My Learning from the ‘Energy Grid’

We’re often told to manage our time. But managing our energy can be far more effective if we’re to fully engage with whatever we’re doing.

In line with the Great Place to Work philosophy, I had the privilege of being part of the team advocating the Energy Grid, based on the book ‘The Power of Full Engagement,’ by Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz. Below is a summary of different energy zones:

Image source: Slideshare

Dr. Jim Loehr found that high‐performing athletes can consistently perform at a high level because they’ve developed the habit of going through rapid cycles of intense focus and relaxation.

“The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal.” – Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz

“Sadly, the need for recovery is often viewed as evidence of weakness rather than as an integral aspect of sustained performance. The result is that we give almost no attention to renewing and expanding our energy reserves, individually or organizationally.” – Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz

“We must learn to establish stopping points in our days, inviolable times when we step off the track, cease processing information and shift our attention from achievement to restoration. Moore‐Ede calls this a ‘time cocoon.’” – Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz

The key is to build a set of rapid recovery rituals into your day to restore your energy sources. You can execute the rituals in two scenarios:   

1. After 90 minutes of continuous focus on a task. 

2. Any time you start to feel slightly irritable. 

The four energy sources you need to restore are physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy, and spiritual energy. To help you build your rapid recovery rituals, here is a list of rapid recovery rituals:

  • To perform at our best we need to focus on managing our energy rather than our time.
  • Optimise quality and quantity of our energy in 4 areas: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual.
  • Energy reserves are not unlimited; recovery is integral to sustaining high performance.
  • We can take small steps to expand our capacity, to build new habits every day.

Physical – quantity of energy

– Derived by an interaction between oxygen and glucose. Fundamental source of fuel in life.

How do we get physical energy?

  • Patterns of our breathing
  • Food – empty stomach loses concentration. 
  • Sleep
  • Intermittent breaks
  • Level of our fitness

What is the physical activity we take for granted? Breathing. Breathing is a powerful tool of self-regulation.

What is the simplest antidote for anger and anxiety? Deep breaths.

To quickly restore physical energy,

  • Walk up a flight of stairs
  • Go for a jog around the block
  • Do a set of push‐ups
  • Brief exercises, oxygenates your cells and rejuvenates your brain.
  • Drink water. Profound impact on your physical energy because your brain and heart are made of almost 75% water. 

Follow some rituals like, journal writing, reading, sipping warm tea, bathing that could relax you and enable better focus.

Emotional – quality of energy

Manage emotions skillfully to attain positive energy and reach a pleasant zone.

Practice breathing exercises.

Express appreciation

Plan events with people you care about.

Strong work or personal relationship involves rhythmic movement between:

  • Giving and taking
  • Talking and listening
  • Valuing other person and feeling valued

Muscles for emotional energy are are self-confidence, self-control, interpersonal effectiveness, and empathy. Patience, openness, trust and joy also contribute.

Emotional muscles such as patience, empathy and confidence can be built like biceps and triceps by pushing past the limits followed by recovery.

To quickly restore emotional energy,

  • Text someone you enjoy spending time with to make plans for that evening (ex: going out for dinner with spouse).
  • Planning events with others creates a sense of anticipation and excitement you can carry into work session.
  • Another emotional boost is to give praise to others around you.

“Gallup found that the key drivers of productivity for employees include whether they feel cared for by a supervisor or someone at work; whether they have received recognition or praise during the past seven days; and whether someone at work regularly encourages their development.” – Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz

Follow some rituals like, lunch in the garden, dance classes, gardening.

Mental – focus of energy

Find time away from distractions

Concentrate

Mental capacity is what we use to organize our lives and focus attention. To perform at our best we need to be able to sustain concentration and move flexibly between narrow and broad focus as situation requires. Maximum mental capacity is derived from a balance between spending and recovering mental energy. Engaging & disengaging, thinking & letting go, activity & rest.

