The Secret to Better Work: Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time


Jo Miller

March 18, 2016

“The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not,” say Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr in The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. Their message: To be a consistently high performer, you have to manage your energy, not your time.

If you typically manage your time—say, by creating to-do lists, prioritizing tasks, and scheduling dedicated time for each of those activities—you know how easy it is to get derailed in the course of an ordinary business day. A single email or conversation can break your focus or completely rearrange your priorities.

By managing your energy, you can bring your best performance to whatever activity that comes up, whether it’s being 100% present in conversations, contributing creative ideas in a meeting, or fully focusing on a critical task. You can achieve results that are far superior to the incremental gains you might get from time management techniques.

But how, exactly, do you manage your energy? Start with these five tips.

1. Recognize the Race You Need to Run

When you’re aiming to deliver high performance on a critical, lengthy work project, you’ll often hear people say, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” In other words, you should reduce your pace, so you don’t burn out during the long slog ahead of you. But when it comes to delivering consistently high performance, it might not be the ideal analogy.

“I have a mantra that some people find scary,” admits Amy Feirn, a Houston-based principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP. “I think it’s a marathon and a sprint.”

Here’s an example: Say a business development manager leading a team in a bid for a multi-million-dollar contract recognized that the relentless focus on the high-stakes end goal was sapping the team’s confidence. One month into the pursuit, they were already showing signs of burnout.

To re-energize the team, the manager identified three smaller goals: conducting an analysis of the competition, negotiating with suppliers, and writing the proposal. With this plan, the team was able to work in a series of “sprints” to cross the ultimate finish line and win the bid.

“I actually get more energy from the sprint,” says Feirn. “And I use the downtime to prepare for the next sprint. That’s how I know we’re making progress—breaking the whole project into pieces helps me get to the end of the marathon.”

2. Be an Energizer

In The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations, authors Rob Cross and Andrew Parker report on research that found that people who energize others are higher performers themselves.

But according to the authors, being an energizer doesn’t equate to being an entertainer, charismatic, or intense. “Rather, they bring themselves fully into an interaction.”

This comes easiest to Feirn when she’s playing the role of career advisor. “What gives me a great deal of energy is helping the people around me chart their own career paths,” she explains.

Think about the times when you’re most able to listen, be fully present, and energize others. Build more of those interactions into your day, and you’ll find that your performance gets a boost, too.

3. Know What Drains You and What Sustains You

Don’t come to Feirn looking for a pity party. “What drains my energy is when people dump problems in my lap with no solutions,” she says. “It’s a cliché, but if you’re going to bring me a problem, you’d better also have an idea for a solution.”

Leaders like Feirn know what drains them and take steps to avoid those conversations, tasks, and events. Instead, they build more of the activities that energize and sustain them into their days.

“Blocking time on my calendar for valuable family events is crucial for me to maintain high energy—especially since I travel so much,” says Feirn. “It’s important to allow yourself to manage your world in a way that works for you.”

4. Pace Yourself Like an Elite Performer

What do elite musicians, actors, and chess players have in common with top athletes? According to professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University, it’s interval training. Ericsson’s team found that these professionals maximized their productivity by working in focused 90-minute bursts, followed by some recovery time.

The same type of structure can be applied to your everyday work routine. To maximize bursts of performance time, structure your workload into 90-minute chunks. Follow each with an activity that will renew you, such as taking a walk or socializing with a friend at work.

“Deloitte’s NextGen leadership program helped me give myself permission to structure my day so that it gives me the energy I need,” says Feirn. “I need physical and mental breaks throughout the day. It might be a walk around the block or a coffee run. Taking multiple short breaks helps me gain more energy and be more productive.”

5. Don’t Be a Professional Pretzel

“Trying to be someone you’re not is hard work,” says Feirn. “It drains your energy!”

Being a professional pretzel—i.e., twisting into someone other than yourself—is exhausting work.

The alternative—being your authentic self at work—might seem scary and exhausting, too. But actually, it’s a huge relief. When you stop fighting against your strengths and start using them, you’ll unleash energy rather than consume it. You feel more at ease and perform better.

As a leader, Fairn explains, “I strive to be real, open, and unpretentious, so people can be themselves around me and access the most energy. I generate that vigor by really getting to know the people I work with and finding out what’s important to them personally.”

In short, managing your energy means being authentic at work and encouraging others to do the same. Discover and play to your signature strengths, make room for your team to play to theirs, and as a result, you’ll be able to unleash greater performance as a team.

Photo of runner courtesy of Shutterstock.

This article was written by Jo Miller from The Daily Muse and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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