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A few weeks ago I was introduced to the concept of Strategic Renewal, which focuses on optimizing our energy (which is a renewable resource) rather than our time (which is not a renewable resource). Our culture tends to focus on time — spending time, wasting time, optimizing time, scheduling time, etc. We often think that the more time we spend on something the more efficient and productive we will be. The idea of strategic renewal suggests that is the wrong perspective. Our time is not a renewal resource. Every minute spent on something is a minute that can never be recovered. It’s gone. Additionally, when  we approach our work with the perspective that more time equals more productivity, we begin to burn out, lose focus, and ultimately accomplish less.

However, our energy is something that is renewable and if we maximize our energy during any given moment, we’ll actually get more accomplished. The idea of strategic renewal suggests that we are most productive when we approach tasks in 90 minute increments, with significant breaks in between. In each 90 minute block we focus in and work hard, and then we take a break - exercise, read, nap - to renew our energy so that we can be productive in the next 90 minute block of time. Additionally, taking more vacations and getting solid nights of sleep also contribute to renewed energy and better productivity in our tasks. 

I can appreciate this approach because my tendency has been to just put my head down and plow forward with work, forgetting to take breaks, and sometimes even forgetting to eat lunch, drink water, etc. I’ve found that when I do that my stress level increases, my focus decreases, and by day’s end I accomplished much less than one might expect considering how long I was working. So, I decided to adopt some of the principals of Strategic Renewal, especially the aspect of breaking my work day into 90 minute chunks, and taking longer breaks away from my computer. An example day for me breaks down as follows:

  • 6-7am - wake up and exercise, shower
  • 7-8am - eat breakfast and spend time with my family
  • 8-9am - commute and respond to emails (or read)
  • 9-10:30am (90 min) - Write, Read
  • 10:30-11am (30 min break) - Take a break, go for a walk, do street photography (any combo as long as its away from the computer)
  • 11-12:30pm (90 min) - Work (scheduled task(s) for clients)
  • 12:30-1:30pm (60 min break) - Lunch
  • 1:30-3pm (90 min) - Work (scheduled task(s) for clients)
  • 3-3:30pm (30 min break) - Take a break, go for a walk, read
  • 3:30-5pm (90 min) - Work (scheduled task(s) for clients)
  • 5-5:30pm (30 min break) - Take a break, go for a walk, read, do street photography (any combo as long as its away from the computer)
  • 5:30-6:30pm (60 min) - Misc work
  • 6:30-8pm (90 min) - Dinner, time with family
  • 8-8:30pm (30 min) - Downtime
  • 8:30-10pm (90 min) - time with family OR misc work
  • 10-10:30pm (30 min) - Read, bed

As you can see, the day doesn’t break down perfectly into 90 minute chunks with breaks in between. However, especially during “business hours” I am trying to keep a 90/30 minute work/break schedule. I’m still early in the process, but so far I’m finding that I am focusing much better during my 90 minute work periods, and at the end of my day having accomplished much more than I was when I was working straight through with no breaks. 

This is an in-progress experiment for me, but so far I’m very happy with the results and plan to continue working the idea of Strategic Renewal into my daily schedule. How about you? Have you worked the idea of Strategic Renewal into your schedule? How do you find balance in your day to maximize your energy and productivity?