Coming up is Energy Management and Email and Energy Management and Scheduling. Energy Management has been a huge topic. Onward!

In fiction, we often say that a character must have agency. They have to think for themselves and make decisions in the story.

That’s also true in energy management in the day job and the writing side hustle.

During the worst of the day job chaos, I ran across a blog post on one of the time management sites. The author—an entrepreneur—stated that you always have total control over your schedule. Of course, I commented that wasn’t always true. He didn’t understand that at all.

Sure, I’d seen examples like the “not to-do lists” (which I never understood. Why do you need a list for this?). I’d also seen examples where the writer says they showed the boss what they were working on and asked which was a priority. That resulted in the boss giving it to someone else instead.

If I’d done this with some of my past bosses, they probably would have waved a flustered hand at me and said, “Get them both done.”

I think that’s probably more of the average worker’s experience.

Last year, I read Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, and it was eye-opening. He uses different phrasing, but I’m putting it in fiction writer terms. He said that people have agency over their schedule, but that they can forget they have it.

I think it’s not entirely true.

Managers and CEOs know they have agency and forget it in the crush of getting all the projects done and attending meetings.

Workers probably never knew they had it at all.

That’s just the culture. You do things for your boss because he tells you to. Usually, they’re important and he wants them right away.

So what would be agency in your day job?

It’s starting with the simple decision that you’re going to do this task in an hour (or later today, or even in ten minutes).

It sounds simple and it’s not. It’s not even intuitive to think of doing it or more people would. With the crush of tasks coming in and the sense of urgency the tools themselves create, it’s hard to claim your agency.

Maybe I could have told the boss who didn’t want to rock the boat, “I’m finishing up X now. Can I take care of this in an hour?” He probably would have done that hand-wavy thing and been fine with it. All he wanted to hear was that the task was being done.

And it would have been terrifying for me to ask it, I think.

But it would have given me agency because it was my decision about my schedule.

But let’s take another example of how this works.

Let’s suppose that Person A texted you with a question. It’s taking a bit of time to resolve. While you’re working it, you see a text message from Person B. Then another one pops in from Person C.

The tools themselves are designed to pull you in. If I ignore any of the messages, Microsoft Teams flashes at me, screaming, “Answer me! Answer me!” Even the color of the flag is designed to pull your attention in.

The tools themselves want to force you into giving up your agency and letting them decide what you do.

 Most people will jump in and try to juggle all three at once, possibly even sending the answer to Person A to Person C by mistake (guilty!).

This is where you ignore the flashing of the tool. Finish Person A. Then tackle Person B. After you finish with Person B, then tackle Person C.

Now maybe Person C calls while you’re still working on Person A. Then you might have to say something like, “Give me a second to finish up with the other person who texted me.”

I still get stressed when something like this happens because it’s a cognitive load having all these come at you at once. But being able to simply make that decision does make a difference in how I feel later on when it comes to writing.

The hardest thing is avoiding doing two things at once. We’re so overwhelmed by stuff that the default is to work while we’re talking to someone else or work while we’re in a meeting.

Is it any wonder people are burned out and don’t think they have agency?

And all of this internal battle with agency in the day job makes it harder to do the writing. By the time you get home, your energy is zapped.

Writing itself is fun. But sitting down at a computer—possibly all the same tools you use at work—steers you to feeling like “this is work.”

Of course, the minute you think writing is work, critical voice jumps in and gets involved. It’s a horrendous cycle that’s hard to get out of once you enter it. You can feel like a total failure because you’re not getting much writing done, even when you have time. Everything connects to everything else.

Agency at work helps you with agency at writing.