Be More Productive: Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time

You know the drill: You get into work bright and early, hoping to get a jump start on your day. But meetings and happenstance start to pile up, and before you know it, it’s 5:30 and you’ve barely gotten anything done. So you have to burn the midnight oil — and wake up early again the next day. It’s not just a brutal schedule to live on; it’s a recipe for disaster. Here’s one expert’s advice on how to manage your energy instead of your time.

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A Reservoir With Four Wells

Since 2003, The Energy Project founder and CEO Tony Schwartz has been working on developing reliable, science-backed methods to empower and energize people in the workplace. His organization has worked with companies to improve culture, morale, and productivity using experience-tested techniques. Central to the work The Energy Project does is Schwartz’s conception of the four types of human energy (as described in his book “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working”): physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Tending to each of these sources of motivation is the key to keeping energy up — and that might mean taking a new approach to managing manpower at work and at home.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Schwartz described going through that process with Wachovia Bank. In 2006, the Energy Project worked with 106 employees at 12 banks throughout southern New Jersey, ranging from senior leaders to lower-level managers. Together, they honed in on specific strategies to address each type of energy fatigue, using Wachovia’s own performance metrics to gauge their success. In the end, the bank employees who had participated in the program outperformed the control group by up to 20 percent.
Furthermore, a full 68 percent of the participants reported that the strategies improved their relationships with customers and clients, and 71 percent said their productivity and performance improved as well. Clearly, addressing energy needs is an effective way to boost productivity. But what, exactly, did The Energy Project do?

Energy Over Time

Here’s the thing: Everybody gets the same 24 hours every day. There’s no getting around that fact, and good luck requesting an eight-day week. So instead of tying yourself into knots over how you’re going to budget your time, Schwartz feels a more productive approach is to audit your energy use and see where you’re losing out on your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual get-up-and-go. When The Energy Project worked with Wachovia, they applied these methods to address each type of human energy.

Physical Energy

Nutrition, exercise, and sleep are the pillars of physical energy, so to start, Schwartz had each of the participants audit their own physical energy budget. Often, just seeing where they were falling short (skipping breakfast, working late into the night, forgoing physical exercise) was enough to spur some improvement. But they also found that certain habits and behaviors could pay off big — eating three or four small meals instead of two huge ones made employees less likely to crash, and a more regular sleep schedule made them more alert throughout the day.

Mental Energy

You know that your body isn’t capable of lifting 10,000 pounds, so you don’t really feel the need to try. But when it comes to brainpower, it can be hard to admit that some things are just a bit beyond us. Take multitasking. If you’re trying to make sure you’re using your mental energy in the most efficient way, block out periods where you can focus on one task at a time instead of trying to do everything at once.

Emotional Energy

Emotional energy governs the quality of your attention and work — even if you’re well rested and your mind is focused, that won’t do much if you’ve got a bad attitude about your work. When stress and hardships arise, try emotionally stabilizing exercises like taking deep breaths, going for a short walk, or even taking a moment to send a positive message to a coworker — positivity is surprisingly contagious.

Spiritual Energy

Spiritual energy is something a little less well defined, and it’s spent and recovered at a much slower pace than other types of energy. It’s all about feeling like your day-to-day work (the stuff you have to spend your energy on) is in-line with a higher purpose or a larger goal. To help employees recharge their spiritual energy, The Energy Project had the participants clarify their guiding principles, long-term goals, and other lofty ideas to themselves, and brainstorm ways to make their daily work fit into those dreams. It might sound unscientific, but like Schwartz’s other three energy types, spiritual energy is clearly connected with real-life productivity.


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