Tools that help mental muscles,

  • Mental preparation
  • Visualization
  • Positive self-talk
  • Time management
  • Creativity

To quickly restore mental energy,

  • Go for a walk.
  • Listen to music.
  • Let go of what you are working on, and let mind wander. By letting mind wander, you let ideas related to work incubate in the sub‐conscious. When you return to work 10‐15 minutes later, you have a burst of creative energy.

“The highest form of creativity depends on a rhythmic movement between engagement and disengagement, thinking and letting go, activity and rest. Both sides of the equation are necessary, but neither is sufficient by itself.” – Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz

Follow ritual like, sitting and writing perceived threats in a journal and recast them as opportunities. Consider worst case-scenarios and assess whether consequences are acceptable. Focus on aspects of life worthy of appreciation.

Spiritual – force of energy / energy grounded in purpose

A sense of meaning and purpose

Allocating time to what you deem important in your life 

Do what you do best & what you enjoy 

We become fully engaged when purpose is clear and aligns with our values.

Muscles for Spiritual energy are : Passion, Commitment, Integrity and Honesty.

To quickly restore spiritual energy,

  • Take out a piece of paper and write down answers to the questions: ‘How I want to be remembered?’ and ‘Who I want to help?’. Spiritual energy comes from thinking of things bigger than yourself. The greatest spiritual energy gains come from tapping into a sense of purpose. To tap into a sense of purpose: “We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—hourly and daily. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct.” – Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz

Ritual: Mentally prepare for meetings by visualising self-giving feedback.

Did you know that the World Health Organisation acknowledged burnout as an official disease in April 2019?

Burnout Zone: Burnout comes about in three different ways:

1. Overload (traditional) burnout: 

  • Working harder and evermore frantically in search of success  
  • Willing to risk health and personal lives in pursuit of ambition
  • Coping by complaining

2. Under-challenge burnout:

  • Not feeling appreciated 
  • Boredom 
  • Lack of learning opportunities

3. Neglect burnout: 

  • Feeling helpless at work and lacking support 
  • Feeling incompetent or unable to keep up with demands 
  • Being passive and feeling demotivated

Survival Zone: In the survival zone, the energy in our body is not necessarily helpful. We become addicted to stress:

  • Loving firefighting or meeting last minute deadlines 
  • Working at a very fast pace without breaks 
  • Experiencing the ‘adrenaline high’ when stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol create a seductive rush  

We believe others will see us as more important because being busier and more stressed gives us status. But when we operate at high intensity for too long it’s hard to shift to another gear. We get stuck in overdrive and unable to turn off our engine. We become ‘adrenaline junkies’.

Performance Zone: This is the zone we are aiming to be in for some of the time

  • Look at some of the adjectives describing this state – challenged, proud and optimistic. Stressors have not disappeared, but with high energy and pleasant/positive emotion, we feel we can succeed. Stress is not an enemy, but the key to growth
  • We have a choice to perform optimally. To do this we must learn to set aside negative feelings by re-framing pressure so that instead of seeing it as a ‘threat’ we recognise it as a challenge. An ‘opportunity to grow’

Recovery Zone: To be in the Performance Zone, we must make sure we spend time in ‘recovery’. The balance between the expenditure of energy (stress) and the renewal of energy (recovery) is essential

Nature is rhythmic – night follows day, and we have changing seasons, cycles of the moon and tides. Our bodies too crave oscillation between challenge and relaxation. But the trap we can fall into is ‘effort addiction’. We don’t trust anything but effort — and lots of it!

By consciously deciding to enter the Recovery Zone we can change this. It doesn’t have to be for very long periods at a time – think of it as a refreshing break to energetically recharge. What can we do to get into the recovery zone? One person’s recovery zone is another person’s survival zone, but taking time out is essential for our wellbeing: 

  • Basic physical recovery requires good sleep, a balanced diet, sufficient water & regular exercise 
  • Anything that brings you joy and a feeling of relaxation helps 
  • Connecting with friends and family or spending quality quiet time with yourself is beneficial

