“You do your best when you are at your best”. This philosophy lies at the heart of Carey Nieuwhof’ s upcoming self-help book. a former lawyer and the founding pastor of Connexus Church in Barrie, Ontario, Nieuwhof contends that there are three obstinate culprits who contrive to create a “Stress Spiral” in our professional as well as our personal lives. The trifecta of Unfocused Time, Unlevered Energy and Hijacked Priorities leaves us overwhelmed, overcommitted, and overworked. Sounds familiar? Reminds you of a spoilt old wine in a spanking new bottle? Fret not. Stitching together tidbits of conventional wisdom gleaned from the likes of Cal Newport and Stephen Covey, with some unconventional tenets of his own Nieuwhof lays down a primer for getting one’s life back on track.
A lot of the virtuous transformation from a worn down bundle of nerves to a successful and serene high energy optimist imbued with a Nirvana state in perpetuity, has to do with manipulating calendars. Not the calendars that hang from a rusty nail adjacent to the kitchen cabinet, but the calendars that determine which meeting will have you entering it like a Forrest Gump and exiting like Don Vito Corleone. The ultimate objective is to enable the stressed out soul from making the transition from the Spiral of Stress to the Thrive Cycle.
Nieuwhof argues that the secret to a well balanced and even fulfilling professional and personal life lies in the management of time. Every person according to Nieuwhof needs to divide the time available in a day into three specific zones: The Green Zone, The Yellow Zone and the Red Zone. These Traffic Lights might end up being your unwitting saviours. As Nieuwhof illustrates by drawing on the works of Claire Diaz-Ortiz of Twitter and Cal Newport, the bestselling management author, even the most talented and cerebral genius at work would have at the most three to five ‘deeply productive’ hours every day. There are the hours when the worker’s energy is at its peak. The remaining hours are characterised by a waning of energy and a seeping in of unintended lethargy. The trick, therefore, is to capitalize on the peak productive hours.
As you might have deciphered by now, the productive hours represent your Green Zone. Bt when does this Green Zone manifest? Since there are nocturnal strivers and dawn fanatics it is essential for you to identify your ‘Energy Clock’. This is a clock that depicts when your energy dips and peaks. This is the very key to figuring out when your Green Zone is. Consciously observing your pattern throughout the course of a day will facilitate one to identify your Energy Clock. One surefire way to identify your Green Zone would be to map the 3-5 hours every day during the course of which you are “creative, alert, engaged, efficient, effective, productive and accurate.” In lockstep with these positive attributes, would also manifest virtues such as kindness, optimism, cheeriness and reflection and magnanimity. Once you are done with identifying your Green Zone, schedule all the activities that you are best at performing, to fit within the confines of this Green Zone. For example, mundane, routine and repetitive meetings can be pushed to the Yellow Zone (more of this later). Ensure minimal to no distractions when you are working in the Green Zone. Turn off all notifications from electronic gadgets, place a Do Not Disturb Board outside your room and forget the existence of the phenomenon called Internet (unless such a remembrance is vital to your most productive chores themselves).
If your Green Zone is the panacea for all ailments, the Red Zone represents the biggest ailment itself. This is the period of time which finds you listless, devoid of creativity, “tired, disengaged, inefficient, ineffective, unproductive and inaccurate.” In sync with these merciless demons, negative state of mind attributes such as frustration, pessimism, short-temper, selfishness, miserliness and a hardened disposition rule the roost. Ensure that you do not reserve the tasks that you are best at for this stretch of time by any stretch of imagination. Keep reserved for the Red Zone tasks that are unimportant, uncritical and insignificant in terms of negative and costly ramifications.
So that leaves you with the Yellow Zone. Sandwiched in between the astonishing and the abject, the Yellow Zone is an ambivalent chunk of time that is benevolent as well as stubborn. According to Nieuwhof, this time zone is characterised by states of mind that are “moderately creative, partially engaged, fairly efficient, relatively effective, mostly productive, somewhat accurate, and producing decent work.” The moods associated with this Zone are “pleasant, realistic, civil, introspective, slightly bothered by others, and somewhat generous.” Since this time zone does not signify collapse or disaster, tasks that are not absolute priority but still visibly important can be adjusted to fit within the confines of the Yellow Zone.
Similarly energy levels may be leveraged to produce the maximum impact by introspecting on three critical questions: “What tasks do I most look forward to doing? What things energize me as I do them? When do I lose track of time because I’m enjoying what I’m doing so much?”
Nieuwhof also warns that a blank calendar is nothing but a recipe for unmitigated disaster. A calendar which looks squeaky clean for the next three months might just be a canvas waiting to be painted on by someone other than the painter (this is the reviewer’s own analogy). Nieuwhof urges you to prioritise your calendar by setting out reminders and tasks for the foreseeable future so that your much anticipated family time is not ruined by a sudden invitation to a party which no one is keen on attending.
The message purveyed in “At Your Best: is neither new nor novel. A multitude of authors have already waxed eloquent on almost every concept that is addressed and attested to by Nieuwhof. However, what makes the book a very engrossing read is the simplistic and easily implementable manner in which it has been written.
(At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy, and Priorities Working in Your Favor by Carey Nieuwhof is published by WaterBrook & Multnomah and will hit the stands on 14th September 2021)
Thank You Net Galley for the Advance Reviewer Copy