Energy Over Time

Time management is undoubtedly an area which seems to be of grave concern to us, both at a personal and professional level. Whether a busy professional or a house wife, a student or a man working on the road, the common factor they all share is the pressure of time. One of the participants in a time management session rightly said “We are very unfortunate not to really enjoy the divine gift of life by cherishing and living every single moment of it rather we are trapped in a blind race which leaves us with an exhausted body, mind and soul”.

Recently, I have come across a very interesting article in the Harvard Business Review “Manage Your Energy, Not Time” written by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy. What you read here is mainly an extract from the given article with little personal input here and there.

The subject article underlines two entwined concepts towards time management or broadly taken as life management. One deals with the fruits of living a disciplined life and the other emphasizes on winning time through developing and managing an individual’s energy reservoir.

As mentioned in the article, we are bestowed with four energy springs within our capacity and the best part is the given energy springs will never dry provided we manage them prudently.  Our anatomy is such that we like any another matter in the world are charged and driven by energy, be it physical energy which runs our body or spiritual power which elevates our spirit to its true heights. The essence of a blissful life lies in keeping a balance yet optimum utilization of these God given energy reservoirs.

The Body: Physical Energy

A smart artisan never lets his tools get rusty as he knows compromising on tools means compromising success.

Our body is the ultimate medium through which we exhibit our intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy. Interestingly, this key source of our self reflection is the most neglected one. We are all well aware of the fact that inadequate nutrition, exercise, sleep, and rest diminish people’s basic energy levels, as well as their ability to manage their emotions and focus their attention.

Regular exercise and physical well being sounds like a luxury to be enjoyed only by a very few. Office timings from 9-5 are most commonly known as 9 – none. To be successful or at least to look committed, one must work longer hours – efficiency still outruns effectiveness. No wonder, executives are stressed out and have short attention spans which eventually results in lesser output.

What to do?

  • The first step towards managing physical energy is to identify rituals for a healthy life. Our body, like any machine demands two things for a long life i.e. right fueling at the right time and regular servicing to minimize wear and tear. Watching our diet both quality and quantity is definitely not a very pleasant task but then discipline in any aspect of life requires willingness, courage and commitment and same holds true for a healthy lifestyle
  • Just as a machine needs to shut down periodically to keep it from burning out similarly our body needs proper rest and sound sleep to get ready to face another challenging day.
  • Another key ritual highlighted in the subject article is to take brief but regular breaks at specific intervals throughout the workday. The value of such breaks is grounded in our physiology. Known as “Ultradian rhythms” refer to 90- to 120-minute cycles during which our bodies slowly move from a high-energy state into a physiological trough. Toward the end of each cycle, the body begins to crave a period of recovery. The signals include physical restlessness, yawning, hunger, and difficulty concentrating, but many of us ignore them and keep working. The consequence is that our energy reservoir—our remaining capacity—burns down as the day wears on.

Intermittent breaks for renewal result in higher and more sustainable performance. The length of renewal is less important than the quality.

The Emotions: Quality of Energy

A relaxed mind inhibits creativity and self control, essentials of professional success.

Emotions reflect the quality of energy. As they say a “positive person is the one who manages his emotions intelligently”. The key differentiating factor between other living things and human beings “Ashraf ul Mukhlukat (Superior Being)” is the power of choice between a stimuli and reaction. When people are able to take more control of their emotions, they can improve the quality of their energy, regardless of the external pressures they’re facing.

How to manage Emotional Energy?

  • First step towards managing emotional energy is to identify our reaction pattern towards different stimuli. Keeping a close look to how we feel in different situations lead us to self assessment eventually leading to self development.
  • The concept of intermittent breaks during stressful work hours are an amazing recharger and help overcome negative energy. Unfortunately, without intermittent recovery, we’re not physiologically capable of sustaining highly positive emotions for long periods. The high pace of work with long list of challenges, rejection, never ending competition, force us to move to and fro like a pendulum from high to low energy. Such situations can be overcome by breaking the pattern of negative energy meaning diverting our attention to something which rejuvenates us. This is why call centers usually are encouraged to keep an entertainment room to minimize the burnout among agents.
  • Nothing could be more effective than the power of appreciation both for self and others. Never forget to give a pat on the back to yourself and others on accomplishing a task irrespective of how small or big it is. Appreciation is a wonderful ice breaker and instrumental in building relationship at work.
  • Perhaps the most effective way people can change their feeling and reaction to an incident is by viewing it through different angles. The famous concept 3 D technique works miracles in our professional growth and interpersonal communication. 3 D technique means viewing an incident or decision form three different angles with the core intention to comprehend other’s perspective. The three different angles are:
    • Reverse Lens: seeing the world from the victim perspective. With the reverse lens, for example, people ask themselves, “What would the other person in this conflict say and in what ways might that be true?”
    • Long lens:  Analyzing the short term and long term perspective and consequences respectively. Ask yourself, “How will I most likely view this situation in six months?”
    • Wide lens; Thinking beyond immediate outcomes, ask yourself, “Regardless of the outcome of this issue, how can I grow and learn from it?”