Tips for Recovery

We need to balance stress & rest in order to sustain performance

  • The most effective breaks are RELAXING, SOCIAL, ACTIVE & NATURAL 
  • Exercise is a way to improve our mood, almost any kind of exercise between 7 to 75 minutes long seems able to provide a mood boost 
  • What we see and where we look can help us recover in our breaks > take a short walk look at the sky & anything natural around your OR simply play a video of waves  or the sky on your laptop
  • Improve your Heart Rate Variability > Try a Physiologic Sigh. Two breaths in through your nose one breath out of your mouth, 5 seconds per in/out breath 
  • Sleep is the foundation for sustainable performance. Improve your sleep by limiting caffeine and avoid after midday, avoid electronics 2 hours before bed, limit alcohol intake and ensure the room where you’re sleeping is dark and not too hot (~18C)

What will you do to maximise recovery?

Positive Conversations 

Things to consider when talking to your teams

Ask how people really are – be prepared, you don’t know what you might hear

Don’t react – just listen without judgement

Hold the space for someone to talk – this may be the first time they’ve said it out loud

Don’t jump in to fix things – what they need may not be what you think

Ask what support they need from you – everyone’s individual, don’t assume you know

Respect confidentiality – don’t damage the trust they have shown in you

Take a few minutes to write out your own rapid recovery rituals. Include physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual recovery components. 

Ask yourself, in the last week:

  • Which quadrant did I spend the most time in?  
  • What are you enjoying or missing?
  • Habits which are helpful to continue
  • Energy depleting habits which should be considered changing
  • What three goals can you set for next week to be at your best?
  • Who else can you speak to about where you are?

“Physical capacity is defined by quantity of energy. Emotional capacity is defined by quality of energy. Mental capacity is defined by focus of energy. Spiritual capacity is defined by force of energy.” – Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz

Image source: Pinterest

Credits to senior leaders at my company, Stuart and Hari, who spearheaded this initiative and to my colleagues, Taj & Nachiket, for compiling the content and presenting to team members 🙂

NB: Much of my learnings shared here can be found freely on the internet. Knowledge shared is knowledge squared. I have provided references to the content and intend no infringement on the author’s work or copyright. Thanks to my organisation for such initiatives that enable it to be a great place to work.

References & more reading:

 THE POWER OF FULL ENGAGEMENT by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

The 4 Dimensions of Energy: Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual – UpStartist

The Power Of Full Engagement

Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time

Productivity Game – Learn to Thrive 

Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure 

How Managers Can Prevent Their Teams from Burning Out 

Track Your Time for 30 Days. What You Learn Might Surprise You.

Productivity Is About Your Systems, Not Your People 

Today’s Most Critical Workplace Challenges Are About Systems 

Making Joy a Priority at Work 

What Makes Some People More Productive Than Others 

Manage Your Time & Energy:

Manage Your Energy to Reduce Stress

Why Some People Get Burned Out and Others Don’t 

Want to Be Happier in 2023? Start Using These 7 Daily Habits

Get up from your desk and do these 8 nature activities to improve your mood, productivity and memory

A 3-Step Process to Break a Cycle of Frustration, Stress, and Fighting at Work

A Psychologist Suggests 3 Ways To Work Smarter, Not Harder 

The Benefits of Laughing in the Office

My Learning from ‘We are LimITless’

Who is Elvis

The ones who shine a bit brighter, the ones who are maverick, the ones with lots of energy and charisma. 

Felt good to be part of a program “We are LimITless,” that aimed to drive a positive work culture and run by  Upping Your Elvis, who have taken inspiration from Bono’s “Drop the Debt” campaign. The program consisted of a series of experiments spread over 5 weeks and aimed at creating a great workplace environment, by revisiting our beliefs, behaviours and actions through small, weekly experiments. At the start of each week, we were guided through a topic, by the trainers. During the week, we experimented around a topic. By the end of the week, the team shared stories on what we tried, what worked and what value it created.

Why experiments? “Disney’s chief imagineer brings in a real tiger and gets the boards approval to launch Animal Kingdom. You cannot engage in a culture journey by reading books. You need to try it yourself. Experimenting every week. Engaging in a more visual way at work. We can’t just change behaviour. We need to help change people’s beliefs. That will drive the behaviour change. Where do our beliefs come from? They come from experiences. If that was a positive belief, it will drive the behaviour. Negative beliefs will lead us to avoid those experiences. To create positive experiences, it is important for managers to role model it and lead it visibly.”

