Almost every leader I know has a task list. (Come to think of it, I think  school children carry task lists these days.)

That’s awesome.

If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how to track your to do list.

At various points I’ve used everything from a piece of paper, to sticky notes, to the notes app on my phone, to my calendar, to my inbox, to Evernote to track to dos, just trying to get better.

We could end the post there (just get a new app!), but chances are no matter how great your task management system is, you’re probably still feeling a bit overwhelmed right now as you look at your massive to do list.

No app can fix that.

But maybe this can.

What if you created an energy management list? It will  take you very little time, and it has the potential to change everything from your productivity to how you feel about your job.


Step One: Identify When Your Energy Is At Its Peak

As we’ve talked about it before on the blog, time gets measured out equally over 24 hours each day.

Energy doesn’t.

You have several hours each day that are your most productive.

Almost everyone’s mental focus, energy and even enthusiasm shifts as the day goes on. This isn’t just anecdotal, it’s biologically true. And it’s true for all of us, from early risers right through to night hawks.

So…when is your energy at its peak? And when is it at its lowest?

It’s usually a 2-6 hour window.  Here are three ways to identify those windows:

Track your mood.

Monitor your productivity.

Ask people around you when they think you bring your best energy to the table.

Identify that time window and write it down.


Step Two (The Secret Sauce): Rank Activities in Terms of Whether they Energize You or Drain You

This next step really is the secret sauce. Not only are not hours created equally, but all tasks are not created equally. You do not embrace every task with equal enthusiasm.  Pay attention to that.

Be completely honest with yourself:

There are some tasks you can’t wait to get to and some you dread

Some tasks play right into your gift set, while some you find almost impossible to complete.

Certain tasks leave you feeling completely energized when you’re done; others make you feel like you’ve had the life drained out of you.

You know what I’m talking about.

Now, look at the kind of work you routinely do. By ‘work you routinely do” i mean not specific projects, but the kind of work you do as a rule.

So if you work in a church, some examples might include “respond to email, write reports, prepare spreadsheets, prepare talks, deliver talks, meet with leaders, meet with volunteers, recruit new team members, visit the sick, raise money,

Assign a number between 1 and 10 to every task you routinely do as part of your job:

10 = Can’t wait to do it. Leaves me energized.

5  = Neutral

1 = Dread it. Leaves me feeling drained.

Your sample list might look like this

10  Meet with leaders
7   Recruit new team members
7    Visit the sick

5    Prepare new talks

3   Respond to email
1   Write reports

By the way, this week (on Wednesday) I’ll send out my personal Energy Management list to all email subscribers along with the apps I’ve tried for task management along with my current favourite. If you haven’t subscribed, you can do so today by filling out the box on the upper right of the blog. Plus you’ll get my free ebook, 5 Essential Strategies for Reaching Unchurched People).


Step Three: Put it All Together

So how does all this fit together.


Take your two previous responses to these questions:

What’s your most productive time?

What are the top 5 things that energize you?

Put them together and then:

Do what you’re best at when you’re at your best

For example, if you dread email but love spreadsheets, don’t touch email until you’re already tired and use your best hours to design the best spreadsheets you’ve ever put together.

Do what you’re best at when you’re at your best, and leave the neutral activities and the things that drain you to your off peak hours.

Three things will happen:

You will become far more productive. You’ll be able to do twice the amount of your best work because you’re doing it when you’re at your best. 

You will become far more effective.

Imagine the organizational impact of doing what you’re best at over and over again when you’re at your best.

You will love your work so much more.

Personally, I love the first hours of the day when I get to create on a fresh canvass. The things that drain me will easily consume time, but they don’t have to consume my best time.

It’s Simple but Effective

What are you learning about doing your best work when you’re at your best?

Have you tried that? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment!


  1. […] There’s a whole load more on this concept here, here and here. […]

  2. Neri @ KCBT on November 22, 2017 at 11:11 am

    Every leader or should I say everyone should really know when is his/her energy at its peak and when is it at its lowest so one can work more effectively. Think I need to follow some of the advice here.

  3. joshpezold on June 19, 2015 at 9:06 am

    Great article Carey!! Super helpful. I’m learning that once a week I need a flexible day to focus on whatever God is stirring in my heart that isn’t bound by time. It might be leadership, sermon topic, etc. For me this isn’t an entire day and currently it’s on my day off. But when I have an uninhibited time to freely process, create, and dream without the clock, it gives me valuable material to intentionally process through throughout the week. Thanks for helping us lead like never before!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 19, 2015 at 9:23 am

      Love that Josh. For me, that’s in part how I spend Mondays and Wednesdays. It’s almost alway how I spend Fridays. 🙂

  4. […] How To Create An Energy Management List And Why Every Leader Should Have One  Carey Nieuwhof provides us with a three step process to getting things done. The key is to manage our energy and not just our tasks. “The secret to increasing your joy: do what you’re best at when you’re at your best.” […]

  5. Craig Jutila on April 2, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Great post Carey! Love the numbering idea.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      Thanks Craig. Scary what it can tell you about yourself. 🙂

  6. Annalieza on April 2, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, Carey. An interesting theory and one which flies in the face of those who advocate doing our dreaded tasks at the top of the day (e.g. Brian Tracy’s ‘Eat That Frog’) – which your system would say is ok, providing our energy is at our lowest at the top of the day. Like Jeremy, I look forward to putting your system to the test. I’ll try anything to increase my productivity.

  7. Maureen Kelley Small on April 2, 2014 at 11:50 am

    OK, usually I’m right on board with everything you write, but today I’m just frustrated. “Do what you’re best at when you’re at your best” only works if you have great flexibility in designing your day. I work an 8:30-4:30 office job. Ministry, dreams, what I’d really like to be doing with my life – it has to fit around that. Then there’s the husband, three kids, housework, and maybe friendships if I’m lucky. So if my “best time” to be creative is mid-morning when I’m in a meeting at work, that doesn’t work so well for writing the next great blog or preparing well to lead my small group. Connecting with my husband at the time that’s best for him (after 9 p.m.) conflicts with my best time to connect quietly with God. So how do those of us who aren’t self-employed deal with the fact that we give our “best time” to the company, and how do you handle giving your best to your family when your schedules don’t line up with your personal best times?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 3, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      Hi Maureen…you’re right on this one. This works when you have control, and it is about work, not life (except for days off). That said, I’ll bet if you switched up your office routine a bit to the extent you have control you might find a little more joy at work. Just a thought.

  8. Links I Like | on April 1, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    […] How to optimize your energy and your tasks to work better. […]

  9. Jeremy Chandler on March 31, 2014 at 8:42 am

    Thanks for sharing, Carey! I’ve been testing out a lot of “productivity exercises” and “day sheets” lately, but your advice really gets to the heart of it. I look forward to testing this out.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 31, 2014 at 10:24 am

      Thanks so much Jeremy. Let me know what you’re learning! Glad this helped.

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