Tick Tock: Why racing against the clock is killing us.


Do you ever feel like you are racing against the clock? Have you ever find yourself bargaining with the universe, asking for another hour or two in the day? I know I certainly have, many times over. The truth is we have become a society that races against the clock. There are signs on the freeway that tell us how long it will take to get to the next intersection. We find ourselves staying late at work because we were unable to get any ‘real work’ done during business hours. The end result is that we are more depleted, exhausted and overwhelmed than ever before. We have more to do, and less time to do it in. In many ways, our modern society is at a crisis point, a time in human history that is calling (even begging) for a new paradigm—a new way of tapping into a more holistic and intentional approach to the world of work.  

For the past 200 years, time has been the chief resource in the industrialized world. After all, an hour of work represents something concrete. Often compensation is determined by the time we put into the work we do. The more time spent, the more money we make. The time-clock approach to work has been our measuring stick for determining productivity and worth. These centuries have been a period of striving for expansion, mechanization and technologization to streamline the speed at which work can be done. Everything is bigger, faster and better and we humans have been left trying to keep up. So to meet the demands placed on us, and to respect the finite nature of time (there are just 24 hours in the day, after all), we sleep less, endure physical discomfort, navigate feelings of depression and unease, and continue to feel like we are somehow falling short by not being able to keep up. Time, it seems, is failing us.

Yet, as human beings, we are fueled by a powerful energy that flows within our bodies—an incredible resource whose potential is undervalued in our society today. Unlike time, energy is an infinite resource that, according to Tony Swartz of The Energy Project, is our “capacity to do work.” Unlike time, energy rests at the core of our humanity and can expand and renew. While in today’s world there is a heavy focus on the spending of our energy (do more!), there is also a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) undervaluing of, even a judgement around, the biological need our species has to refuel and replenish. We are, after all, not the machines or the computers we work with. The notion of rest and recovery is hardwired in us. Just think about your breath, your heartbeat, your daily cycle of being awake and sleeping. The natural order of things calls for us to embrace a period of action and expenditure of energy and a period of rest and renewal. In order to optimize our humanness, while living in an increasingly digitized and interconnected world, it is becoming increasingly important that we listen to and recognize the essence of what it actually means to be human. The more that we cater to our own natural cycles, the more effective, efficient and healthy we will become.

So what does it look like to replenish your own personal energy? A good start is to become familiar with Swartz’s work around the four dimensions of human—physical, emotional, spiritual and mental—and how to explore areas for balance and renewal in your own life.


This energy connects with our physical selves. It dictates the quantity of our energy and is the foundation upon which the three other dimensions are built. In order to understand where you are with the “energy in, energy out” aspect of this dimension, ask yourself:

Am I getting enough sleep? Do I know what it feels like to be well-rested? 
Am I getting enough exerciseAm I exercising too much? 
Am I eating nutritious foods? Am I eating foods that make my body feel good? Am I eating for reasons other than hunger?

Based on your responses, think of ways you can replenish your energy. Maybe it means going to bed a half-hour earlier at night, having a short nap in the afternoon or choosing to get out for a brisk walk or run first thing in the morning. The more we attend to the input and output of energy in this dimension, the stronger the foundation we build.


This energy connects with how we are feeling and dictates the quality of our energy. In order to understand how this dimension impacts your ability to be effective and efficient, ask yourself:

How do I feel?
How do I feel when I am performing at my best (excited, engaged, in the zone)?

Using this information about how you feel can help you navigate how you are showing up, on an emotional level, in your day-to-day life. Although all emotions are healthy and necessary, when we rest in emotions known as “negative emotions” (like hate, anger, jealousy and sadness), we fall out of what Swartz calls the “performance zone.” Simple awareness of the emotions we are feeling can go a long way to help us better understand how they are impacting our energetic output.


According to Swartz, our mental energy is grounded in our ability to focus in an absorbed way. Examine your “energy in, energy out” in this dimension of energy by asking yourself the following questions:

Do I find that I am easily distracted?
Can I focus for long periods of time?

There is no question that we are living in a world of distraction. In order to replenish our mental energy, we must choose activities that require us to focus deeply. This can be accomplished by reading more, choosing a hobby that requires long-term focus or meditating. Anything that we can do to train our mind to focus for longer periods of time helps us to renew our mental energy.


This dimension of energy is connected to our sense of a higher purpose and reason for being. To better understand this dimension of energy, ask yourself the following questions:

What really matters to me?
How do I want to contribute in the world?
Am I making the difference I yearn to make?

Attending to our spiritual dimension of energy helps us to tap into a purpose that is greater than ourselves. This can be replenished by carving out times for reflection by writing in a journal, attending a workshop, attending a service, meditating or going for a long nature walk. Replenishing and nurturing our spiritual dimension of energy can help us feel more aligned and purposeful as we navigate life.

Swartz's four dimensions are by no means cutting edge stuff.  The essence of this work can be found in the teachings of Indigenous cultures and various religions around the world. This holistic human perspective is also found in the work that I do as an Integral Coach.  What is new and novel, however, is the assertion that our energy is a resource to be nurtured and cared for. When we are more aware and optimizing the various aspects of energy within ourselves, we can connect more fully to what our bodies and minds need to be at their best.  It is like Swartz is reminding us to celebrate and nurture our humanness at a time when it is easy to forsake it. When organizations embrace and integrate this lens into the structure of their workplace they not only create a healthier and more sustainable work environment but they also gain access to a level of creativity, innovation and effectiveness that previously lay dormant in their exhausted employees. Paying attention to the expenditure and replenishment of energy as human, in all four dimensions, is the key to tapping into and optimizing our own precious human resources – at work and at home.