Open journal with 'Today' inscribed, shadowed by time's ebb, a reminder to focus on the present for time management.
Open journal with 'Today' inscribed, shadowed by time's ebb, a reminder to focus on the present for time management.

How do you determine what activities are worth doing, and what to start or stop doing? A key optimization concept I learned from Dan Sullivan, co-founder of Strategic Coach, is the differentiation between energy and stuff. Recognizing this distinction and using it to make better decisions about your time and focus can save you a ton of cognitive load.

You can try it right now. Imagine all the things, people and thoughts you encounter in life and at work. Now class them into one of two buckets:

  • Activities that (or people who) give you energy
  • Stuff that fuels your procrastination

My "energy" list includes:

  • Creative problem-solving
  • Imagining new ways to declutter or optimize a physical environment
  • Making master plans
  • Finishing things in quick succession
  • Traveling and experiencing new things
  • Making sense of complex or challenging experiences
  • Talented people who see possibility, express gratitude and appreciation, and exude positivity and resilience
  • People who enjoy helping others, teamwork, and creating win-wins

My "stuff" list includes:

  • Other people's priorities (that don't feel urgent or important to me)
  • Bureaucracy and lengthy deliberations to make decisions
  • Interruptions and diversions that stifle motivation, progress and momentum
  • Being around people who need to be the center of attention
  • Being around people who are negative, self-defeating, or scarcity-minded (for one person to win, others must lose)
  • Generalities, vague complaints and non-actionable feedback (noise)

When you know what activities give you energy or fuel your procrastination, you can take action.

For example, Dan recommends his Strategic Coach clients endeavor to replace three "stuff" activities with three "energy" activities every 90 days through delegation, reinvention or elimination.

Even if you can't fully replace the "stuff" items -- as a contractor, I'm sometimes charged with acting on other people's non-urgent priorities -- you can reduce them. And when it comes to energy, every bit of reduction and optimization matters.

I've also noticed that as I reduce my "stuff" obligations, my leadership skills and confidence increase. I have more cognitive and emotional energy available to have tough conversations or make decisions I've been dreading.

Consider using this theme as a journaling or brainstorming prompt. Then share what's on your "stuff" and "energy" lists in the comments!

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