Managing Your Energy,Not Your Time
May 9, 2011 1 Comment
I walked off the field with my head slouched, feeling like I’d let my team down. When the game was on the line, I’d given into the pressure, it felt like. When my teammates needed me most, I’d betrayed them. And when the fans were hoping for one more defensive stop, my efforts proved futile. I didn’t understand. What happened? I’d known it would come down to this, didn’t I? I knew it would be a hard fought game, back and forth. I had a feeling it would come down to the last minutes of the game. I suspected— hoped, even— it might be in my hands, up to me to make a game clinching play. To be at the ready, I’d prepared extra hard all week. I’d lifted weights every day after practice. I’d gotten up at 5 am each morning before school to run, making sure my conditioning was where it needed to be. And I’d watched hours of game film, studying my opponent until 1 or 2 in the morning each night. I don’t know where I went wrong.
But you do, right?
That, of course, is a fictitious story. Well, maybe not leaving the field disappointed, but certainly the weak (oh, I mean week) buildup to that point. I’m an admitted gym rat and (sometimes) recovering over-trainer, but even I would not have been so foolish to think such a training regimen could be anything but detrimental, especially during the season. Since my earliest memory of playing team sports, I, like most athletes, have understood the importance of rest and recovery. Working hard, it’s always been understood, was extremely important. Without it, there was no chance of improvement. But rest was important, too. The body, it turns out, actually needs to recover. Muscles need time to repair themselves so that they can become stronger. The body needs rest to be at its optimal state for competition. And coaches at the earliest level of sports engrain that rule into the minds of their players.
So why don’t business leaders demand the same from their employees? Certainly this dictum has its merits there, as well. Moreover, why don’t employees—let’s call them corporate athletes–adhere to the same set of principles? Are their schedules not as demanding? At eight hour intervals with maybe a one-hour break, that is not true. Do they enjoy a longer offseason with more opportunity to rest? Let’s see: 52 weeks, less a two week vacation (for those who actually get –and take– two weeks). No season, for any sport, is that long. Heck, even athletes who play several sports aren’t “in-season” for that long. And while athletes undoubtedly have demanding schedules, they also practice and enjoy healthy habits and benefits that include nutritiously prepared meals, massages, injury rehabilitation and prevention, and regular treatments in both cold and hot tubs. When’s the last time you enjoyed any of that? And couldn’t you use it? Of course you could. Instead, you go and go and go. You put your head down and plug away. Worse, you brag about the hours you put in at work and your frenzied schedule. (I know I’m not the only one!)
The result of this unhealthy balance, if you can even call it such, is that you are almost never fully engaged in any activity you undertake. You are tired at work, unable to focus on the project you were assigned. You should exercise, but you convince yourself you are too busy. When you do finally get home, after leaving the office late (as usual), you’re too worried and concerned (about everything) to throw the ball with your son or read a book to your daughter. And what might be the most important aspect of you—your spirituality and self-awareness— gets completely drowned out, leaving you no room to focus on the things that make you individually and uniquely human.
“To be fully engaged,” Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz teach us in their wonderful book The Power of Full Engagement, “we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.” Athletes know this. They energize themselves in between contests so that they can give everything they have for the few hours of competition. But corporate athletes do not. Instead, we act as if we are always competing. Not only does this prevent optimum performance, it seriously hinders it. As Loehr and Schwartz put it, “Full engagement begins with feeling eager to get to work in the morning, equally happy to return home in the evening, and capable of setting clear boundaries between the two.” Easier said than done, as I’m sure we can all attest. That’s because we are all focusing on the wrong currency- time. Time-management, we are told, is the key to success. Organizing our lives around a schedule that we can, and do, hold ourselves to is paramount to success in life. That’s what we’re taught as employees, spouses, and parents. So we hopelessly juggle tasks all day long in an attempt to be the best multi-taskers we can. But that is the wrong approach, at least according to Loehr and Schwartz. Energy, they argue, is the fundamental currency of high performance. Not time. We need the right quality and quantity, harnessed in the right direction with the right amount of force, in order to be effective.
And to be honest, it makes sense. Actually, to be embarrassingly honest, I don’t know how I’ve not recognized that all of these years. If I’d taken the time to think about it, I would have realized that the best ideas I’ve had were in moments of ‘leisure’, away from hard work on whatever task I was trying to accomplish. I’d have seen that what I thought was production, working on five things at once, produced nothing but frustration, not to mention inaccurate, incomplete, or subpar work. And most importantly, I would have seen that the moments where I felt “in the zone” in my life were those times when I had decent, if not fantastic, balance in my life. In college, I worked hard on the football field and took my studies very seriously. But I was also able to have fun with my friends, many of which I consider family to this day, as well as take time for myself. This healthy balance along the four key dimensions— physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual— made those four years some of the most productive, yet enjoyable, of my life.
Fast forward more than fifteen years and I’ve lost that. I imagine many of us have. Somewhere between getting my Masters degree and finding my true love and changing diapers and buying a house, all of that was lost. The balance. The recovery. The downtime. The joy. And if it were not for a colleague and dear friend of mine, I might still be lost, not that I’m out of the woods completely. A former collegiate athlete herself, she recommended this amazing book. She said it resonated with her and would have the same effect on me. She was right. It took me all but a week to buy and read it. (I have a kindle, so that certainly sped up the process.) And I immediately began to at least think about, if not apply, the principles. I realized quickly, as many of you will if you attempt to make this fundamental shift in thinking, that it is extremely hard. As a competitor, I naturally think more is better. My competitive nature pushes me to try to do more than the man (or woman) next to me. The thought that, by standing still for a minute or even taking a step back, I will gain in the long run feels unnatural and awkward. But that is exactly what happens.
It always helps me if I put things in analogous terms. You’ll see that a lot in my writings and the way I speak. In this case, one example immediately came to mind. Not taking the time to recover—whether it be physically (getting more sleep, taking short breaks in the workday), emotionally (connecting with loved ones, giving to others), spiritually (finding ways to reveal and express your core beliefs), or mentally (effectively managing focus and attention)—is like a NASCAR driver failing to take a pit stop. Sure, by not stopping to get his wheels changed or check in with his pit crew, he gains a time advantage on the other racers who do pull over. But, if he blows a tire or runs out of fuel (and he most certainly will do one or the other), what’s the point?
Pit stops are necessary, critical even. As much in life as they are in auto racing. That much should be clear. Without them, we go through life emotionally disconnected, physically drained, spiritually empty, and mentally bankrupt. By finding balance, on the other hand, we can thrive and flourish along all four dimensions, living our lives to our full potential. So take a break from work and walk outside for a few minutes. Call your brother or sister just to say ‘Hi’. Throw the ball with your son as soon as you get home from work. And pack your running shoes and some shorts in case you get in an exercise mood. You’ll be surprised how much more you can do and how much better you feel doing it.
I encourage you all to read the book:
The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Energy Renewal,
a wonderful Harvard Business Review Article:
..or at least a cliff notes summary.