Personal Energy Management: How to Stop Killing Yourself at Work

By Karlin Sloan

Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?

  • Mitch thinks he’s impressing his boss by e-mailing her on weekends.
  • Eileen believes she’s protecting her job by being the last one to leave the office each night.
  • Najit feels she’s nurturing her client relationships because she never says “no” to a request.

How do people really perceive Mitch, Eileen, and Najit? Probably not in the way they intend. I’m all for hard work and dedication, but the last thing I want is a team of burned out people who are putting on a performance for my benefit. What’s wrong here? Why are we killing ourselves?

Lately I hear more and more workplace “overkill” stories. The good news? They beg a conversation about energy management—versus time management—and why it’s an increasingly relevant concept in a global, technology-fueled work environment.

The term “energy management” was coined by Nina Merer, a corporate trainer and coach practicing in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Merer took traditional time management concepts and reframed them to prioritize people’s energy resources.

Energy management is both an art and a science. To better manage your energy, you need an equal amount of input to output. Deplete your energy stores without “recharging” them and you jeopardize your ability to work efficiently and effectively.

It’s great to demonstrate commitment and competence to your company, but how do you know when “above and beyond” becomes overkill and puts your energy at risk? Ask yourself:

  1. Is what I’m doing sustainable over time?

  2. Is what I’m doing something that really adds value?

  3. If what I’m doing isn’t sustainable and doesn’t add value,
    am I gaining something important from it?

If you can’t answer “yes” to any of these questions, it’s time to set some boundaries.

Setting Boundaries: Rules of the Road

Follow these three simple yet powerful rules, and you can avoid sacrificing your “ROEI”—return on energy investment.

  1. Understand that your time and energy are valuable.

    If you don’t protect your energy, who will? Unless you are superhuman, you need to set up some parameters about when you will—and won’t—jump to the rescue or go beyond the call of duty. Everything feels important—your boss, your customers, and your short- and long-term deliverables—so how do you balance it all? Prioritize the time that most feeds your energy—versus simply doing or reacting—and set clear expectations of what you can and cannot do.

    A coach on my team recently told this story: Two principals in a midsized organization hired Ken, an outside consultant, to facilitate an upcoming team meeting. When the principals expressed concern about holding the meeting in the company conference room—a space they had custom designed and built for their new offices—Ken asked them why. “Because we always get interrupted when we’re there versus offsite, and it makes it impossible to get anything done.”

    The interesting assumption here is that the executives can’t set appropriate boundaries when they’re in the office, but they can when they’re at a remote location. It’s not that other things don’t crop up when they’re offsite, it’s that they just don’t know about them. Their challenge was to set clear boundaries at the office—absolutely no interruptions—and, to be able to use their new conference room to do productive work, as intended.

  2. You don’t have to kiss up to look good.

    I agree with Dr. Wayne Dyer, well-known self-development author and speaker, who says, “We teach others how to treat us.” At work, you teach others to respect you by respecting your own time and energy—and refusing to be at others’ beck and call.

    Stan, one of my executive coaching clients, is a key account director for a big-name global consulting firm. One of his clients is very demanding and frequently calls Stan at night and on weekends. Instead of “redirecting” his client to reserve these calls for business hours, Stan makes himself available 24/7 and works hard to meet every request. Unfortunately, this behavior is not sustainable, nor does it add any value. Stan’s core belief, that the client always comes first, is admirable, but what happens when that belief ceases to serve the client? Stan is often so physically and mentally exhausted that he can’t do his best work. With good intentions, he has created a dynamic in which his client expects him to go above and beyond at all times and at all costs. Stan’s challenge is to create a new dynamic, set limits, and show his client that he delivers his best work when he preserves his time and energy.

  3. You have a choice—sustainability or burnout.

    To perform at the top of your game, it’s critical to work in ways that stave off fatigue and burnout. Sustainable work practices support your ongoing role and responsibilities over time—not just in the heat of the moment.

    Vow to stop blaming others for your overwork and start taking responsibility for setting your own boundaries. Doc Childre, an expert on human performance optimization and personal effectiveness, teaches that blame is one of the biggest contributors to low or lost energy. Sure, there are those “human” moments when you point a finger or complain about something or someone. In the end, however, you do have a choice. You can choose when to go above and beyond, when to set and stick to your boundaries, and when to adapt to a certain work environment—or to leave that environment if what you’re doing isn’t sustainable or adding value, or you’re not gaining something important from it.

Author Bio:
Karlin Sloan is founder and CEO of Karlin Sloan & Company. She is an executive coach and leadership consultant and the author of Smarter, Faster, Better: Strategies for Effective, Enduring, and Fulfilling Leadership (Jossey-Bass). Contact: www.karlinsloan.com

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