Manage your energy

By Joyce E.A. Russell
Monday, January 10, 2011

Happy New Year! We share this sentiment with the hope that the next year will be a great one in terms of health, happiness, financial security, job success, spiritual growth and relationships. When we think about the new year for ourselves, we have hope that we will regain control over our lives and find our purpose and stick to it before the responsibilities of everyday living take over and consume us. So we make our list of resolutions with the hope and intent of keeping them. For most of us, those resolutions revolve around how to follow our purpose or vision and have better balance in our lives. This often means how to find more time to enjoy our families and leisure pursuits while getting in shape, eating healthier and maintaining a successful work life.

Finding the time to do everything we want to do is increasingly challenging, as our lives are filled with more and more activities and responsibilities. In addition, it seems that our places of work are rarely closed. We are expected to live the 24/7 life and be on call (through technology). In our global economy where there is always a customer awake, we have to find the time for balance in our lives.

I recently heard a talk and read a book ("The Power of Full Engagement" by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz) that could help many in the quest for balance. The major premise is not about managing time; rather, managing energy. Instead of thinking about how we spend our time each day, the authors say that the true measure of our lives is more about how much energy we invest in the time we have. As they say, "time is fixed each day, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not." For example, your children don't really care whether you give them one or two hours of your time each day; what they care about is the quality of the time you do give them. The same is true with our colleagues at work. They'd rather spend one hour with an enthusiastic co-worker than three hours with a tired and bored one.

So how do we gain more energy?

Originally designed as a system for training great athletes, the "Full Engagement Training System" has also been applied to help everyday people manage their energy more skillfully. The purpose of the training system is to establish positive energy rituals that ensure sufficient capacity physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. As the authors say, we have to see ourselves as sprinters rather than marathoners. That is, we need to see our lives as a series of sprints where we are fully engaged for periods of time, followed by periods of renewal. Working over a 30- to 40-year career, our performance is optimized if we schedule each day with 90- to 120-minute periods of intense effort followed by shorter periods of recovery and renewal. They correctly point out that most of us do not build in enough time for renewal. We don't balance our energy expenditure with energy renewal, yet it is critical to do this.

Perhaps we don't build in renewal time because our world celebrates work and activity and fails to see the value of renewal and recovery. As they note "we overtrain mentally and emotionally and undertrain physically and spiritually. So, not only do we lose our endurance, strength and resilience, but we also feel disconnected from our sense of purpose or values." It seems that many of us make New Year's resolutions precisely for this reason -- to regain control over our lives, to regain our strength, and to get reconnected to our purpose.

The place to start is through enhancing your physical energy. Fitness is often cited as the No. 1 resolution on our list of top things to work on for the new year. The authors point out 10 things to build our physical energy: go to bed early and wake up early; go to sleep and wake up consistently at the same times; eat five to six small meals daily; eat breakfast every day; eat a balanced, healthy diet; minimize simple sugars; drink 48 to 64 ounces of water each day; take breaks every 90 minutes during work; get some physical activity daily; and do at least two cardiovascular interval workouts and two strength training workouts a week.

I know a number of people who read the book, applied the principles and ended up changed for the better -- in terms of their health, energy and outlook on life. I have friends who just added the parts about sleep and drinking more water and they significantly impacted their energy. Maybe these ideas will help you to find a workable way to actually reach your resolutions -- to find more energy to enjoy the new year, because we know you don't have more time!

Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at

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