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How to Manage Your Energy to Get More Done

You can’t increase the number of hours there are in a day, but you can increase the amount of energy you have.

Time is the resource we most often turn to in order to meet the demands of life. As an illustration, if your workload increases, your response is probably to put in more hours. However, there comes a point at which you can’t put in more hours because time is a finite resource.

The good news is that there’s a different resource you can turn to, and that resource is energy. Energy can be systematically expanded, and it can be regularly renewed.

Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr explain in their book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal that in order to be more effective throughout the day you need to start thinking about your energy instead of your time.

onehouradayformula banner longEnergy is your capacity to do work.  If you build the reservoir of energy that you have available to you–that is, if you put more fuel in your tank–, then you’ll have increased capacity. In addition, by creating rituals which regularly replenish your energy, you’ll be systematically refilling your tank and increasing your resilience.

Continue reading below to discover how to manage your energy to get more done.

The Four Sources of Energy

We need four sources of energy in order to be able to perform at our best: physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy, and spiritual energy.  Here’s an explanation of each:

Physical Energy

Physical capacity is the foundation on which everything else rests. If you don’t have enough physical energy it’s going to influence your ability to focus your attention, your ability to manage your emotions under pressure, and so on. Physical energy is about the quantity of energy that you have available to you.

Physical capacity has four components:

  1. Nutrition
  2. Fitness
  3. Sleep
  4. Recovery or Renewal (daytime equivalent of sleep)

Emotional Energy

Emotional energy is about how you feel, which dramatically influences how well you perform, how well you lead, and how well you interact with others. Emotional energy is about the quality of your energy.

In order to be fully engaged in an activity–that is, in order to be able to concentrate your energy completely on the task at hand–, you need to quiet your mind chatter and release negative emotions.

Mental Energy

Mental energy is about the focus of your attention. We do our most effective work when we focus on one thing at a time.

However, Shwartz explains that the average person in an organization in the U.S. stays on task for 11 minutes before moving on to another task. And it gets worse: during those 11 minutes they interrupt themselves with something else an average of every three minutes.

When we temporarily shift our attention from one task to another, it increases the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as 25%. This is known as the “switching time” phenomenon.

You can increase your mental energy by learning how to focus your attention.

Spiritual Energy

Spiritual energy is the energy derived from the sense of living on purpose, and from an alignment of how you say you want to live your life and how you actually live. The better that alignment, the more powerful the source of energy available to you. 

For example, if you say that your family is very important to you but you hardly spend any time with them, then your spiritual energy is going to be misaligned. Spiritual energy  is the “why” energy.

Audit Your Energy

This a test created by Tony Shwartz to help you audit your energy. For each statement below answer “true” or “false”. The statements for which you answer “true” are the ones you need to work on.

  1. I don’t regularly get 7 to 8 hours of sleep and I often wake up feeling tired.
  2. I frequently skip breakfast, or I settle for something that isn’t particularly healthy.
  3. I don’t work out enough, meaning cardiovascular training at least 3 times a week and strength training at least once a week.
  4. I don’t take regular breaks during the day to renew and recharge, and I often eat lunch at my desk.
  5. I frequently find myself feeling irritable, impatient or anxious at work, especially when demand is high.
  6. I don’t have enough time for my friends and family, and when I’m with them, I’m rarely “with them”.
  7. I take too little time for the activities that I most deeply enjoy.
  8. I rarely stop to express my appreciation to others, or to savor and celebrate my accomplishments and blessings.
  9. I have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time and I’m easily distracted during my day, especially by email.
  10. I spend much of my time reacting to immediate demands, rather than focusing on activities with long-term value and higher leverage.
  11. I don’t take enough time for reflection, strategizing and thinking creatively.
  12. I work in the evenings and/or the weekends and I rarely take a vacation free of work.
  13. I spend too little time at work doing what I do best and enjoy the most.
  14. There are significant gaps between what I say is important in my life and how I actually live.
  15. My decisions at work are more often influenced by external demands than by a strong, clear sense of my own purpose.
  16. I don’t invest enough time or energy in making a positive difference to others or in the world.

The Importance of Renewal

At night you go through the Basic Rest Activity Cycle. All through the night, over periods of 90 to 120 minutes, you move from a light stage of sleep (REM), down into deep delta sleep. A similar cycle exists during the day.

Human beings are rhythmic, and we’re designed to balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal if we’re going to sustain energy at the highest level. When we’re awake, every 90 to 120 minutes we move from a high state of physiological arousal, slowly down into a physiological drop.

At the point of the drop your body is screaming at you: “Give me a break.” However, instead of taking a break, you probably reach for a diet coke or a cup of coffee and keep going. You also override your body’s need for a break with cortisol and adrenaline, the body’s own speed.

What you should do is build a rhythm throughout the day so that when you’re working you’re truly engaged, and after a period of  intense activity you take a break for renewal.

Energy renewal is vital if you want to sustain your energy at a high level. This is something Tony and his research team learned from athletes: they consistently found that athletes performed best when they respected the work-rest ratio.

Some of the things you can do during your renewal breaks are the following

  • Sit back in your chair and listen to music on your iPod.
  • Get up and walk up and down the stairs or take a short walk outside.
  • Do some stretching exercises.
  • Talk to a colleague about something other than work.

You don’t want to be a marathon runner. Marathon runners pace themselves instead of giving the race their all, because they know that they have a long race out ahead of them with no breaks in sight. They can’t push themselves to their full capacity because sooner or later they’d drop like a stone.

What you want is to be a sprinter. The sprinter brings 100 percent engagement to the 100, 200, 300, or 400 yards in front of them. There’s a finish line. They know they’re going to give it their all for a finite period of time, and then stop and recover.

Schwartz argues that most of us have lost the finish lines in our lives. We just keep going and going. However, it’s vital that we set stopping points for renewal or we’re going to burnout.

Build Positive Rituals

Tony explains in The Power of Full Engagement that in order to manage energy optimally, we have to build positive rituals into our lives. These positive rituals are highly specific behaviors that become automatic over time.

Relying on our pre-frontal cortex to adopt new behaviors–that is, relying on our will power–is not the best way to make changes. What we need to do instead is enlist the help of our automatic nervous system.  We need to get help from the part of our physiology that gets things done automatically.

How can we do this? By training ourselves through regular repetition. The idea is to get ourselves to act without having to think about it.

Look back at the energy audit that you took above to gather clues as to the behaviors that you need to turn into rituals in order to incorporate them permanently into your life. For example, you might realize that you need to start doing the following:

  • Start eating a healthy brekfast every morning instead of grabbing a coffee and donut on the run.
  • Begin a walking regime.
  • Set some time aside to plan your week every Sunday night.


Let’s imagine that there’s an important project that you need to work on. Look at the following two scenarions:

In the first scenario, you got little sleep the night before so you’re tire. While you’re working on the project you keep switching over to other tasks, such as checking your email. In addition, you keep thinking about the fight you had last night with your spouse. You keep working past the point of exhaustion and keep refueling with coffee.

In the second scenario, you got a good night’s sleep the night before. You get to work on the project before tackling anything else, you focus on it completely without allowing yourself to get distracted, and you take regular breaks to renew your energy.

In which of the two scenarios do you think you will get more done? Clearly, it’s the second one. Getting more done is not about investing more time; it’s about the proper management of your energy.

Did you take the energy audit? What do you need to work on? What behaviors are you going to turn into rituals?

Live your best life by learning to manage your energy.


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