Each of these lenses can help people intentionally cultivate more positive emotions.

The Mind: Power of Focus

Power of focus simply means “being present both physically and mentally. Our intellectual faculty is a product of our focus and observation. The busy office environment demands multitasking, we usually find ourselves juggling with a range of urgent tasks, proof reading a report while answering a phone or tabulating an important information while chit chatting.

What to do?

  • Multitasking can be quite risky; our physiology is such that at times trivial distractions can be costly. The concept of intermittent breaks work equally well for our concentration. The article suggest that one can be more effective at work by giving his undivided attention to a task at hand for about 90 to 120 minutes, try finishing it and then enjoy a little break before one hops on to the next assignment.
  • The worst enemies of focus and concentration are the fruits of technology, a constant beep of incoming mails, never stopping phone calls. Distractions can definitely be minimized to a considerable degree by developing rituals conducive for attentive work.
  • Another way to mobilize mental energy is to focus systematically on activities that have the most long-term leverage. Unless people intentionally schedule time for more challenging work, they tend not to get to it at all or rush through it at the last minute. Prioritizing indeed works wonders.

Spiritual Energy: Power of purpose

“I no longer want to work for money, but simply for the joy of the work itself.”

What could be more motivating than the power of purpose and meaning? Unfortunately, motivation is largely taken as an external factor.

People perform at their best when their job and responsibilities fall in their liking. Work is more than making money; it’s a way to make dreams into realty. They are better charged with positive energy which leads to focused efforts resulting in higher accomplishments. Regrettably, the high demands and fast pace of corporate life don’t leave much time to pay attention to these issues, and many people don’t even recognize meaning and purpose as potential sources of energy

What to do?

  • Self refueling: Every thing around us demands attention, even a garden unattended for an extended period houses unnecessary weeds and creepers. To ensure a lush green garden with colorful flowers, we need to give it time and attention and water it with love every now and then. Same is true for self development. To find purpose and meaning in what we do, we need to take a soul searching cruise. To access the energy of the human spirit, people need to clarify priorities and establish accompanying rituals in three categories: doing what they do best and enjoy most at work; consciously allocating time and energy to the areas of their lives—work, family, health, service to others—they deem most important; and living their core values in their daily behaviors
  • Another way to mobilize mental energy is to focus systematically on activities that have the most long-term leverage. Unless people intentionally schedule time for more challenging work, they tend not to get to it at all or rush through it at the last minute. Perhaps the most effective focus ritual is to identify each night the most important challenge for the next day and make it your very first priority when you arrive in the morning
  • In the second category, devoting time and energy to what’s important to you, there is often a similar divide between what people say is important and what they actually do. Rituals can help close this gap. Take time out for what you cherish and enjoy it fully so you are better charged when you switch your attention to what you are expected to do
  • The third category, practicing your core values in your everyday behavior, is a challenge for many as well. Most people are living at such a furious pace that they rarely stop to ask themselves what they stand for and who they want to be. As a consequence, they let external demands dictate their actions. What are the qualities that you find most off-putting when you see them in others?” By describing what they can’t stand, people unintentionally divulge what they stand for. If you are very offended by stinginess, for example, generosity is probably one of your key values. If you are especially put off by rudeness in others, it’s likely that consideration is a high value for you. As in the other categories, establishing rituals can help bridge the gap between the values you aspire to and how you currently behave.

Addressing these three categories helps people go a long way toward achieving a greater sense of alignment, satisfaction, and well-being in their lives on and off the job. Those feelings are a source of positive energy in their own right and reinforce people’s desire to persist at rituals in other energy dimensions as well.

Managing energy levels consequently results in better time management, no more running around or beating about the bush. An aligned mind, heart, body and soul lead to accomplishment rather than sulking or wasting time.