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Energy Management

HR Feature
by Faye Mallett

These days, who isn't trying to get more done in less time?

Organizations want the best from their workforces, and people are trying their best to comply. Yet working longer hours, the most commonly employed solution to workplace demands, can often reduce one's level of engagement with their work, brings distraction to other areas of their lives, and eventually leads to higher job turnover rates.

In this state, people frequently find themselves becoming anxious and irritable at work; they spend their productive hours focusing on immediate crises rather than on activities that bring long-term rewards; and there becomes a huge discrepancy between what they say is important to them, as opposed to how they actually allocate their time and energy.

According to Tony Schwartz, president and founder of The Energy Project in New York and a co-author of The Power of Full Engagement (Free Press, 2003), when people are exhausted, disengaged, getting sick, and leaving their jobs, they are in the thralls of a full-blown "energy crisis."

Over the years, Schwartz has worked as a consultant for thousands of leaders and managers in large organizations. His findings, recently published in The Harvard Business Review (Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time), conclude that people are pushing themselves harder than ever to keep up, and are under increasing threat of reaching the "breaking point."

The essential conflict with working longer hours is that, while time is a finite resource, energy is not. In physics, energy is defined as the capacity to work, and Schwartz has based his research on the premise that our capacity to work comes from four main "wellsprings": the body, emotions, mind, and spirit.

People, Schwartz asserts, need to recognize the costs of their own energy-depleting behaviours, and take responsibility for changing them. Organizations, meanwhile, need to be aware of the connection between the energy levels of their employees and their bottom line.

"It takes a visionary thinker to be able to connect the dots between something like energy management and bottom line results," says Christina Sestan, a professionally certified business coach, corporate facilitator and speaker based in Vancouver, BC, and San Francisco, CA.

"I work with a lot of personal and corporate clients around 'energy,' (i.e. The lack of, how to tap it, what drives it), and I find that it's very common for people to come to me in an energy crisis. These clients are fatigued, overwhelmed, and there is an imbalance between their work and their home life," says Sestan.

Energy vs. Time
Energy management, unlike time management, is a cyclical process, not a linear one. Time management is the ability to organize and prioritize our activities so that we can get the most value out of their time. We are often praised and rewarded for the more things we do, the more tasks we complete, and the more hours we work.Yet while we may accomplish 100 tasks during a day, if none of them are being done very thoroughly, how much value are they adding to our lives?

Most of Sestan's clients come to her with a typical request: "I want you to help me do more in my day."

"I tell them that they need to slow down and start practicing greater self-awareness," she says. "Paradoxically, they tell me: I can't afford the time to do this."

There's a theory that holds for time management: one hour of planning saves 8 hours of work. Likewise, says Sestan, "For every hour spent on a study in self-awareness, one saves 8 hours of energy."

Energy Management is about the quality that we put into our work, and it is best maximized in cycles that vary between work and rest. Working with these natural cycles instead of against them gives a person the opportunity to replenish their energy each day, instead of spending energy that their body cannot keep producing.

In a perfect world, we would be working in intensive "sprints" - 90 to 120 minutes of uninterrupted, fully engaged concentration, followed by a 15 or 20 full recovery period where energy is regained for the next sprint. This method replenishes mental energy as well as physical energy, which helps us in the form of sustained concentration.

When the balance between work and recovery isn't implemented, we go into an energy deficit and our nervous systems put us in fight or flight response. At this stage, how we manage our time is useless if we don't have any energy to give.

As Schwartz aptly stated in a recent interview with Computerworld magazine, "If I give you my time but I don't give you my energy, I'm not giving you much."

In terms of small but effective actions, or rituals, to use for energy management, consider the following:

a) eat frequent, smaller portions, throughout the day
b) eat nutritiously
c) work out regularly
d) get enough sleep
e) take short breaks every 90 to 120 minutes during the work day.

"If you've got those nailed, you're in great shape." states Schwartz. "The problem is that virtually no one we work with does have those nailed."

Why is such common-sense advice so hard to achieve?

Often, an energy crisis occurs because we are having difficulties dealing with conflict or are disengaged from our jobs because what we are doing is not aligned with our values.

Sestan believes that change cannot be employed until a person is aware about what is causing the symptoms of energy depletion in the first place. "Often people come to me wanting to treat the symptoms, but what inevitably becomes revealed to them are their own self-barriers."

While actions such as getting more sleep, eating healthier, etc. certainly help to maintain one's physical energy, they cannot solve energy drains on an emotional or a spiritual level.

In Sestan's experience, the two biggest energy drains in a working environment are conflict in the workforce and fear of competition.

"Most people just don't know how to deal with these issues," she says.

One aspect of Schwartz's work with energy management is to bring more awareness to the "stories" that we tell ourselves. In dealing with conflict, he suggests taking the perspective of the other person, and re-evaluating the conflict through a "different lens."

Sestan suggests the same, offering a good perspective-shifting exercise she learned once, and has found to be invaluable. First, she says, write down the conflict from your perspective, then write it from the second person's perspective, then write it from the third person, observer perspective. "You'd be surprised at how much energy you can let go out of this."

This article will continue in a second part.

Christina Sestan is the founder of Citrus Coaching Solutions, a cutting-edge human potential company that works with corporations and individuals to help achieve groundbreaking results in the areas of productivity/profitability, performance, team cohesion, effective communication, and job satisfaction. Christina works with individual and corporate clients in Canada, the US, Asia and Europe and has offices in both Vancouver and San Francisco.

You can reach Christina and Citrus Coaching at (604)264-0224,,

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