It’s not how many hours you put in that determines how productive you are, it’s how much energy you’re able to invest during the hours you work. Master this one simple concept, and you’ll not only be more effective, you’ll also be much happier. The challenge is not to get better at managing your time, which is finite, but rather about managing your energy, which you can systematically increase and regularly renew. As human beings, we need four very different sources of energy to operate at our best: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. None is sufficient by itself, and they all influence one another. Too often, we take our energy for granted. We assume that if there’s more demand, our capacity to meet it will just naturally expand. But if you often find yourself feeling tired or overwhelmed or stressed out, you know that’s not true. The fact is that if we’re not intentionally finding ways to increase and renew our energy, we’re depleting ourselves. If we’re not getting stronger, we’re getting weaker.
At the physical level—the foundation—too many of us treat our bodies as if our health is our birthright. We work too long and too continuously, which takes a toll even if your job is sedentary. And we rest and sleep and work out too little. A new study released several weeks suggested that people who work more than 10 hours a day have a 60 percent higher chance of a heart attack. A different recent study found that people who get up and move frequently during the day have more protection against a range of illnesses. Overwhelming evidence suggests that nearly all of us need at least seven to eight hours of sleep to be fully rested and able to function cognitively at our best. Yet the average American gets less than six and a half hours, and that number continues to diminish. At the emotional level, all our urgent busyness fuels a state of heightened impatience, anxiety and frustration. In physiological terms, it’s called the fight-or-flight response, which serves us well when the threat is life or death. The problem, in fight-or-flight, is that our brains don’t operate as well. We become more reactive and far less capable of thinking logically, imaginatively and long term. Worse yet, the adrenalin-induced rush we get from elevated stress hormones can literally be addictive. At the mental level, the primary form of overload we’re all fighting is information. Technology makes it possible to be connected all the time, but also difficult to ever disconnect. Many of us cope by trying to multitask. We end up splitting our attention between multiple activities, and almost never full engaging in any of them. By practicing fractured focus, we progressively lose the ability to absorb our attention in one thing at a time. Ironically, we’re also less productive when we try to multitask. The researcher David Meyer has shown that when we switch attention midtask to take on another, the time required to finish the first one increases by an average of 25 percent. At the spiritual level, we undervalue the fuel we derive from deeply held values and a clear sense of purpose. When something really matters to us, it becomes a powerful source of energy and direction. Rather than responding reactively to every new demand, purpose serves as a road map for setting our priorities. The good news, we’ve discovered in our work at The Energy Project, is that small, intentional changes can make a very big difference in our lives.
Just for starters, consider these four strategies, one for each of the four energy dimensions: Physical It makes sense that the bigger the demands in our lives, the greater the need for renewal. We do just the opposite. Start taking a break at least every 90 minutes. You can get a lot of renewal by completely disengaging from work even for very short periods of time. Emotional Start paying attention to how you’re feeling, moment to moment. How you feel profoundly influences how you perform. When you notice yourself moving into negative emotions, apply this principle: Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t. Instead, smile, take a deep breath and wait to act until you’re capable of thinking clearly. Mental Stop trying to multitask. You can’t, efficiently or effectively. Instead, work as much as possible in short, uninterrupted sprints. Focus intensely for no more than 90 minutes, and then take a break. At a minimum, do the most important thing first every day, for at least 60 minutes. Spiritual It’s very easy, under pressure, to do whatever will solve the problem in the moment, without regard for the long-term consequences. Instead, ask yourself this simple question when you have a difficult decision to make: “What’s the right thing to do here?” The more intentionally you make decisions, the better they’ll be. Take just one behavior from the Energy Audit that you’re not currently doing but know you should, and start doing it at a specific time every day for a week. You’ll notice a difference in your life. Is there an area of your life you feel more challenged than others when it comes to personal energy? What are your struggles?
Excerpts from Tony Schwartz