If you could have any super power…what would it be?
“I want the power to control time…Then, I could do everything I wanted to do, every day!”
For as long as I can remember, that’s how I’d answer that question.
It’s a nice idea. But the desire to control time comes from a place of lack.
A place of scarcity.
For most of my life, I never felt like I had enough time.
There was always more to do. And a paltry supply of time to do it.
Or so I thought!
This feeling of “never enough time” persisted for years…until I learned a new way of seeing my life and work. And a new way of acting in each day.
I refer to these insights as the Three Disciplines of Mindful Performance.
These disciplines won’t give you access to 30-hour days. And they won’t give you a time-turner like Hermione Granger.
But they can give you something better. Peace-of-mind.
It’s the fulfillment that comes from knowing you’ve done the best you can with what you have. It’s what helps you fall asleep satisfied, knowing you made the most of the day.
It’s these principles that will help you squeeze more juice out of life. Not because you’re aren’t okay with the amount of juice you have now. But because wouldn’t it be fun and exciting to have more juice?
Time Management is Not Enough
Most people feel like they don’t have enough time.
So they run around like crazy people all day long. Rushing here. Rushing there. Burning the candle at both ends.
It’s a universal problem. Which is why so many productivity gurus try to tell you that Time Management is your ticket to lasting success, happiness, and fulfillment.
But they’re wrong.
Not because Time Management is unhelpful. But because Time Management by itself is insufficient to make the most of life.
Give Yourself the Best Tools for the Job
Time management is only 1/3 of the system that drives the results you experience in life.
So if time management is the only tool you’re using to make progress on your goals…you’re handicapping yourself.
It’s like trying to carve a fine marble sculpture using only a hammer. Sure, you can hack away at it. You can make something that resembles art. But without the finer tools, you’ll never make a masterpiece.
The Three Disciplines of Mindful Performance
The rest of this article will equip you with the tools you need to get more done in less time. (While actually enjoying the process.)
The Three Disciplines of Mindful Performance are
- Time Management
- Energy Management
- Attention Management
I refer to them as disciplines because they aren’t one-and-done checkboxes.
They’re something you practice every day.
But not just practice willy-nilly. Practice with intention.
Because the three disciplines don’t exist in isolation. They’re interconnected. And they build on each other in three levels.
Only by understanding these levels will you operate in the fullness of your potential.
Level 1: Time is Your Currency
“Time must be explicitly managed, like money…Ask yourself: Are you spending your time on the right things?”
~ Randy Pausch
You can think of time like a currency.
Every day when you wake up, you’re gifted an allowance of Time Tokens.
You get the same number of tokens every day. But how you use them is up to you.
At Level 1, you’re playing The Game of Time Management: Spend Your Tokens Wisely!
Invest your Tokens in the things you care about most. Do what you can to align your actions with your values. (And stay focused the things that are in your control.)
But here’s where it gets complicated.
Time Tokens don’t retain their value in the way that regular money does. Because these tokens are more like a digital coin that takes power to carry value.
The more power your Time Tokens have, the more valuable they are. Depending on how you act, the potential value of your Time Tokens may be at 100%. Or, their potential value could be a fraction of that. It all depends on the level of power you’ve given to them.
So…how do we give more power to our Time Tokens?
I’m glad you asked.
Level 2: Energy Gives Each Token It’s Value
“Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.”
~ Jim Loehr + Tony Schwartz
Your physical Energy is the power source that gives Time Tokens their value.
The greater your physical vitality, the more potential value is stored in a Time Token.
When you’re at your peak—energized, clear, grounded, focused, creative, etc.—your tokens carry 100% of their potential value. Everything works better with a fully-charged battery.
But when you’re drained and exhausted, each token carries a fraction its energy, and therefore a fraction of its potential value.
Which means 60 minutes of depleted-energy Time Tokens may be worth less than 30 minutes of peak-energy Time Tokens.
Why wait around trying to boil a pot of water on medium heat if you could turn it up to high instead?
This is why your Energy Management fundamentals (sleeping, eating/drinking, moving, and breathing) are so important. When you have more energy, your Time Tokens are worth more. When you have less energy, your Time Tokens are worth less.
Understanding the relationship between time and energy changes everything. At Level 2, you see that keeping a well-charged battery is the new priority. Because only then can you access the full potential of your time tokens.
But there’s still one more piece to the mindful performance puzzle. Without it, you could have amazing energy AND great time management skills but still fail to reap the full value of your Time Tokens.
Level 3: Attention Unlocks the Value of Your Time
“Attention is psychic energy, and like physical energy, unless we allocate some part of it to the task at hand, no work gets done.”
~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
How do you actually invest a Time Token?
It all comes down to action. Decide what you want to do. Then do it!
But this is easier said than done. Because we live in a distracted world. And doing what you want to do means intentionally focusing your attention on what you want, when you want.
At Level 3, you’re playing the game of Attention Management.
Attention is the bridge that connects the potential energy of your intended actions with the results of real action in the present moment.
Put another way, Attention Management is the key that unlocks the potential value of your Time Tokens.
When you can direct your attention where you want, when you want, you get to experience the full value of the Time Tokens you invest.
This cannot happen if your attention is scattered, distracted, and unfocused. When you multitask, you deposit a mere fraction of the potential value of each token where you want.
This would be like walking to the bank to deposit $100 in your savings account. But there’s a hole in your pocket. So along the way, you drop $40 on the ground without trying. You intended to put 100% of the value into the account. But only 60% of it made it there.
It happens to us every day. We set out to do something, but our attention is compromised by villains like:
- Distractions (e.g. email, social media, …)
- Wandering thoughts (e.g. ruminating on the past, pondering the future…)
- A sub-optimal state of emotional regulation (e.g. anxiety, anger, impatience…)
And when that happens, you miss out on the potential value of your Time Tokens.
This is one of the reasons why meditation is such an important practice. Mindfulness meditation helps you build a new relationship with your wandering mind. And with practice, your Attention Management skills can improve in a significant way.
[Related Reading: 21 Proven Ways to Stay Focused Every Day]
Putting it Together: The Mindful Performance Equation
Most people think Time Management is the key to performance and working effectiveness.
But that’s not the case. Time Management is only one piece of the performance puzzle.
Upstream from Time Management is Attention Management. Without focused attention, you can’t get the full value from your Time Tokens.
And upstream from Attention Management is Energy Management. Because without physical vitality, cultivating focused attention is an uphill battle. And if you don’t have energy in the first place, the potential value of your time is diminished.
Putting these elements together gives us a simple equation for Mindful Performance: how you can perform at your best without sacrificing enjoyment of the process.
The Mindful Performance Equation: P = E * A * T
- Performance = the experience and results you have while doing something.
- Energy = The vital life-force that powers your body and mind.
- Attention = The connection you create between your body/mind and each moment of life.
- Time: The duration you spend in-action.
Which means optimizing your performance relies on three key practices.
- Energy Management: Your ability to increase your physical vitality.
- Attention Management: Your ability to direct your attention where you want (and cultivate a productive, clear, and focused state of mind.)
- Time Management: Your ability to allocate your time towards what you want.
Time Management is Not Enough
The next time you feel stressed because you “don’t have enough time,” remember the Mindful Performance Equation.
P = E * A * T
Time Management is not your only tool to make progress.
The number of Time Tokens you get each day will never change. Focus on doing what you can to make the most of what you’re given.
Let’s put our understanding of the Mindful Performance Equation into practice. In this way, we can say at the end of each day “I’ve done what’s in my power to make the most of today.”
Here’s to you, rocking it.