“Part of being a high-performance individual is recognising that you are not always a high-performance individual”

-David Allen

Once that safety bar comes down, you are at the mercy of the ride—the highs, the lows, and the loop-the-loops. It can be fun once in a while for the adrenaline rush. But it is no way to sustain a lifestyle or career.

Like you, like all of us, my energy level varies. In the course of a day due to exertion, and over longer periods of time due to a variety of factors, I don’t always have as much “me” to give.  It used to be that my productivity over time went up and down with my energy level, a bit like a rollercoaster. It looked something like this:

Energy Productivity No GTD

My fluctuation of energy is shown in orange and my productivity is shown in blue.

As you can see, I never felt that I got to fully capitalize on my highest points of energy, matching energy to productivity, because I was never fully confident that what I was doing in those high points was the very best thing to be doing with that fresh, ready “me”. Likewise, I never reached rock bottom even when my energy level crashed, but this was a function of pure exertion—pushing through tiredness to try to mitigate the dip.

By maintaining a complete, current inventory of my projects and next actions using GTD®, I know and experience a radically different relationship between my energy and my productivity. It looks something like this:

Energy Productivity With GTD

As you can see, my energy level is still a factor in my overall productivity. However, the curve is far less extreme and—even more importantly—is shifted up on the graph considerably higher than where it was before. This means greater output overall, more consistently over time.

In this case, my energy and productivity do actually meet at the high point. With a complete, current inventory of projects and next actions, I can pick the one that I know will require the most “me” when I am feeling great. Some people call this “swallowing the frog”—doing the hardest thing straight away, when you are at your best.

Likewise, by having done my thinking up-front to create a complete inventory of options for my activities, I invariably have a range of choices that include things I can do to stay productive when tired. Filling my stapler and watering my plants still have to get done, and in some ways it is a waste of my freshest and most energetic self to do those things when fully energised. Likewise, it can often be counter-productive to try to tackle a large, complex technical matter when only a small part of my brain is really available.

The key to getting off the rollercoaster ride, or at least flattening it out considerably, is to have done the thinking up-front to create these options. Instead, far too many of us have not clarified outcomes and next actions when they showed up in our world, and so have to do the thinking and the doing all at once, at the eleventh hour, under duress.

This is what keeps us on the rollercoaster, missing opportunities to go higher, and stressing out (instead of working smarter) to keep ourselves from plummeting to the bottom of the ride. Capturing, processing and organizing what comes at us early and often is the ticket to get off this up-and-down ride. It is a smoother, and ultimately more productive, journey—and one where we get to drive.

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