Often when we hear stories of successful people, we hear about the hard work they put in to get there. We’re told of the many hours they spend each day, doing what they need to do, and the sacrifices they need to make. It’s a work ethic many subscribe to, and in fact, many see as a virtuous quality, something to aspire to and to become.

Our definition of success is tied up with “putting in” the hours.  Many of us also have a natural bias towards action. We find it difficult to just be, with ourselves, our loved ones and others, without doing. Sometimes this can be a self-worth or ego-driven belief that I need to put in these hours otherwise I am not a successful executive, or I need to demonstrate to my boss and team and that I am very busy. Other times it can also mean avoiding facing what Pema Chodron calls the “pointy corners of life”. Those personal and relational issues that we know need to be resolved.

In the work environment, managers also have expectations that their teams should work long hours in the belief that putting in more hours will power through the workload.  In fact, it’s a mistake to think that working hard is the same as working long hours. Working hard should be about productivity and output. Research tells us that working longer hours is not likely to improve your career, productivity or health. It’s more likely to lead to stress and less productivity.

Managing Your Time

Often people use the phrase “work smarter not harder”, but that misses the point. You are smart already. What you need is a simple formula that you can follow which will give you back time.

We are each unique in the combination of our mind, body and energy.  This means what works for you in managing your energy, may not work for me.  The key is to manage one’s energy not your time or tasks and make conscious choices that align with your optimal performance. For example, I work best in the morning.  I schedule my creative tasks at the very start of the day and complete my more routine tasks later during the day.  This may not work for you if you do your best work later in the evening.

There is also something to be said for living a more integrated personal and work life, particularly nurturing the most important relationship of all – ourselves. Managing your energy includes your physical energy (body), your focus (mind) and your emotions (heart). When it is neglected, it can lead to exhaustion and at the other extreme stress-related inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, diabetes or burn out.

Tips for Managing Your Energy

  1. Take regular breaks and holidays. Dopamine is a short-term naturally produced brain chemical which is highly addictive.  It gives you a short-term sense of achievement and enjoyment and can be a motivator.  Constant action without downtime impacts your brain’s ability to produce dopamine, which of course will impact your motivation and satisfaction at work.  Remember the feeling of returning to work from an awesome holiday to find that the issues that bothered you no longer do so?  Thank your brain for dopamine.
  2. Manage your energy, not your time or to do list.  Multitasking or constant interruptions may appear to be time-saving, but they impact your focus (mind energy).  Each attentional interruption will cost you 20 minutes of directed energy to revert your mental energy to the concentration level you had before the interruption.
  3. Consciously choosing which goals and actions will have the highest impact or as Morten Hansen says “do less and obsess”.  Give your full energy and focus to those few actions that are most important.
  4. Say “no” and consciously choose who drives your agenda.  Look for areas where you are over-committing in your work and personal life.


“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”