Focus Management Instead of Time Management

6 min readSep 29, 2023

We’ve talked about how our specialists organize their workdays and discussed various approaches, including the Pomodoro technique. However, for those who haven’t found success with any of the suggested methods, they often complain that they lack the energy to bring a good idea to life. All such techniques are based on the assumption that a person can almost limitlessly control their productivity. In reality, that’s not the case. Yes, there is some level of control within certain limits, but everyone’s willpower has its boundaries. Some find it easy to experiment with their work and non-work time, others struggle even to begin.

So today, I’ll tell you about a different approach. Here, you won’t find a “magic piece of advice” that guarantees success and motivation. However, you might get ideas on how to structure your day differently.

Time management is a tool. Like any tool, you need to know how to use it. At the very least, you need internal discipline to plan adequately and execute what you’ve planned. You also need to effectively filter out tasks that weren’t initially planned but come with an “urgent” label.

The problem is that sometimes, we lack the strength for this internal discipline. You plan one thing, but then urgent messages come in on your messenger (even after a strict filter), and you have to switch your focus. After each such switch, returning to your originally planned task becomes increasingly difficult. Efficiency drops, and fatigue builds up.

Recognizing these issues is usually the starting point for finding a convenient time management method. People experiment with scheduling tasks in their calendars or lists, using personal kanban boards, and so on. These tools are used for a while, but the results of these experiments can be disappointing — none of the methods seem to fit perfectly without modifications. People end up adapting them piece by piece. This results in a patchwork-style approach to planning, where you might have a board for one thing and a calendar for another. There’s no one-size-fits-all tool.

A useful concept I’d like to discuss today is considering not only scheduling tasks but also your own strengths and inclinations. “Mind fuel” isn’t just a static reservoir for a specific person but something that changes throughout the day. This notion needs to be taken into account.

It’s not about managing time; it’s about managing focus and energy

Many people talk a lot about personal efficiency, and recent publications in this field suggest introducing the concept of “focus management.” In some literature, you might also come across the term “energy management.” Although authors define them differently, their ideas largely overlap. But of course, books need to be sold by offering unique concepts.

The idea here is to consider the resources you have and their availability throughout the day. If time management is about allocating time slots for specific tasks, focus management is about priorities and the order of tasks. It’s about what and when to work on, taking into account your personal preferences and capabilities.

My Personal Experience

At the start of my career, grasping these concepts was challenging. However, over time, I’ve come to understand how to work more comfortably. For instance, I’ve noticed that meetings and calls tend to go smoother in the first half of the day. As for complex, lengthy tasks, it’s more convenient for me to tackle them in the latter part of the day.

In recent years, I’ve found that tackling significant and complex tasks is even easier late in the evening after a good physical workout. For a while, I explained this by saying, “It’s because by evening, everyone has left me alone, and no one is ringing my phone or messaging.” But in reality, the same principle works if you adjust your daily routine slightly — by waking up earlier, completing the “social” part of your schedule (calls and meetings) sooner, getting some personal time, and then focusing on the longer tasks. It seems that I just need to “energize” myself before tackling big and complex projects. The key is not to get bogged down by small interruptions before that moment.

Before settling into this routine, I conducted many experiments. Now, I know for sure that, personally, calls and meetings after a good workout don’t go well — it’s as if I lack the energy for social interactions. On the other hand, the workout isn’t enjoyable if there’s no free slot afterward, and I have a phone call scheduled right at 12:30. I’ve learned that there are a lot of personal preferences involved here, and they need to be discovered.

Where to Focus

When it comes to organizing your work process, there are many variables to consider. Tasks vary in terms of duration, complexity, and nature (whether they involve social interactions or not). These tasks always need to be completed within certain constraints, like deadlines.

In real life, we have time slots (for example, from now until the afternoon meeting) and a specific state of mind during these times. The only way to figure out which type of tasks to tackle at any given moment is through trial and error.

Try working on different types of tasks throughout the day. Observe how well you can immerse yourself in them before or after physical activity, a cup of coffee (or tea), or any other elements of your workday. This is not a one-day or even one-week experiment, but in the end, you’ll at least have a better understanding of your state of mind and be able to plan your activities more effectively.

Another important element that seems to be manageable is multitasking. You might think you can turn it on or off as needed. However, multitasking is a unique substance. There are interesting studies suggesting that only a small percentage of the population is truly efficient when working in such a mode. Chances are, you don’t fall into that category (neither do I).

You can also consider factors like self-motivation (whether through discipline or inspiration), the need for periodic breaks, or, on the contrary, working in intense bursts from start to finish, and many other variables.

Recharging Your Energy

Concepts like energy management and focus management emphasize the importance of recharging.

People who have experienced burnout often complain about that feeling when you’re lying down, staring at the ceiling, and you simply can’t figure out where the energy you had before went or how to regain your vitality. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this issue. I genuinely believe that if you’re engaged in mental work, finding a way to disconnect your brain from work is a crucial self-care skill, just like washing your face in the morning or preparing food. It’s something you need to know how to do; otherwise, you won’t last long in the world of intellectual work.

In my case, after expending my energy (focus) on work, I recharge by switching gears in a way that leaves no room for thinking about work. For some, this freedom comes from a cozy couch and favorite movies. Others (myself included) need to embrace not just any activities but fundamentally different ones that change both their activities and social circles. Engaging in non-work-related hobbies works. Wonder why many knowledge workers are into extreme leisure activities? Partly because moments of intense excitement leave no mental space to return to work. It’s hard to get lost in thoughts when you’re actively involved in something else.

Whether creativity or adrenaline is more effective in your case is something you’ll need to discover for yourself. Experiment with new activities

How Deep is the Rabbit Hole?

The mechanics of managing your energy or focus (or whatever concept you’ve formulated for yourself) don’t address the fundamental question of why we’re doing all of this. Without a sense of purpose, these actions may seem meaningless, and setting such goals veers into the realm of philosophy. It’s all very subjective and requires introspection first and foremost — imposing someone else’s personal goals won’t lead to a fulfilling outcome.

What About Those Around You?

When you’re structuring your own life schedule, you’ll have to find a way to align it with your surroundings. Everyone perceives the establishment of personal boundaries differently. I’ve been fortunate — those I interact with, in one way or another, understand and accommodate my work’s unique demands. Personally, I’d even consider this a priority when searching for a job.

What to Read

Classic Time Management:

1. David Allen: “Getting Things Done”

2. Stephen Covey: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

3. Chris Bailey: “The Productivity Project.”

Going Further:

4. Scott Young: “Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career”

5. Scott Young: “The Power of Full Engagement”

6. Daniel Pink: “The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing”

These books cover a wide range of perspectives on time and energy management, productivity, and personal development. You can choose the ones that resonate most with your goals and preferences.




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