Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to Sustaining High Performance

“To be fully engaged in our lives, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.” – Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, The Power of Full Engagement

Some leaders thrive under pressure, others wilt. There is an epidemic of stress and burnout in our professional and personal lives. We pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task and use our electronic devices to organize the demands on our time.  We become more efficient and take on more responsibilities, and with them, more stress.  

Even when managing our time well we can still end up exhausted and stressed, unable to concentrate, keep focus, and be productive. That’s because the problem isn’t time management, it’s energy management. One major quality that leaders seek for themselves and their teams is sustained high performance in the face of ever-increasing pressure and rapid change.  That takes energy.

The skillful management of energy - both individually and organizationally - makes sustaining peak performance possible. According to authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in their book, The Power of Full Engagement, we need to rethink much of what we’ve believed about organizing our lives. We need to learn two new rules:

  1. Energy is the fundamental currency of high performance.

  2. Performance, health, and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy.


The 4 Principles of Energy Management

Here are the basic concepts, from Loehr and Schwartz:

  • Energy has four dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. It is necessary to draw energy from each domain and to manage it in all four.

  • Energy is best managed when there is oscillation between stress and recovery. Stress in this case is meant in a positive sense. Stress is what makes us stretch ourselves and use our talents and skills; however, it must be balanced with recovery and rest, and most of us don’t know how to do this.

  • Pushing beyond our usual limits builds our strengths. Building mental, emotional, and spiritual capacities is similar to physical training to improve our strength or cardiovascular abilities. We must push in order to grow.

  • Creating specific positive energy replenishing rituals sustains and expands our energy. This is the key to recuperating and making our energy reserves fully available to us.

Too much energy expended without sufficient rest and recovery leads to trouble. All of life and nature is built upon rhythms and oscillations. Yet, so many of us are in a hurry because we think in terms of linear time.  Most of us are in a race against the clock and make incredible demands on our energy reserves as if we had unlimited resources.

Most approaches to high performance in leaders deal with cognitive or emotional competencies. Increasingly we are attending to the spiritual dimension, how deeper values and a sense of purpose influence performance. Even more recently we are paying attention to the role played by physical capacities. An integrated theory of performance management addresses the body, mind, emotions, and spirit in  a holistic approach.


Creating More Physical Energy

The body is our fundamental source of energy, and anyone concerned about high levels of performance under intense pressure must be concerned with the physical domain. Science is clear about the body’s need for both stress and recovery. For any muscle to grow stronger it must be stressed and then given time to heal. Repeated demands combined with recovery result in increased strength. Conversely, failure to stress the muscle results in weakness and atrophy. These same principles are true in all four domains of energy sources.  Growth occurs when there is demand, stress, and recovery.

Even if you are at a desk most of the day, you need physical energy. It begins with attention to breathing, a healthy diet, good sleeping habits, plenty of water, daily physical exertion, and energy recovery breaks every 90 to 120 minutes. Leaders who build these habits into their days have more energy and are able to sustain performance under intense pressures.


Creating More Mental Energy

Physical and emotional energy help mental functioning. There is a correlation between productivity and positive thinking that generates mental energy. Thinking takes time, yet most jobs don’t build in time for rest, workout breaks, and thinking. They should. In fact, one of the most productive ways to think is during exercise, breaks, walks, jogs, a simple game, or just daydreaming. Build downtime into your day and allow your team to do the same.

Other ways of creating more mental energy include varying activities so that different parts of the brain are used. Mental preparation, visualization, meditation, introspection, and reflection are all pathways to creativity and innovation. Taking time to connect with your organization’s mission, your personal purpose in life, and your true values are all ways of accessing your drive, passion, and energy.


Creating More Emotional Energy

Emotional energy expresses itself in self-confidence, self-discipline, sociability, and empathy. It’s possible to build positive emotions intentionally just as one would build muscles for physical strength. Athletes know how important it is to manage negative feelings during crucial points. Frustration, anger, or fear can interfere with optimal performance. Leaders who want to be able to perform well under stress must learn to “keep their eye on the ball” and manage negativity.

Too few people recognize or try to create feelings of gratitude or joy, especially during grueling negotiations and intense business meetings. Research has shown, however, that humor and positive feelings are contagious and can actually increase the chances of success in business relationships. Friendships are critical at work and affect job performance. Time taken for relationship building is crucial.


Creating More Spiritual Energy

Spiritual energy, in the sense meant here, has to do with your personal connection to your true values and a deep sense of purpose. It means honoring your values, paying attention to your gut instincts, and doing the right things for yourself and others. This authenticity can be an amazing source of passion, fortitude, and commitment. People who connect with a purpose greater than their own personal interests demonstrate the most passion and energy. Spiritual energy also depends on challenging your habitual limits and experiencing rest, recovery, and renewal.


The Power of Positive Rituals

Getting in shape to fully engage in life and work means intentionally working to identify your purpose, values, and committing to the establishment of effective energy replenishing habits.  Be honest about where you are now and be willing to admit that excuses are not serving you well. Plan to take action on three positive rituals that will make a difference in your energy levels.

Busy leaders who have built breaks into their already overburdened schedules have been astonished at how they have expanded their capacities in all four domains of energy. These breaks can include deep breathing for a few seconds, doing a quick meditation, rereading your  vision or mission statement, calling a loved one, running up and down stairs, taking a quick tour around colleagues’ cubicles for friendly chats, doing stretches, eating a healthy snack, or walking around the block. It doesn’t matter what one decides to do, but it is crucial to be specific about the time and activity. The idea is to reconnect with purpose and recuperate energy reserves.

Working with an executive coach is a good way to evaluate your mental models about time and energy and build new skill sets for improving your sources of  physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy. Partner with your coach to learn and commit to  stretching your capacities and then recuperating your energy. It is your most precious resource.