Schwartz: Turn Off the Technology, Turn on Your Energy

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As work, family and personal demands increase and we are tethered to smart phones and tablet computers to be available instantly to anyone who might need us, our ability to perform at our best diminishes and our physical and mental health suffers. It’s time to revamp the way we approach work, according to Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project. It’s time to reclaim focus and be more productive, efficient and healthy.

Schwartz, a former journalist, was the opening keynote speaker on April 30 at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2012 Talent Management Conference & Exposition, held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. His company helps individuals and organizations perform better and more sustainably.

“We are not changing as fast as the world is changing,” Schwartz told the more than 1,000 attendees. “Technology is way out ahead of our ability to manage it.”

To meet the rising demands of work and technology, we have to expand our capacity—our energy—for ourselves and our organizations, Schwartz said.

There are four qualities of energy, he said:

  • Physical—the amount of energy. We refuel this source through sleep and rest. Hardly anyone gets enough sleep, Schwartz said.
  • Emotional—the quality of energy. Do we feel positively or negatively toward what we are expending energy on?
  • Mental—the focus of our energy. Schwartz stipulated that people should do one thing at a time—no multi-tasking—for a sustained period of time to see the best results.
  • Spiritual—how expending our energy makes us feel. This is the boost we get when we serve something larger than ourselves, Schwartz said.

The longer people spend in circumstances that drain and do not replenish their energy, the more they acclimate to it. A frog tossed into a pot of boiling water will jump out, Schwartz said, but a frog in a pot of water that is slowly heated will cook. It grows more and more accustomed to untenable circumstances. Like the frog, people who try to satisfy ever-increasing demands by drawing on ever-decreasing energy sources will “become numb to the consequences of the choices you are making,” Schwartz said.

Get In the Zone

To break out of those circumstances, employees and organizations need to learn to work when their energy—dictated by circadian rhythms, or our natural ebb and flow of energy—is high, and to rest and refuel when energy is low. The greater the demand, the greater the need to rest for a sufficient time.

Schwartz defined four zones in which people normally work:

  • Performance—high energy, positive feeling. People here feel empowered, focused, engaged and confident.
  • Survival—high energy, negative feeling. People in this zone are in fight-or-flight mode. They are defensive, fearful and impatient.
  • Burnout—low energy, negative feeling. People here are exhausted, empty and depressed.
  • Recovery—low energy, positive feeling. People in this zone are mellow, peaceful and relaxed.

Optimally, employees should move from performance to recovery throughout the day as their energy levels dictate. Their productivity and efficiency will increase, Schwartz said, as they “intentionally move to the recovery zone when demand gets high.”

“We need to respect renewal and value rest,” Schwartz said. “Most of us move from performance to survival and end up in the burnout zone [when energy is depleted]. We need to enable renewal.”

Clients of his company—including Google, Apple, Kraft and Coca-Cola—have learned that “it’s not about the number of hours you work, it’s the energy you bring to work,” he added. That gives these companies the competitive advantage, bringing out the best performance from their employees, he said.

Turn Off the Technology

Being overwhelmed by e-mail, phone messages, tweets and blog postings is distracting people from their jobs, not facilitating them, Schwartz said. Juggling several tasks doesn’t make you a better performer because your brain isn’t fully engaged in any of them.

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention,” said Schwartz, quoting Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon.

A take-home tip many of the attendees appreciated: Tell your peers and reports that you will be reading e-mails only at certain times of the day. If they need immediate responses, they should call you. Schwartz said in his client companies in which this practice was implemented, e-mail traffic dropped—and no one called. Once people considered the effort involved in picking up the phone, they decided that the problem could wait or they could figure it out themselves.

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