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  • Richard Spilg

Managing Time and Energy

Recent financial press headlines included ‘Delta impact on back to office appetite’ and ‘Zoom boost skin business fortunes – seeing themselves on video is pushing people to spend on cosmetic treatments’. So, whether in lockdown or not, remote working is here to stay with implications for overall wellbeing.

A short time ago, when office-based working was the norm, time management was inevitably one of the focus areas for coaching. Working with leaders to achieve their ideal balance between time spent on doing, managing and strategic thinking. A consistent theme was too much time spent in the ‘doing’ bucket and not enough in the ‘strategic’ bucket.

A simple explanation is that it is far easier to attend to stuff that’s immediately in front of us as opposed to when we have a clean desk and uninterrupted time for serious thought. One strategy for making the shift away from time spent ‘doing’ is to make sure we tackle the most important, high-level tasks when our energy levels are highest. So, for example, if you’re a morning person, it’s best not to start your day tackling routine admin tasks. That will deplete energy reserves and make it less likely you’ll have the inclination to tackle the more complex, big picture thinking afterwards.

In previous articles I’ve written about the increase in vulnerability in a hybrid workplace [1] and how introverts can bring their skills to bear when working remotely [2]. In the latter article, I wrote that extroverts are drawn to the external life of people and activities – which makes life without physical interaction with others much less enjoyable and energising. The reality is that remote working adds levels of fatigue and stress that can result in loss of energy and increasingly negative emotions. This requires us to think about time and energy management in broader terms.

In their Harvard Business Review article [3], Schwartz and McCarthy make the point that while time is a limited resource, energy is renewable. They identify four dimensions of personal energy that require constant renewal:

  • Physical energy – it’s no secret that inadequate nutrition, exercise, sleep, and rest diminish our basic energy levels, as well as our ability to manage emotions and focus attention

  • Emotional energy – negative emotions, if not defused through practices such as deep breathing, showing empathy and gratitude to others, and reframing upsetting situations, will lead to irritability, impatience, anxiety and insecurity

  • Mental energy – harnessing the power of focused attention by not getting distracted by interruptions and being disciplined about when we attend to low-value, routine tasks

  • Spiritual energy - allocating time and energy to activities that involve effortless absorption, enjoyment and fulfilment. This is the essence of ‘Flow’ [4], a state of joy, creativity and total involvement in which time seems to fly. It also includes energy derived from serving a purpose beyond our own self-interest

Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project [5], introduces the concept of Energy States to be observed and shared. When we’re in a ‘high positive’ state (the performance zone) we become task oriented and able to focus on the big picture. When our energy states drop to ‘low positive’ (the recovery zone) or ‘low negative’ (the burnout zone) or ‘high negative’ (the survival zone) we become increasingly reactive, more susceptible to interruptions, and our thoughts become increasingly scattered. In brain-speak, our pre-frontal cortex (our executive centre) gets hijacked by our amygdala which triggers our fight, flight or freeze responses.

With these insights, it is important to check in with ourselves from time to time as to our general wellbeing. We also need to pay attention to those insightful (even if unsolicited!) hints from those closest to us. While there is no silver bullet to breaking out of an intensely negative state, deceptively simple rituals can help replenish energy levels. Such as taking brief breaks, exercising, expressing appreciation to others, reducing interruptions and spending time on activities that you enjoy most.

In Man’s Search for Meaning [6], Viktor Fankl, a survivor of the unimaginable horrors of Nazi concentration camps, contends that the greatest task for any person is to find meaning in life. He saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant); in love (caring for another person); and in courage during difficult times. While we cannot control what happens to us in life, we have the freedom to choose how to respond to the situation. And we can always control what we will feel and do about what happens to us.

Richard Spilg

September 2021




  3. Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy. Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time (Harvard Business Review, October 2007)

  4. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow (1992)


  6. Viktor E. Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning (1946)

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