In 1905, Albert Einstein showed us that time, energy, mass, and speed are intertwined.
The faster you move, the more energy you need.
The faster you move, the slower time passes for you.
The faster you move, the more your mass increases.
Reaching maximum speed, the speed of light, would require an infinite amount of energy and would mind-bogglingly, for you, bring time to a halt.
His formula, E=mc^2 mathematically describes how these principles apply to our physical world. But the concepts ring true for our daily life too.
Bust your ass too hard, and you’ll fall into bed exhausted.
Bust your ass for too long, and seconds will feel like minutes.
Bust your ass for too hard and too long, and you’ll feel as though you need an infinite amount of energy to go on. The “weight” of your work will become unbearable. You’ll burn out, falling to ground zero (or below).
You don’t think of Einstein’s equation while at work, but you feel the ramifications of overdoing it. You know deep down which tasks suck your energy and which tasks recharge it. And you instinctively know when it’s time to call it a day.
As it turns out, these feelings are key to maintaining the intricate balance between Einsteins four variables—time, speed, mass, and energy—which in turn is the key to becoming maximally productive.
An Intricate Balance
Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day.
Anyone can schedule that 24 hours into the tiniest increments, maximizing their working hours.
But 24 hours of go go go isn’t sustainable. Even if it were, back-to-back activities from dawn ‘till dusk is not a healthy lifestyle.
It takes energy to get through your day. It takes time to get things done. And, the speed at which you move through your tasks changes depending on the weight or complexity of your work. Like Einstein’s equation, you have to balance time, energy, mass, and speed to stay maximally productive and happy. Should any one of these fall out of equilibrium, you’ll find yourself in a funk.
Time — Overschedule your day, and you’ll feel overwhelmed, burned out, and ready to quit. Under schedule it, and you’ll feel your day was wasted. You’ll want your time back.
Energy — Work too hard or too long, and you’ll feel exhausted, unable to continue without rest. Don’t work hard enough (vacations aside), and you’ll be looking for things to do. Distractions will creep in, and you’ll find yourself wasting time.
Mass — Tasks don't have mass, but they do have "gravity." The weight or complexity of your tasks needs to be in balance. Choose a task that’s too difficult (given your energy levels or time available), and you won’t get anything done. Choose a task that's too easy, and you'll find yourself procrastinating, bored, or feeling unaccomplished.
Speed — How quickly you move from one task to the next directly affects your energy and focus. Jump around too much, and you’ll find it hard to focus on a more complex task. Jump around too little, and the administrivia will pile up. The urgent will outweigh the important, making it more difficult to find time to work on what matters.
We often think of productivity as time management, but it’s really the balance of time with these other variables.
Keep all four stable, and you’ll have the time and energy to work on complex tasks at high speed. Let any one get out of whack, and you’ll feel any number of emotions, preventing you from working on what matters.
Which turns out to be the fifth variable; one that Einstein couldn’t enter into his equation but one that makes this intricate balance productivity far easier to master.
The Fifth Variable
There’s one variable that you can use to measure the balance of all other productivity variables. It will drastically simplify your ability to balance life and get things done.
Emotion doesn’t fit into the space/time continuum of Einstein’s world. It doesn’t help you move faster, gain energy, or slow down the passage of time. But it’s immensely useful in measuring those four productivity variables to know when they’re out of whack, and what to do about it if they are.
Feelings like overwhelm, exhaustion, elation, confidence—these feelings are vital indicators that your day is running well, or not. They’re your personal thermometer knowing when to push harder or scale back your effort.
“The reason emotions have a surprisingly powerful effect on our performance is that emotions have adaptive value—they can help us cope and respond to the situation at hand.”
—Josh Davis, PhD
Take overwhelm, for example.
Overwhelm commonly occurs when you have too much to do and too little time. When in a state of overwhelm, your brain can’t focus. It thinks of everything, and so does nothing.
Or take exhaustion as another example.
When you feel exhausted, you’ve either worked too hard or for too long. Even if you have the time, you won’t have the energy to work on even the smallest task. Your system is out of balance and requires an adjustment.
They key is knowing what to adjust, and when.
Tuning Yourself for Maximum Productivity
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? Prioritize.
Prioritizing your tasks will “unjumble” them in your mind, allowing you to focus on and make progress toward just one. The weight of your todo list will suddenly lighten, and you’ll find yourself with the energy to get started, make something happen. This will give you momentum, and you’ll move to the next task with increasing speed.
What do you do when you feel exhausted? Recharge.
That could mean rest. It could even mean sleep. But it could also mean working on something tangential to your job. Many times, taking a walk around the block, having a snack, playing an instrument, reading a book, or calling a loved one will replenish a bit of energy, allowing you to get back to work and knock a few more tasks off the list.
What do you do when you feel confident? Take on a big, complex task.
