Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: What If We Managed Energy Instead of Time? Energy Saving Strategies

No matter how hard we try, we really don’t manage time. We manage to live within its’ parameters. We can’t make the months of our spouse’s deployment less than they are. We can’t change the fact that we will be 50 years old on our next birthday or that we face an 8-hour workday, an hour commute, and two children who need to be at practice at a certain time.

We can’t manage time because time is finite. What we can manage, however, is our energy. Unlike time, we can expand our energy. We can increase our energy in a way that significantly improves the success and the quality of our life.

The original idea for “managing energy, not time”, comes from the work of Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, whose Energy Project was directed toward correcting the corporate mistake of making more demands of employees to increase productivity. The problem was that as managers and employees pushed harder, often working more hours, the results were negative. There was a decline in engagement, high turnover rates and increasing medical costs among employees.

The Energy Project proposed a different solution. Defining energy as the capacity to work, they considered that managing energy, not time, would change people’s productivity and involvement. Rather than increasing hours, they recommended and trained employees to draw upon the four sources of energy – body, emotions, mind and spirit. What is dramatic in their research is that the employees’ identification and use of seemingly small and brief energy enhancing rituals on a regular basis had a significant impact on productivity compared with companies who had not adapted the program.

Given the fact that most people, be they working adults, parents or school children are being asked to do more, be more and produce more in a finite amount of time, it is worth considering ways to conserve and revitalize your energy.

Energy Saving Strategies:

 Fractionized Exercise

Everyone agrees that exercise rejuvenates body and mind and can help re-set sleep cycles. The problem is time.

A viable answer is fractionizing your exercise in and around your workday.

  • Studies have shown that 10 minutes on an exercise bike each day adds to positive mood and vitality. Research has found that walking for 10 minutes at a brisk pace three times a day, leads to lower average 24-hour blood pressure readings than a 30-minute session.
  • Taking the 10-minute brisk walk at lunch; walking 10 minutes from the train station; or inviting others to take a quick walk to the farthest deli is likely to have an impact on mood, energy and health.
  • recent study found that in children and teenagers, repeated bouts of running or other physical activity lasting as little as five minutes at a time reduced the youngsters’ risks of poor cholesterol profiles, wide waistlines and above-average blood pressure readings as much as longer exercise sessions did.

Intermittent Off Task Breaks

  •  Given our “ultradian rhythms,” we move through 90 to 120 minute cycles during which our bodies slowly move from a high-energy state into fatigue. Toward the end of each cycle, the body begins to crave recovery, reflected in physical restlessness, yawning, hunger and difficulty concentrating.
  • Too often we ignore these and reach for a cup of coffee or the donut we promised ourselves we would not eat. These are quick fixes. Ideally we need to take a break of 15-20 minutes to re-charge our energy; but as the corporate employees found, it is possible to get a great deal of recovery with rituals that may take only several minutes.  The key element in an intermittent break is disengaging – getting off task.
  • An intermittent break can mean different things to different people. For some taking a music break away from their desk is rejuvenating (combat vets report that music was the rejuvenator in times of mission fatigue); some need to tell a joke or share a funny story with someone in another department (laughter provides a powerful push off task); some find that a peaceful place to pray or a simple loving kindness meditation offers a great deal; others may find that taking the stairs rather than the elevator to go out  offers a burst of energy and a little fresh air.
  • The applicability of these needed “ off–task” breaks to children coming home from school stressed and fatigued, as well as adults working at home, opens options for permission to reset energy in personal ways – if given the chance.

 Multi-Tasking Revisited

  • No matter how good your think you are at multi-tasking, you may want to think again. Yes, you can throw clothes in the wash, a chicken in the oven and sit down at the computer to work on a proposal; but you cannot do two cognitive tasks at exactly the same time.
  • What we are actually doing when we are working on a proposal while taking every call or answering every text is moving rapidly between tasks. In the move you must cognitively “ goal shift” to what you want to do and then turn off the activation rules for one task while turning on the rules for the other. Can you do the switch? – Yes, but research has found that you will increase the time it takes to complete the primary task by 25%.
  • In the Energy Project, managers and employees who set up rituals to reduce multi-tasking by going into a room away from their computer to work on a proposal; checking emails at certain designated times (instead of constantly); letting their calls go to voicemail during certain “ off task” or “ in meeting” times – were less exhausted, less stressed and far more productive.
  • The chances of homework taking less time and being less of a nightmare, if you are not texting and your youngster is not checking the TV or computer are pretty good.

The Power of Giving

  • An important finding from the corporate Energy Project was the energizing power of giving.  Taking a break to walk over and compliment a fellow employee as well as offering managerial updates to affirm employees were mutually enhancing of positive energy.
  • This is consistent with the findings across cultures that people are happiest when they are giving. Generosity is considered an expansive energy – you receive as you give.
  • Regardless of where we are and what we do in the course of a day, giving of ourselves to others is a powerful way to renew our energy. Existing long before corporations, technology, and complicated demands on time – making someone else feel good will always move us to be enhanced on many levels.

 “Know how to live the time that is given you.”

Dario Fo


 Listen in to “The Portable Calm: Changing the Brain, Building Resilience” with Gaea Logan on Psych Up

Listen in to “Making Mindful Self-Compassion Work for You” with Kristin Neff and Dr. Christopher Germer