What will make these experiments work: 

  • Positivity
  • Have fun doing
  • Best strategy for survival is be part of a tribe. Chances are that you ll get support everyday. Our tribe is the people we work with everyday. We should belong.

Why are we doing this? “Our culture isn’t broken, or bad, we just want to make sure it’s the best it can be. We want our people to jump out of bed loving what they do and loving who they are. We want them to be energised and excited about the impact they create, we want them to use their unique talents on what really counts and we want them to enjoy the ride. To make such a transformation happen we can’t just tell people what to do, we need them to try things out and see what works for them, and to do that at scale they need to be simple to do and adopt. We need your help to make them live and breathe within your teams.” 

Here is the summary of my learning:

Culture Experiment 1  – TIME

How to use your time better? Saying NO to certain things and FOCUS on what counts. 

Start your day clear on your ‘Big Thing’ – What’s important? What’s your priority for the day?

We spend most part of our lives on auto-pilot. i.e using habits and routines to steer our behaviour. How do I spend my time today on the most important thing that’s going to create most important impact in my life? Simple way is to make sure we start your day with clarity. Clarity with “What is your big thing?” Singular focus on one thing, that when you achieve that day, then you can call it a meaningful day.

  • Big thing could be an email you have to write, a project deliverable, a conversation
  • Can we have 10 big things? No. Focus on one that will have a meaningful impact.
  • When you wake up and before you turn on any tech, when the mind is pure, identify your big thing,
  • What is my big thing for today? Coffee, walking, journaling.
  • Before you get to work and the busyness takes over, have clarity on what your big thing is?
  • We only have 90-120 mins of deep focus. If we get our big thing then we can focus

Zone your day to use your energy. Identify your ‘Sweet Spot’ to optimise energy and focus – the moment in the day that you are at your best for the task.

Manage your time and create space for your big thing. Practice saying one polite ‘No’ a day

If we say yes to too many things, we cant make space for what is important. We need to get better at saying No

What are the reasons people say yes, when you shouldn’t? Ex: People pleasing, easier to accept than to question, fear of missing out, trying to be aware of the pulse of the business, hierarchy…etc.

If invited for meetings where you are not clear on the purpose/agenda or feel you won’t be required there, challenge respectfully like those in the examples below:

  • Please can you help me understand the meeting objectives, so I can understand if I’m the best person to support progress on this initiative?
  • Once you’ve got clarification on the agenda, if appropriate try something like ‘You’ve already got XX from my team in the meeting, who can cover that topic and update me later’
  • I’m experimenting with how I manage my meetings. Can I ask what is expected of me at the meeting so I can come prepared?
  • Based on the agenda, I am not sure that I will add any value by attending this meeting, please let me know if you feel differently or if there are other ways I can support
  • I think we could approach this in a different way, other than a meeting (For example: Why don’t I send a quick video summary of my thoughts)

Culture Experiment 2  – How to make our meetings count

What % of your week is spent in meetings? 75% on an average. It’s a lot of time. What % of those meetings fill your soul with joy?

Take time to get the Set-up right

  • Get clarity on the Why?
  • What is the purpose of this meeting?
  • What does success look like?
  • How do you want people to be?
  • Do you want to be positive and suspend judgement?
  • Do you want it to be more quiet?
  • Do you want it to be more analytical?
  • Do you want to get rid of tech distraction?

Meetings should be:

  • Energetic
  • Collaborative
  • Creative
  • Impactful
  • Enjoyable

How can we make meetings better?

  • Bring energy. Energy is everything in meetings. At the the start of the meeting you have the perfect opportunity to reset. It could be a physical activity. It could just be an opening question.
  • Positivity will take you to somewhere new and different
  • Have fun
  • Create a relaxed environment
  • Connect with each other
  • Break the ice instead of a serious atmosphere

If we get the start of the meeting working well, then we are getting people lined up to do brilliant work.

