How to manage your energy, not your time

Time is a limited resource, but energy is a renewable resource. These days, many people seem to be working longer and longer hours, so this article shares some ideas on how to manage your energy. As I was researching this topic, I noticed some useful correlations with my recent articles about positive psychology and coping with stress.

How to manage your energy, not your time

Is this you – how many of these traits do you recognise?

  • Get in to the office really early
  • Run from one meeting to the next without a break
  • Work through lunch
  • On the phone during the daily commute
  • Don’t see the family much during the week
  • Up late checking emails after dinner / putting the children to bed
  • Feel guilty if you can’t work at weekends due to family commitments
  • Feel guilty if you do work at weekends!
  • Look forward to long-haul trips where you can’t be interrupted

These may seem to be the easiest way to get through the work. But – beyond a certain point – they actually become counter-productive, because we lose energy and therefore wellbeing and productivity.

Tips for managing your energy

So, if energy is a renewable resource, it makes sense to invest more in boosting your energy and less in ever-increasing working hours. Below are some tips inspired by research undertaken by Schwartz and McCarthy as quoted in a Harvard Business Review article on the subject (please let me know if you’d like more information), with my added commentary:

Physical energy

  • Take physical exercise at least three times per week, ideally outdoors in the fresh air and close to nature
  • Eat healthily and regularly.  Don’t drink too much alcohol
  • Go to bed early and get enough sleep
  • Notice when your energy levels drop. Signs that you need a break include: yawning, fidgeting, eating when you’re not hungry, and losing concentration. (If I notice an energy dip when I’m working with teams, I’ll call a quick unplanned break.)
  • We are not programmed to concentrate for hours at a stretch, so take regular breaks away from your desk. 5-10 minutes can be enough every 90 minutes or so. This is also a useful technique when you are ‘stuck’ working on a problem or during a negotiation.

Emotional energy

  • Practice meditation and deep breathing to help reduce stress and handle negative emotions
  • Know and live your top five core values. This will give you energy and reduce conflict within yourself
  • Use your commute (or the last 20 minutes of your commute) to relax, so you are ready to be with your family when you get home
  • Boost positive emotions by regularly giving positive feedback
  • Notice what triggers positive and negative emotions in yourself
  • Look at upsetting situations through new lenses:
    • Adopt a ‘reverse lens’ to ask: “What would the other person in this conflict say, and how might they be right?”
    • Use a ‘long lens’ to ask: “How will I be likely to view this situation in six months?”
    • Employ a ‘wide lens’ to ask: “How can I grow and learn from this situation?”

Mental energy

  • Turn off the phone, and only answer emails at designated times of the day. You may remember I’ve suggested this in previous articles – it’s really helpful when you are not interrupted by the constant ‘ping’ of incoming messages!
  • If you need to deal with an important piece of work in an open-plan office, then work from home, or take it to a meeting room or a quiet corner of the staff canteen so you can focus
  • Identify what work you most enjoy and try to delegate other tasks. For example, if you are a ‘big picture’ thinker, have someone else do tasks that are more focused on detail. It takes less energy for them than it would for you, and allows you more time to play to your strengths
  • Be fully present in meetings (don’t be distracted so you’re only there in body but not in mind). If the meeting is not useful to you, then either change the agenda / format so it becomes useful, or don’t attend
  • At the end of each working day, set your most important priorities for the following day, so you arrive fresh and ready to go

 What companies/leaders can do

  • Have an on-site gym or arrange discounted gym memberships for staff, so people can go there to renew their energy
  • Have attractive outdoor space
  • Minimise the number of meetings
    • Sainsbury’s – the major UK supermarket – has a rule that there are no meetings on Fridays so people can focus on getting work done. To ensure this happens, all the meeting rooms are locked!
  • Set up a rest area or relaxation room with sofas. This sends the message that it’s OK to take a break
    • One client I worked with had a space where staff could play table football – as well as boosting energy, this was a sociable activity too
  • Ensure the canteen always serves a healthy option on the menu (better a daily salad than pie and fries!)
  • Be a good role model. Take your holiday entitlement, don’t work over-long hours, and don’t send emails at evenings or weekends – this sends a sub-conscious message that this climate is acceptable
  • As a leader, act in a calm and relaxed manner – your behaviour sets the tone for your team and lets them know if it’s ‘safe’ to open up to you
  • In your one-to-ones, shift your focus from the task to the person

Other tips

  • Try an activity that gets you ‘in the flow’, something that you can immerse yourself in and not think of anything else – such as juggling, dancing or horse-riding
  • Know your priorities about family, hobbies and work, and avoid leakage. Realise what you are sacrificing if you always just ‘do that extra hour’ at work

Are you heading for an energy crisis?  

Ask me for the PDF questionnaire ‘Are you heading for an energy crisis?’. It’s a quick and easy set of questions that take less than 5 minutes to answer – the results will help you see your energy ‘bank account’ – are you in credit or overdrawn?

Print it out and tuck it into your notebook or pin it on the wall by your PC as a constant reminder of where to focus in order to increase your energy. Check back every month to monitor your progress, and if you know you have a busy period coming up, notice which tendencies you are most likely to sacrifice, so you can be conscious and take control.

I discovered this model on the positive psychology course I attended earlier this year.

Acting at the ‘love to’ end of the scale pulls energy towards you, while the ‘won’t do’ end of the scale pushes energy away from you.

  • Look at ‘won’t do’ tasks that are imposed on you, to understand why you don’t like them and what you could do to make them valuable. Maybe delegate these tasks to someone who does enjoy doing them, find a way to avoid them, or think how you could get them done and out of the way quickly.
  • Examples of ‘have to’ tasks might be driven by fear e.g. “I must provide for my family” and/or reward e.g. “My efforts mean everyone is well looked after”.
  • ‘Should do’ tasks might include getting enough sleep as well as delivering that report on time.
  • You don’t need to set objectives at the ‘want to’ and ‘love to’ end of the scale, because you already have the intrinsic motivation.

Personal experiences

Recently, I worked from home more than usual, and was at my desk for hours, which I found physically uncomfortable. By Thursday, my energy levels were low, so I went for a one-hour walk at lunchtime. This helped me to think, and I came back with a fresh perspective, new ideas, and more focus for the rest of the day.

My teenage son is doing important exams at the moment, and has planned his studies in an organised way:

  • He eats three good meals per day plus snacks
  • He’s ignoring PlayStation in favour of fresh air and physical exercise, such as kicking a football around in the garden
  • He finishes at 5pm so he can wind down and enjoy leisure time
  • He goes to bed at a sensible hour

By organising his start and finish time each day, taking regular breaks, eating well, and getting enough sleep, he has the best chance of achieving good exam results – I hope so anyway! Isn’t it interesting that kids instinctively know what to do while we adults ignore our needs in order to ‘achieve’, ‘deliver’, ‘work hard’ and so on!

Please share this article with anyone you know who might find it interesting, and let me know if you’d like help to manage your energy.

Next month, we look at speaking out – why, when and how.