It’s time to start thinking differently about how you manage your work day.


It’s time to start thinking differently about how you manage your work day.

If you are managing your time then you will likely have a set to-do list, with project goals and deadlines. You know what your priorities are, but as your work load increases there doesn’t seem to be enough time to get everything done. Inevitably you will put in more hours with less downtime, but is there in an improvement in your output or are you simply burning yourself out?

In their New York Times best-selling book, ‘The Power of Full Engagement’ (Free Press, 2003), authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz challenge time-management thinking. They suggest that managing one’s energy and not one’s time is the key to high performance and personal renewal. The authors maintain that because time is finite you cannot add to it – you only get a certain number of work hours in the day. Energy, on the other hand, can be replenished.

It’s a paradigm shift from old-school thinking that encourages daily self-discipline, stress avoidance and the keep-going attitude of a marathon runner. With the shift, the focus is now on energy, encouraging people to see life as a series of sprints, with downtime and regeneration being essential to productivity.

In the book the authors describe an Energy Pyramid which starts with the foundation of physical energy, followed by emotional and mental energy and ending at the top of the pyramid with spiritual energy. Each level is support by the one below and is reliant on it. For example, if you don’t have physical energy then you will also feel emotionally drained and lack mental prowess.

Physical energy

Executive and mentor coach Margaret Drake explains that, just as you can’t drive your car with an empty fuel tank, you can’t expect to perform optionally if your energy levels are low. “Managing your energy really means managing your power,” says Drake. “Your power is your ability to think and your ability to turn your thinking into action, which requires physical energy.”

Margaret oes on to say: “We often keep doing the same things over and over while expecting different results. We try harder and work longer hours without seeing those results. We need to think differently and develop ourselves in order to benefit from greater energy levels.”

Managing physical energy

Fuel: the food we eat provides our bodies with energy, not only for the vital functions but also for mental stamina. A diet which promotes sustained energy throughout the day can siginificantly improve your memory, concentration, physical stamina and co-ordination. If your physical energy reserves are frequently low consider reviewing your diet. You should be eating a well-balanced diet, with food choices from different food groups, and plenty of vegetables and fruit. It is also more beneficial to eat smaller, lighter meals at least every three hours during the day to maintain a steady energy level.

Rest: a good night’s sleep is like a reboot for the body and important for your physical energy.

Exercise: getting exercise will help you cope with stress. In an article published in the Harvard Business Review by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, senior vice president at the Energy Project, the authors suggest that exercise at least three times per week, with strength training at least once a week is good for stress. They also encourage people to listen to the cues their own bodies give when energy levels drop – restlessness, yawning, hunger and waning concentration.

Emotional energy

Negative thoughts, emotions and situations can drain your energy to a point where you feel so low, you are no longer able to focus on the tasks at hand. While stress and difficult situations are bound to arise, how you chose to handle these situations can impact on your energy levels and that of those around you.

Schwartz and McCarthy suggest looking at situations with a different lens: a reverse lens to consider what the other person in a conflict situation may have to say and if he would be correct in his analysis; a long lens to consider how you would feel about this in a few months and whether it is worth the energy now, and a wide lens to consider personal growth in the situation.

“In terms of those around you,” says Drake. “it is possible to monopolise someone’s time and drain their emotional energy. Realise that just as you have your priorities, your staff also have commitments in their work day. Consider how your actions affect those around you and ultimately impact on the business.”

Mental energy

Find your most productive time of the day. This may well be first thing in the morning, but if you find that you are more alert later in the day, use these hours for pressing projects.

Schwartz and McCarthy suggest taking time the night before to identify your most important challenge for the following day. When you get into work, make that your first priority.

“If you are working on a project, turn off your phone and don’t worry about your emails, block out 60 to 90 minutes of time to work on the task, then take a break away from your desk to replenish energy levels,” says Drake. “Just stopping to check one email or a phone call can break your concentration and pull your focus away from the current task.”

Spiritual energy

Schwartz and McCarthy suggest allocating time and energy to the things which you consider to be important. “Take a mental-health day,” says Drake. “Do something that you enjoy but leave your cellphone at home so that you can completely switch off from work and engage fully in your chosen activity.” A small investment of time into your personal happiness can help to replenish your batteries.

Drake also suggests creating a ‘think space’ in your home – a private space where you can regain your energy. “Even if you spend just a few minutes of your day in this space, in the long run it can be a huge time saver for you as you regain spent energy,” she states.