Many people are productive throughout their day. They start work in the morning and “jam”. Meaning, their energy is high while they go from one meeting to the next. They are getting tasks done, they stay on top of email, and make decisions as they come.
Then, they conclude the workday exhausted. The transition out of work and back into life outside of work feels jarring. So much so, making dinner (let alone something that is both healthy and tasty) can feel impossible. Many also describe feelings of annoyance, impatience or maybe even guilt for not wanting to really engage with people at home or participate in a hobby.
Does this resonate with you? If it does, then you might be ripe to start “maximizing your performance.” This means to be productive throughout your day and still have energy left at the end of it for yourself and others.
There are lots of ways to do this but the two that are relatively easy to employ now and make a positive impact on your wellbeing are centered around both energy management and time management. More specifically, this is about taking plenty of intermittent breaks to restore energy and prioritizing work so that when you remain focused on what’s most important.
Manage Your Energy (take more breaks)
The current problem with energy management is that we expect ourselves and others to function like computers with consistent processing speeds. We “hit start” and then assume this endless energy reserve so we schedule back-to-back meetings, check email at ungodly hours, and work on the weekends. While many believe that working harder and longer is better, in all reality it leaves us depleted and unable to really engage in a life outside of work.
The solution is to start treating ourselves and others like humans, with energy levels that fluctuate. This is the foundational premise of high performance, to shift (or oscillate) between energy expenditure and energy recovery. This is because every system in our body follows this same rhythm. Our hearts beat, we breathe in and out, our muscles contract and relax. This is the basis of the science of energy management.
After studying how high performing athletes reach the top of their game, Jim Loehr, a performance psychologist, discovered that the process of taking strategic intermittent breaks between plays was a differentiating factor between those who are great and those who achieve greatness. These athletes managed their energy differently than the rest. Loehr then partnered with Tony Schwartz to bring energy management to the workplace. They wrote one of Harvard Business Review’s most frequently read articles, The Making of a Corporate Athlete. Read the article, it’s worth it.
To boil down their guidance simply, we must intentionally restore the energy we expend. Meaning, take more breaks! They advise working for 60-90 minutes at a time and then taking a break. This is to create regular periods of recovery to help us recharge, bounce back, and be able to take on for future work. These are short breaks too, maybe just 5 minutes but they work best if physical movement is involved (stretching or walking) and no screens. Taking a break with your phone in your face doesn’t count.
These short, intermittent breaks are what help us to have energy leftover at the end of the workday.
Once your energy is managed effectively in the day, it’s reasonable to then ask, “What do I do with it?” This is where prioritizing effectively comes in. For manageable workloads and low stress situations, it’s enough to do the following:
Write everything down, keep a good to-do list.
Dedicate time to review and update the list.
Break large tasks into small tasks and use action words to describe what you need to do.
Ask yourself “What’s most important?
These 4 things can keep you on task sufficiently within a manageable workload. What is more challenging is when workloads are overwhelming, and stress is high. In these instances, it is helpful to use a framework, such as an Urgency/Effort Matrix. Here’s how it works.
Review your list and consider how quickly you need to complete the task (urgency). This can be driven by a deadline or by the person requesting the work. For example, a request from your supervisor may be more urgent than a request from someone else. Effort refers to how time consuming the work will be or how much focus or determination is required. For example, do you need to think deeply about the task with minimal distraction? If so, this is a high effort task. After mapping the tasks in each quadrant, prioritize by starting at the top left box and move clockwise.
High Urgency/Low Effort – Complete these items first.
High Urgency/High Effort – Because these require high effort, block time now in your calendar to focus on them. Consider canceling or postponing other less urgent deliverables to get these tasks done.
Low Urgency/High Effort – Because these tasks require additional time but aren’t pressing, plan time in the future for these to be completed.
Low Urgency/Low Effort – These are last in priority. Defer or delegate them to others. Spend minimal time on them, they aren’t urgent
Using a framework like helps relieve the stressful emotions that come with an overwhelming workload.
Sometimes we can be lulled into thinking that feeling crappy at the end of the day is normal and expected. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Combining the principles of energy management with a structured approach to prioritizing, it is possible to not just be productive, but to also feel good throughout the day and have gas left in your tank for yourself and others.
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.