Confidence means you have the energy and will to tackle a difficult challenge. Choose an important task from your todo list, something you've been avoiding for lack of time and energy, and wrestle it to the ground.
On the flip side, if you feel stuck, the task you've chosen may be too complex.
Working in a stuck state for too long will drag your energy levels down, making it hard to continue and deflate you from working on other tasks. If you're stuck, take a break, even if only to work on something else. In this break, you’ll usually find some perspective to help you deal with your challenges in the future.
Finally, what do you do when you feel unfocused? Get clear on your goals.
Either remind yourself of what you're doing and why, or take some time to figure that out. Journaling can be a great source of clarity. So can meditation. Any method or tool to help you recall what matters will bring renewed focus and energy back to your day.
Of course, all these suggestions are reactive. Feel one way, respond another.
Our responses can help get us back on track, but to be maximally productive, take what you’ve learned here and prepare instead of react.
Planning Instead of Reacting
You can wait until you get grumpy.
You can wait until you’re bored.
You can wait until you’re stuck or tired or drowning in too much work.
Or, you can proactively prepare for maximum productivity by planning your day in advance. And I'm not just talking about scheduling your meetings.
As you learn how your emotional state changes based on the time of day or the activities you perform, you can prepare to maintain balance throughout the day instead of waiting to find yourself unbalanced and trying to adjust.
For example, if filing out expense reports sucks the life out of you (like it does me), schedule a short walk around the block after you’re done to recharge and reset yourself for a more productive afternoon.
Or, if you have a task that requires focus, lock down calendar down for a morning when you’re fresh from a good nights sleep and ready to tackle some intense work. Trying to fit that important task in between meetings and emails just won't work. Administrivia and meetings can wait.
I like to plan in phone calls after giving a presentation as public speaking energizes me and makes me more effective when talking to others. I also know that I can’t write for more than 45 minutes before the words on the page blur together and I lose focus, so I build an hour of weightlifting in between writing tasks to break it up.
Learn which tasks give you energy, and work them in between tasks that drain it.
Learn which tasks take time, and reserve your calendar to get them done.
Learn which tasks are complicated, and schedule them when you have the most energy.
Learn which tasks can be done quickly, and find ways of doing them in between meetings, projects, or in line at Starbucks.
Schedule your day with all of this in mind the night before or the morning of. Once you learn the balance that works for you, you’ll get to the end of the day feeling like you crushed it while still having time and energy to spare for friends, family, and fun.
Keep It Relative
One final note before wrapping up.
This article wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t mention relativity. We are talking about Einstein, after all.
As he brilliantly showed in his thought experiments and mathematical formulas, our perception of time, speed, and mass are all relative. In other words, how you experience time differs from how I experience it.
The physics of this are beyond my comprehension, but I do know that this concept holds true for productivity.
I’ve heard Elon Musk schedules his day into five-minute increments. Internet celeb Gary Vaynerchuck gets only 6 hours of sleep and works from 6 am to 11 pm daily. Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson wakes up at 3 or 4 in the morning to lift weights for two hours.
These ideas of productivity frighten my sensibilities.
But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It just means their balance is different than mine.
Just as time is relative, so is productivity.
You don’t have to compare yourself to Elon Musk, Gary Vaynerchuck, Dwayne Johnson, me, or anyone else. You can be maximally productive in your own way based on your energy, your time, the speed at which you work, and the weight of your tasks.
In short, your balance is yours, and yours alone.
The key is to find what works for you.
Maximize Your Productivity While Balancing Your Life
In 1905, Albert Einstein showed us that time, energy, mass, and speed are intertwined.
And though you don’t think of this principle while at work, you feel it in action throughout your day.
You feel it when you lack the time to get things done. You feel it when you lack the energy to carry on. And you feel it when the complexity or speed of your tasks goes beyond your comfort zone.
The good news is, you don’t have to bust your ass so hard you fall into bed exhausted every night.
You don’t have to bust your ass so long you feel as though you need an infinite amount of energy to continue.
You know that burnout is just around those corners, and you don’t have to compare your productivity to anyone else on the planet. You are you. Productivity is relative. It is yours and yours alone to master.
So decide how you’ll balance your 24 hours with the energy you have and the tasks before you. And use your emotions to do it.
Luckily, despite what many productivity articles say, pushing away your feelings so you can crush every second of the day with reckless abandon doesn't make for a sustainable, happy, or productive life. But if you use those feelings to maintain the intricate balance between Einsteins four variables—time, speed, mass, and energy—you'll find your own version of becoming maximally productive.
About the Author
HUSBAND, FATHER, ENTREPRENEUR, BUSINESS STRATEGIST, AUTHOR, FITNESS NUT, ORGANIZATION FREAK, PRODUCTIVITY JUNKIE
I help high-achieving entrepreneurs organize their brain and schedule so they can organize their life and business.
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