Are You Headed For An Energy Crisis?

Last month I delivered a presentation at Morgan Stanley on the subject of “recharging your batteries.” In preparation for the topic, I reviewed The Power Of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr. This book speaks to the idea of properly managing your energy – not your time – as the key to personal renewal and great performance.

“Full engagement,” as defined by Schwartz, is to be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest. But according to a 2001 Gallup study, less than 30% of Americans feel they are fully engaged at work. Some 55% are “not engaged” at all. Another 19% are “actively disengaged,” meaning that they regularly share those negative feelings with colleagues. Worse yet, the longer employees stay with organizations, the less engaged they become.

The costs of a disengaged workforce run into the trillions of dollars, not to mention the personal cost in terms of loss of energy and lack of joy. Think about your own life for a minute. Have you ever been involved with a project (personal or professional) in which you were fully engaged? How did you feel? You probably had boundless energy, right? That’s the power of full engagement, and that’s the sweet spot that you want to hit more often in your work, your life, your relationships. To learn more, I recently connected with Tony Schwartz (TS) on this topic. Tony is the founder and CEO of the The Energy Project.

AM: What is the greatest drain on your energy?

TS: I believe the great unrecognized drain for all of us is perceived threats to our sense of value. When we feel triggered — pushed into negative emotions — the reason is almost always that we feel in some way we’ve been devalued, diminished or misunderstood. The more our value feels at stake, the more energy we expend trying to defend or reclaim it, and the less we have available to create value in the world.

AM: How do you personally quiet your internal or external environment in order to stay fully engaged?

TS: I never work more than 90 minutes at a time, because that’s the longest period we’re capable of focusing at the most intense level. Dozens of studies have shown that great performers understand this intuitively. I also set a specific start time and stop time, so that I don’t waste energy trying to decide when to do either one. Finally, when I’m focused on something important, I focus exclusively on that — most often as the first activity of the day, because that’s when my energy is highest and my distraction is lowest. I don’t read email, or take phone calls, because I know that depth of concentration is critical both to the quality of what I do and to the efficiency with which I get it done.

AM: What are 3 recommendations you would give to someone who is trying to manage their energy?

TS: The first is simply to recognize that being productive doesn’t depend on the number of hours you invest each day, but rather on how focused and effective you are during the hours you’re working. Human beings are not meant to run like computers, continuously, for long periods of time at high speeds. The second – practically – is to recognize that adequate sleep is incredibly important (7 to 8 hours for nearly all of us) and that we kid ourselves if we think sleeping an hour less means we have one hour more to be productive. In fact we’re less productive across all our waking hours. The third suggestion is to build in regular recovery breaks throughout the day, moving between periods of high focus and real renewal. When you’re engaged, be fully engaged. When you’re resting, truly refuel.

AM: Can you briefly describe the benefits of your training system?

TS: We call our training “Firing on All Cylinders,” and it’s built around four, half day modules, each one devoted to one of the four energy needs: sustainability (physical) security (emotional) self-expression (mental) and significance (spiritual). Essentially we’re teaching people how to build their own capacity and take more control of their lives by regularly renewing each of these four key energy needs.

AM: Tell me about the impact that the Energy Project has made through its services and products.

TS: So far we’ve done all our work with large organizations, such as Google, Sony, Ford, Ernst and Young, Gillette, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Cleveland Clinic. We’re introducing a truly new way of working to these organizations – check out our case studies on TheEnergyProject.com – which are grounded in a new set of value exchanges. The current exchange is time for money, which is thin and one-dimensional and satisfies no one. Our idea is that rather than trying to get more out of people, organizations are better off investing in them by meeting each of their multidimensional needs, so they’re freed, fueled and inspired to bring more of themselves to work every day.

AM: What is the single greatest piece of advice you’ve received in relation to being true to yourself?

TS: We each have an infinite capacity for self-deception. The core challenge in life is to forever seek to see more of who we are, for better and for worse, because you can’t change what you don’t see.

Tony Schwartz is founder and CEO of The Energy Project. He is the co-author with Jim Loehr of the #1 bestselling The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy Not Time, and the author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs that Energize Great Performance which will be published by Simon and Schuster in May, 2010.

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