Time & Energy Management for Creative Projects

This is a planning approach that combines the ideas behind the Eisenhower Matrix method for time management (which focuses on identifying the importance and urgency of every task) and Flow theory from positive psychology (which states that the flow state in work can be found when the challenge of a task matches our skill.)

In practice, using the Eisenhower Method does not (by itself) help one to manage one’s work in a way that is sustainable. This requires some degree of managing not only your time, but also your energy, which is where flow theory will be especially useful.

This can apply to work and personal creative projects; and be adapted to other kinds of work. Read on for a deeper dive, and a blank matrix worksheet you can use.

The Eisenhower Matrix (source, emphases added) This is a really popular method, but it typically includes a focus on doing everything that is important personally; and I typically find that the distinction of important and not important ends up favoring only doing the most energy-demanding activities, and never doing less demanding ones, which can make this approach unsustainable.

Although I’ve used (and recommended) the Eisenhower matrix a lot since I learned about it ~2008 (at which point it deeply influenced my approach to managing creative work), I have a few amendments that feel important:

Flow involves really getting “in the zone”. On a specific task, this happens when the challenge level of the task and your skill level meet. However, the “skill level” isn’t all that static and homogenous: it can vary in the course of the day (are you a morning/evening person?), the week (what kind of demands are there in life or at work?), or with respect to other tasks and their demands.

In the energy planning matrix (below), I’ve listed four types of energy based on my own experience and that of people I’ve worked with. If you’d like to use this tool, I encourage you to reflect on the kinds of energy states that you experience, and change the phrasing to ring more true. If possible, arrange them from relatively “higher” to “lower” energy.

free to use and distribute with attribution

It is vital to point out that no one of these states is more “important” than any other. Any creative project requires all four, for example:

This is just the first iteration of this planning matrix, so I’d be very happy to hear ideas or feedback (here, on LI, or IG.) And if you’ve re-named any of the energy categories and are open to sharing, I’d love to hear those, too!

Recommended further reading:

My older writing on attention, energy, and time management:

Kit Kuksenok, PhD is a multi-disciplinary artist and researcher interested in the intersection of technology, society, and the human body.

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