Is The Way We’re Working, Working?

The Way We’re Working isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance” is a book by Tony Schwartz, Jean Gomes, and Catherine McCarthy on how we should manage our energy levels for maximum personal effectiveness.

But this isn’t the first time he’s preaching this message.

Tony Schwartz and another consultant, Jim Loehr, were partners at LGE Performance Systems (now known as Human Performance Institute), renowned for their Corporate Athlete programme. They were also co-authors of the book “The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal“.

Tony Schwartz has since left to set up his own consulting company called The Energy Project.

The Energy Project is basically a rehash of the Corporate Athlete programme (I suppose he can’t be sued for copyright infringement since he is a co-author of “The Full Engagement” after all). They both encourage us to view energy, instead of time, as our most precious resource. Time is finite while energy can be replenished and increased. It is energy that enables us to accomplish our goals. So, instead of judging work by the amount of time it takes to complete, we should look at the value it creates.

In the first section of the book, Tony made the astute observation that human beings are not computers, and do not function in the same way. We have not evolved to work around the clock without breaks.

Instead, we perform best in our natural cycles. Tony introduced the concept of “waves” and “rhythms”. We are at our most effective when we work intensely, followed by deep rest.

Life then is not a marathon but a series of short sprints.

Tony related a study of top violinists which showed that the very top musicians practise intensively for not more than 90 minutes at a time, and not more than 4 hours a day. They also sleep and nap more than their less accomplished counterparts.

There are 4 levels of energy: physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy, and spiritual energy. They stack upon successive layers like a pyramid.

Physical energy is the foundation of our energy. If we are feeling tired, weak, fatigued, then the other energies cannot be effectively harnessed and deployed. Managing our emotions properly allows our minds to operate at the highest levels of clarity. Lastly, spiritual energy funnels and directs these 3 types of energies into fulfilling our life purpose.

Can you think of examples of rhythms and waves for each energy type? Below are some ideas cobbled together from the book and my personal reflections:

Physical energy: Interval training. Ramp up your heart rate by doing highly intensive, short bursts of exercise. Allow for short breaks before repeating the next set. Cater for rest days, over-training can be just as pernicious as inactivity.

Emotional energy: Be aware of how you’re feeling, and experience fully each emotion. Savour the positive emotions, manage the negative ones. That doesn’t mean burying or ignoring them. Negative emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety play an important role in our healthy functioning. They can serve as useful impetus, but we have to be careful not to let them overwhelm us.

Mental: Focus on one thing at a time instead of unproductive multi-tasking. Work intensively for not more than 90 minutes at a time. Take frequent breaks. The harder the work, the deeper the rest should be.

Spiritual: Alternate between high-level perspective (What is my life purpose?) and ground-level (What am I doing today and why?). Make that connection between these two spheres.

This book helpfully brings disparate ideas from psychological research into a neat theoretical framework. Is it just common sense?

But common sense obviously isn’t that common.

Can you identify the number of disconnects between your purported values and your daily behaviours? How many of us say that family is the most important thing in our lives, but only spend a fraction of our waking hours with them? How many of us acknowledge the need for exercise, but lament that we don’t have enough time to run?

There are powerful forces which run counter to our best intentions, and disfigure our personal values. Companies exert a disproportionate amount of influence on the lives of their staff, affecting all aspects of their lives. Prevailing corporate cultures place a premium on “face-time” and “visibility”. Swimming upstream against the tide in the direction we want demands a deliberate and planned course of action.

Instead of going with the flow, it is then up to us to act in our own best interests.

About Hun Boon

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
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