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

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 

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

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