Steve Wanner is a highly respected 37-year-old partner at Ernst & Young, married with four young children. When we met him a year ago, he was working 12- to 14-hour days, felt perpetually exhausted, and found it difficult to fully engage with his family in the evenings, which left him feeling guilty and dissatisfied. He slept poorly, made no time to exercise, and seldom ate healthy meals, instead grabbing a bite to eat on the run or while working at his desk.
The core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story. Defined in physics as the capacity to work, energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. In each, energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed by establishing specific rituals—behaviours that are intentionally practiced and precisely scheduled, with the goal of making them unconscious and automatic as quickly as possible.
The rituals and behaviours Wanner established to better manage his energy transformed his life. He set an earlier bedtime and gave up drinking, which had disrupted his sleep. As a consequence, when he woke up he felt more rested and more motivated to exercise, which he now does almost every morning. In less than two months he lost 15 pounds. After working out he now sits down with his family for breakfast. Wanner still puts in long hours on the job, but he renews himself regularly along the way. He leaves his desk for lunch and usually takes a morning and an afternoon walk outside. When he arrives at home in the evening, he’s more relaxed and better able to connect with his wife and children.
Joseph Hart writes in his article for Experience Life .com that by managing energy, you can learn to be more productive and engaged in all areas of your life. Here’s how to get started:
Know what matters. Yes, we all balance work, family and other priorities. But if you don’t know which priorities are most important to you and why, you’ll have less success focusing on the goals that bring you the greatest satisfaction. Spend some time clarifying your life’s mission, vision and values, then evaluate how well your energy and talent are aligned with them.
Get positive. “A big part of energy management is not allowing negative energy to bring you down,” explains Jon Gordon. Use gratitude to counter frustrations and fears: When you’re feeling stressed, list things that make your life worth living. Next, turn complaints around with what Gordon calls the “but/positive.” For instance: “I don’t like that I have to go to work today, but I’m thankful I have a job.” By training yourself to move quickly past negative energy, you free your resources to focus on the job at hand.
Be quiet. Whether you meditate or just spend a little time zoning out to music, be sure to set aside a few minutes of every day for some all-alone downtime. Regular relaxation helps balance our biochemistry and increases our resilience when facing challenges. Think of it as a daily topping off of your energy reserves — a great way to guard against running out of the fuel that lets you get other important things done.