Energy Management: You Need to Shut Down

Forget time management. If you can't manage your energy, you'll never be able to manage anything else. Here's why energy matters.

One of the biggest reasons I write this column once a week is simply because it slows me down.

It changes my rhythm and forces me to think larger thoughts in the midst of the quotidian. It removes me from the ceaseless concatenation of crisis management that is the lot of most small business leaders. It allows me to contemplate the forest, as well as the trees; the ultimate, as well as the penultimate.

Like many of you, each day I have to choose which really important thing is really the most important thing to tackle that day, and which things can wait for tomorrow's to-do list. The danger of all this busy-ness is that you become a human "doing" instead of a human "being."

Author and CEO of the Energy Project Tony Schwartz recently wrote about the "personal energy crisis." He wrote that we need to learn to manage our energy differently, not just our time. And he pointed out that the pressure to stay forever connected and “on top of things” has taken a toll on the time we once instinctively devoted to renewing and recharging. He went on:

When fatigue sets in over the course of a day, we all increasingly and unconsciously rely on emergency sources of energy: adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol. In this aroused fight-or-flight state, our prefrontal cortex, which helps us think reflectively and creatively, begins to shut down. We become more reactive, reflexive and impulsive.

For me, the witching hour is 4 p.m. On many days, I become useless and even dangerous at that hour. I'm at my worst, a snarling, ill-tempered fool. I've learned to avoid making decisions or having important calls any time between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. I've discovered I say lots of stupid things around that time-- things that have unnecessarily damaged my business.

Schwartz pointed to a recent study of airline pilots. The study discovered that when pilots get a nap of just 30 minutes in long-haul flights, they experience a 16 percent increase in their reaction time, in contrast to a 34 percent decrease in reaction time among non-napping pilots over the course of a flight.

One reason to be cautionary about our miraculous and explosive Internet technology is that it simply leaves you no time to think of the long-term consequences of your short-term obsession. You may not know where you’re going, but you’re sure getting there faster and faster. (Lord, please stop me before I devolve into another Luddite screed.)

French philosopher Gaston Bachelard says in the Poetics of Reverie, "Reverie is not a mind vacuum. It is rather the gift of an hour which knows the plenitude of the soul." Thank you, Gaston.

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