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Written by: Chris Jones and Lisa Scott

In a recent survey of 350,000 people worldwide by Franklin Covey, people admitted to spending up to 40 per cent of their time on unimportant or irrelevant tasks. This is a surprising number considering our increasing workload. How have we traditionally tried to resolve this? Time management training has been the go-to for decades; however, there are new schools of thought that state this is the wrong focus. The new approach, proven to be effective at increasing efficiency and productivity, is to manage your energy not your time. Executives and managers in particular can benefit from these new disciplines and can help employees embrace the same approach and techniques.

Personal energy management is about physical, mental and emotional self-care. It’s about taking a break, slowing down and looking after yourself in order to rejuvenate, fill up your tank and build inner strength so you can meet your goals with clarity, creativity and capacity. It’s counter-intuitive and it works. But we ask ourselves, “How can I spend time taking care of myself when I have so much to do?” Our natural tendency is to work harder to get through our endless to-do lists when this is exactly the time when we need to focus on self-care. If you are going to be extreme in how you work, you need to balance this with extreme discipline around your self-care. 

Physical Self Care: . How can we expect our bodies to sustain high performance in return for poor nutrition, not enough rest, and sedentary activity for hours on end?

1. Increase physical activity,  even in small ways: We all know what we should be doing to get physically healthier yet many of us don’t follow through because we don’t give it the priority it deserves This is what should be counter-intuitive to us! Countless studies show that regular exercise gives you better concentration, improved memory, quicker learning, increased mental stamina, lower stress and more creativity. It also reduces irritability, elevates mood and fosters better workplace relationships. As a bonus, exercise also allows your mind to focus on other things, which is valuable reflection and subconscious processing time. All these have a positive influence on performance and productivity. Even a walk at lunchtime can make a difference.

2. Get enough sleep: If you have already incorporated regular exercise into your routine, make sure you haven’t swung too far by sacrificing rest in order to work out. If you are sacrificing sleep to get to the gym too often, try to reach a balance and give your body the rest it needs.

3. Fuel your body with quality food:  Food is what fuels our bodies. When we are tired or feeling deprived of the joys of life because we work too much, we can turn to food to comfort us. When this happens, food is no longer a fuel to us, its soothing unmet emotional needs.  Feed your body with nutritious foods to give it the fuel it needs. Processed foods, fast foods, sugar, caffeine and alcohol are all culprits.

Mental and emotional self-care:

4. Back away from your desk, it can improve your mindset and mental well-being. Our brains have a limited capacity in working memory. Studies show that we can only focus our attention for about 20 minutes at a time. Try chunking out your day and taking small breaks of one or two minutes every 20 minutes to relieve your brain and allow it to rest between periods of intense focus.

5. Avoid the temptation to multi-task. A quick win is to stop checking your email every few minutes and change your daily habit to checking email in chunks two or three times a day during lower energy times. Remove other distractions and interruptions to improve your focus. Your brain will thank you. One research study showed that it can take up to 20 minutes to get back on task after getting distracted. Another showed that interruptions can increase the time it takes to complete the original task by as much as 25 per cent.

6. Know your Peak Energy Times: Be aware of the times when you have highest energy and plan to tackle tasks that require your most focused concentration during those times. For many people this is in the morning, but it may be different for you. Notice the times you are most capable of focusing your attention, when you feel most energized and when you are most motivated. These are all hints that you are in your peak energy time. Also notice when your mental energy is least focused. These may be good times to get some physical exercise, such as yoga, or to meditate.

7. Don’t shy away from practices like yoga and meditation: Both yoga and meditation are accessible, effective and scientifically proven practices that impact our physical, mental and emotional well-being. It’s about becoming more mindful and centered and is an important component of executive presence. We spend far too much time focusing on the past, which we cannot change, and the future, which is where our fear of the unknown lives. Anchoring ourselves in the present through breathing (both meditation and yoga are based on this simple process) allows us to regenerate and take a break from all that drains our energy. They are easy to incorporate. Start by taking time to pause and reflect at least twice a day for 15 minutes, concentrating on your breathing. Closing your eyes and focusing on just breathing and being present in the moment will create a more mindful, regenerative state. 

8. Acknowledge your achievements: One of the most effective lifts to your emotional state and motivation comes from making progress in meaningful work. Positive psychology has taught us that reflecting on what you’ve achieved will combat stress, energize you and keep you focused on your most important work. Try writing a “Well Done!” list of your accomplishments on a regular basis, even daily! It’s a “Done It!”  list rather than a “To Do” list.  One study showed that employees who did this had a performance level 23 per cent higher than colleagues that didn’t.


Chris Jones and Lisa Scott are co-founders and senior partners in LeaderSharp Group, which specializes in leadership development. Their Purpose is “The World Needs Better Leaders. We Help You Get There”. They can be reached at chris@leadersharp.com and lisa@leadersharp.com.