We have previously acknowledged the importance of the work of Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of The Power of Full Engagement (2003) to the way that we structure our transition coaching programs. One of the most impactful aspects of this work proposes a paradigm shift from the historical use of time management techniques to the notion that the skillful management of energy is what results in optimal performance, personal well-being, and an overall sense of satisfaction. Let’s look at the key differences between these two paradigms.

Old Paradigm

Under the old paradigm, self-discipline and time management are the keys to success. Life is understood as a sort of marathon that should be run with a steady intensity, and hard work is what results in rewards—economic and otherwise. There is an underlying assumption that steady struggle is just part of the success equation, and all downtime is wasted time. Performance is fueled by the promise of achievement, and stress is to be avoided to whatever extent possible through the power of positive thinking and sheer determination. Under this approach, there is a linear expenditure of energy and little or no time set aside for intentional recharging (and maybe more than a touch of pride associated with superhuman endurance).

New Paradigm

Under the new paradigm, structured habits of stress and recovery and skillful energy management are the keys to success.  Life is understood as a series of productive sprints, offset by intentional periods of downtime and recovery. Performance is fueled by a clear purpose and an understanding that stress is a necessary part of the success equation, as long as there is adequate space for recovery. Strength training is an easily understood example of this model in action. One uses weights to place a specific muscle group under intense stress, literally pushing it past its current capabilities to failure. The muscle is then allowed to rest so that it can recover fully—to a point beyond its previous capacity. This cycle of stress and recovery is the key to expanded capacity in all areas and can be seen everywhere in nature.

How Does Energy Management Work in Practice?

Creating structured habits and rituals that support this oscillation between stress and recovery is crucial to effective energy management. First, it is critical to spend as much time as possible working on something that you enjoy and at which you excel. Second, it is important to create a space for intense focus and engagement (whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual) so that the desired level of energy can be expended in an effective way and with minimal interruption. Throughout these focused “sprints” of effort, frequent and restorative breaks are necessary to allow for an energy recharge. These breaks should be enjoyable and pleasurable—not a different form of stress.  Finally, it is important to become aware of and break negative habits such as working for long periods without a break, responding to exhaustion with the destructive use of food or other substances, and adopting a critical (rather than appreciative) attitude.

The net result of mastering the art of energy management is the ability to “perform in the storm” as Loehr and Schwartz describe it. Whether moving through transition or seeking greater levels of success, it is the ability to sustain high performance in the face of increasing demand that sets the high performer apart from the others.