"Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance."
My life changed five years ago when I stumbled across this line in Jim Loehr's The Power of Full Engagement and began rearranging the way I lived and worked to take this powerful insight on board.
At the time, Loehr's assertion seemed utterly alien. Every leadership development program I'd been on talked about time being our 'most valuable asset'. I was studying to become a lawyer, a profession where success is measured in 7-minute billable blocks, and the coffee mug my best friend had given me reminded me on a daily basis (as I sculled its contents to help me stretch my productive hours) that "You have as many hours in the day as Beyoncé".
I'd internalised that in the game of life, work and activity were the two things that got you to the next level, and that the 'busyness' badge was the working equivalent of getting your pen licence in primary school -- you weren't anybody until you could display it proudly.
In my preoccupation with 'quantity', I'd completely glossed over the importance of 'quality' to sustainable, high performance.
I'm not proud of it, but the concepts of 'renewal' and 'recovery' felt so foreign that my body wanted to reject them in the same violent way it rejected goji berries when I tried (read: failed) to get on board the 'superfood' bandwagon.
But the science of energy management just made so much sense.
Firstly, it poked a giant hole in the fundamental assumption on which time management is built: all units of time are created equal. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Important meetings might go in your diary for 2 pm, but there's a reason no one is scheduling 2 am meetings -- all hours of the day are not created equal when it comes to getting things done.
What we're tapping into here speaks partly to our bodies circadian rhythm, our 24-hour body clock, which is responsible for waking us in the morning and making us feel tired at night, but also to a concept I'd never heard of (or thought about managing): your ultradian rhythm.
Ultradian rhythm refers to the 90-minute energy cycles that influence the flow of hormones throughout our bodies. When we have an energy upswing, we're capable of focusing deeply and getting a lot accomplished. When we're on a downswing, all our mind and body want to do is rest and recover.
In competitive workplaces, the pressure to work eight to 12-plus hour days without breaks isn't uncommon, nor is wolfing down lunch at your desk while replying to urgent emails, or pulling an all-nighter to get a major project finished. It has become popular to try and 'hack' out of our natural rhythm to get more done and reach these punishing deadlines by resting less. While downswings aren't abnormal (they're essential), we treat it as though they're a problem that needs to be fixed or avoided -- cue the caffeine, 3.30 pm sugar hit or fast-food run.
What this way of operating fails to recognise is that, like all biological organisms, we need to couple our productive endeavours with rest and recovery to achieve peak performance.
Instead of working against our bodies, we can achieve greater results by working with them.
- Learn your rhythm: track the ebbs and flows in your energy for a few days (N.B. Keep track of what fuel you're putting in to your body alongside these peaks and troughs too)
- Work to your rhythm: try changing the way you run your diary to work around your energy cycles instead of just filling your 'available time'. To capitalise on your high-energy periods, schedule your creative work and most important meetings for when you have up-cycles.
- Take your breaks: if you don't rest in your down-cycles, your body will impose rest later -- often in the form of you getting sick or run down. As a former (unofficial) ambassador for 'powering through', one of the biggest game-changers for my personal health and productivity has been learning to listen to my body and actually rest when I'm in a down-cycle. My go-to rechargers are power naps and power walks but meditation, and playing or listening to music are other great options -- find what works for you.
To borrow a line from Warren Buffett, it's "simple, not easy". Energy management is a simple concept but changing the way you think about how you structure your life and being disciplined enough, particularly when your own head or others around you try to convince you just to "push through", is another matter.
So, if you're game, make your New Year's Resolution to ban the word 'busy' from your 2016 vocabulary and focus on managing energy rather than time. As Jim Loehr says, "The more we take responsibility for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered and productive we become."
This post is part of an editorial series produced by The Huffington Post as part of our monthlong "Work Well" initiative, which focuses on thriving in the workplace. The goal of the series -- which will feature blogs, reported features, videos, and more -- is to present creative solutions you can use to take care of yourself as you take care of business. The effort is also part of The Huffington Post's "What's Working" solutions-oriented journalism initiative. To see all the content in the "Work Well" series, visit here.