To maximize productivity you must first manage your energy. That’s the message of Allison Green Schoop, associate strategy director at global design firm frog. In a new paper, Schoop reminds us that while a machine’s rate of output depends on sophisticated engineering and durable metal parts, a human being’s capacity for work depends on more variable, often intangible sources. Drawing on “The Power of Full Engagement” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, Green identifies the four types of energy that affect knowledge-worker productivity: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Schoop spoke with Inc. about how individuals and organizations can accomplish more by caring for the whole person.

When I think about the relationship between energy and productivity, I think about how much sleep and caffeine I’ve had. Is it more complicated than that?

If something feels off, it might not just be that you are not getting enough coffee or enough rest. How much you sleep, how you stay alert--those relate to physical and mental energies, which are just two of the four kinds that affect high performance. You have to be mindful of all four and how they interrelate.

The other two types of energy are emotional and spiritual. Could you explain those?

Emotional energy is about keeping a positive emotional state. If you are in a constant state of relaxation and control despite the demands of your day, you will have more resilience and energy. If you are coming into your day with a sense of frustration, it will tax you.

Spiritual energy is having a clear purpose in everything you do. Why have you chosen this to focus on? What are your values? The spiritual aspect is most important when it comes to motivation and dedication. Why are you going to get out of your warm bed in the morning? Ideally you are not acting out of fear but running toward something.

How do individuals manage something like that?

You pay attention to where, on those four dimensions, you may be falling short. Rituals are important, like daily exercise. Plan moments in your day to create positive emotional states, by going to an art museum or a dance class or spending time with friends. To replenish your spiritual energy, check in with yourself rather than just being externally focused. Try journaling for 20 or 30 minutes. Try meditation or yoga. If you are fulfilling yourself emotionally in your whole life, then that will impact your work life.

If you were going to design a workday that took people’s energy rhythms into account, what would that look like?

Mornings would be spent doing cognitively demanding and creative tasks. Afternoons would be focused on administrative activities, like status meetings or email. Both mornings and evenings would be broken into work sessions that map to our natural intervals of focus, which range from 90-to-120 minutes, with 15-to-20-minute breaks in-between. Create a rhythm. Focus. Replenish. Return to focus. Our lowest energy time is at 3 PM. So people would be free to either go to the gym or take a nap. Use that lull to generate more energy so you’ll be productive the rest of the day.

You recommend giving employees time during the workday to go to the gym or do community service. Wouldn’t it be easier to make sure they have reasonable workloads and then encourage them to attend to their physical and spiritual needs at their own leisure? 

The reality is most people work 50-plus hours. That is the expectation of organizations in order to remain competitive. But I think there is an opportunity to establish the next frontier of competitiveness, by recognizing that--as employee’s lives are increasingly about work--employers have a bigger role to play in their lives. The more you create space to refresh the four energies, the more those energies are channeled into creativity and productivity. It’s not about providing a perk. It’s about getting the best out of people.

We must also rethink this question of what work is. People think, “If I am going to exercise, then I am not working.” And that is so far from the truth. We know that the best ideas don’t come sitting at your desk. They come in the shower, at the gym, on a walk. That is work too. There might be something truly transformative if an organization broke down and rebuilt every convention of our work lives in favor of employees’ well being.

What tools can companies use to help people better manage their energy?

I would love to see a sophisticated calendaring solution that doesn’t allow people to schedule administrative meetings in the morning and takes into account those 90-to-120 minute work intervals with 15-to-20-minute breaks. As for what they can do now, one idea is to place simple weights and exercise balls throughout the office. That encourages people to use those breaks actively, exercising or maybe calling a friend, meditating, or taking a walk outside. There is also a new wave of stress-management wearables that managers can use to help prevent burnout.

The next level of innovation in human-capital management is about these softer markers that indicate burnout and exhaustion. How much sleep are people getting? What is their anxiety level? What is their mood? Managing that will probably involve people volunteering their own data. Because what we are talking about is managing someone else’s human experience.

Published on: Feb 18, 2015