing process has me finding or developing frameworks to organize that information and begin discerning the information’s importance.  Is the information important, or is it noise? Do I need to unlearn something from previous experience to incorporate this new information? Does the framework I currently hold still work or do I need to find or create a new one?  What assumptions are behind the information? What assumptions am I holding as I engage this information?  This reflection, processing, and integration time is invaluable, nevermind the practice. New knowledge and skills don’t stick unless I honor this space.

Sharing allows me to refine that information and challenges me to make enough sense of that information such that I can either ask questions (I find that I need to understand enough of what I don’t understand about the information to be able to create a question that makes sense to another person) or communicate what I have learned and request feedback.

Learning how to learn will allow us to keep our technology skills up to date – no matter what happens to the user interfaces and functionality of the tools we use.

Resources:

Case Study – Change Planning Facilitation Pt 2

One week later, after Heather moved (hence the bad lighting on her side), we continued the facilitation. 

We found that the extra week helped her confirm some of her analysis around the short and long-term impact of her change.

She also provided some feedback about the process towards the end of the video.


Heather writes about her outdoor adventures at http://portages.life/blog.html.