Protect your energy at work
Energy is precious. Without it you're neither effective nor efficient.
Posted Jun 11, 2010
Energy is precious. Without it you're neither efficient nor effective (Welbourne et al, 2005), because you just can't get going. Less energy results in procrastination, lack of interest in your work (Gröpel & Steel, 2008) and is a strong indicator of burnout (Toppinen-Tanner et al, 2002). Because you only have a certain amount of energy, it's useful to think of it like a bank account: if you're going to make withdrawals, you'll need to make sure you have enough cash to cover them. The most common route to bankruptcy is when the demands your job aren't met by the resources you have at your disposal. The result can be frustration followed by burnout (Schaufeli et al, 2002). To stay resilient and happy at work too, you'll need to make sure that when your workload goes up, your resources to cope do too (Korunka et al, 2009).
By the way extreme hours are not good for your energy: our findings show that for more-or-less every hour that you work over 48 hours a week, you become about 1% less focused on what you have to do. Although you may feel that you're being productive, you are not as productive as you think. You may still be just as motivated which is what's spurring you on. But you won't be firing on as many cylinders as you do when you're fresh. What matters is that you don't confuse motivation with productivity: they're different. Motivation is what gives you oomph: productivity is the result of that oomph.
Despite your natural energy peaks and troughs, you'll know that some tasks and relationships are energizing and others have the opposite effect. The key is to start recognizing what these are so that you can actively manage them. For example when I first started facilitating groups I used to give 100% during the day which meant that at the end I was shattered. To manage my energy I learned to consciously think about holding 10% of it back for me. That allowed me to know that I'd done a good job without being exhausted at the end.
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz's work with top class athletes (Loehr & Schwartz, 2001) reflects the importance of energy protection too. They found that being able to mobilize energy when you need it is crucial to being in what they call an ‘Ideal Performance State'. The key to success isn't the performance itself, it's the recovery period. The main difference between athletes and employees is that employees are supposed to be like batteries: ever ready for everything. While athletes only have a few moments in the year which they have to gear up for. Most employees, unlike athletes, don't think seriously about recovery. But without adequate recovery you get a downward spiral in terms of your performance.
So do all those things that you know you should: like taking regular holidays, breaks, exercising, eating and sleeping well, relaxing properly with family and friends, as well as building habits over the longer term. Habits will mean they stick.
When you find you flag you can help yourself in the moment by moving location or changing activities, listening to music, gazing at something beautiful even if it is on-screen, stretching, going for a brisk five minute walk or just going outside to see the sky and get a breath of fresh air. Watching television, drinking coffee and alcohol doesn't create positive energy: you get that by being with friends and family. The key is understanding that it's the social aspect that matters in these activities, not the activities themselves.
Welbourne, T.M. Andrews, S.B. & Andrews A.O., 2005. Back to basics: Learning about employee energy and motivation from running on my treadmill. Human Resource Management, 44(1), pp.55-66.
Gröpel, P. Steel, P., 2008. A mega-trial investigation of goal setting, interest enhancement, and energy on procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences, 45(5), pp.406-411.
Toppinen-Tanner, S. Kalimo, R. & Mutanen, P., 2002. The process of burnout in white-collar and blue-collar jobs: Eight-year prospective study of exhaustion. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23(5), pp.555-570.
Schaufeli, W.B. Salanova, M. González-Romá, V. & Bakker, A.B., 2002. The measurement of engagement and burnout: A two sample confirmatory factor analytic approach. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3(1), pp.71-92.
Korunka, C. Kubicek, B. Schaufeli, W.B. & Hoonakker, P., 2009. Work engagement and burnout: testing the robustness of the Job Demands-Resources model. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(3), pp.243-255.
Loehr, J. & Schwartz, T., 2001. The Making of a Corporate Athlete. Harvard Business Review, Jan 2001, pp.120-128.