Good meetings

  • Set-up – Get it right
  • Time – start promptly. Allow breaks between meetings. Ex. Schedule for 20 or 25 mins rather than 30 mins. 
  • Facilitator – great meetings have facilitators. Mix facilitators up.
  • Size – small is beautiful. Consider your meeting size.
  • Don’t sit silently in bad meetings.

Create space by playing with meeting times. We experimented with shrinking the 30 mins meeting to 20 mins and it worked. Most meetings in the org are now scheduled for 20 or 25 mins leaving some break time in case the participants have another meetings to attend. We experimented with advising virtual participants to be on the camera and their focus/attention improved a lot.

Culture Experiment 3 – Feedback and Growth

How do you demand feedback, so that you can learn and grow beautifully everyday?

How to make sure the feedback you receive is useful? Ask for (& give) structured feedback any time you try something new or different:

  1. FACTS – What are the facts / what did they observe?
  2. THINK – How did they interpret what you did / what did it make them think?
  3. FEEL – How did it make them feel?

 Make feedback part of your everyday:

  • Get feedback in the moment
  • Ask for it directly: Face-to-face, video or phone, not email
  • Ask people what was great? (don’t go straight to what we can improve)
  • Ask what can I/we do even better?
  • Make sure the feedback is useful by using Facts/Think/Feel
  • For an added bonus, land some compliments & positive comments.
  • The best leaders are always asking what  they do brilliantly and what they can do even better

In the breakout sessions, we played “Getting the energy right” exercise. Love bombs: tell breakout partner what you love / appreciate / value about them 🙂

PS:

  • This week, start each day with that singular focus, what is the most important thing today?
  • Zone your day so that the big thing is in the right space.
  • Say no to some things so as to create space for the important.
  • Do something you are passionate about daily.
  • First impressions go a long way.
  • Be the person who radiates positivity.
  • Focus with your team – learn together and support each other.
  • If we want our team to embrace change, we need to help them with their confidence. What do they do brilliantly? “So, just to illustrate, when I was writing the book called Wake up, we challenged the people through a psychological magazine: Grab one person per day in the pub, and tell them what you love about them. This is the best thing that happened this year. If you are nice to people they are nice to you. In a pub if you are looking for bad things, you can find a lot, like people stealing steaks, drinking on the job. But when you start to look for the good, it is equally abundant. When you spot the good, you behave as if people are good, they feel it and they elevate their performance. Virtuous cycle. Everybody gets better everyday. Just spend some time appreciating people around you. People will be Primed to see more rainbows.”
  • Where do you get the best ideas? In bed, walking, exercising, casual chats.  If we want to learn well, we need the thinking from the conscious brain and also the feeling from the subconscious brian. Walk and talk about your experiments. As you walk and talk you get clearer insights from your subconscious. We used https://www.talkitout.app/
  • Appreciations and love bombs are warm-ups.
  • Move to a place where you are looking at you own growth and development and the only way to do that is by demanding feedback of yourself.
  • Be a curious. Be bold. Be a champion for positive change. 
  • Experiment. And most of all have fun along the way.
  • Be more agile, collaborative and inclusive.
  • Better energy, better impact. When you get the energy right, life is easy and fun,
  • Find your own inner Elvis, be the best version of you. We can all be that person 🙂

NB: Much of my learnings shared here can be found on Upping Your Elvis and their blog. Knowledge shared is knowledge squared. I intend no infringement on their work or copyright. Thanks to my organisation for such initiatives that enable it to be a great place to work.

References & more readings:

Upping Your Elvis 

https://uppingyourelvis.thinkific.com

Compressing your team’s work days to six hours could be possible with a little prioritizing, cutting, automating, and testing.

The Case for the 6-Hour Workday 

Meeting Overload Is a Fixable Problem

How to (politely) turn down requests for things that aren’t worth your time:

9 Ways to Say No to Busywork and Unrealistic Deadlines 

Impact of Meetings on our Brains

The Most Powerful Productivity Tool 

How Managers Can Make Feedback a Team Habit