Michael Lynton used to be your standard time-starved executive. Most days, the Sony Pictures Entertainment (SNE) chairman & CEO was scarfing down lunch at his desk. He says he would frequently go for hours without taking a break.
Then co-CEO Amy Pascal urged him to read up on an "energy management" consultant named Tony Schwartz, whom the two had met. Now, Lynton often eats lunch outdoors and tries to take a short walk every 90 minutes. Instead of tackling the job as an endurance contest, Lynton says, "you measure your day in terms of how much you can do before you take a pause and relax." Not only is he pacing his day better, he's also more positive with colleagues at work.
Breaks and Rituals Executives have long struggled to manage their schedules, their people, and their time. Now a growing number are trying to manage their energy, too. And one of the gurus of this emerging niche is Schwartz, a former Esquire and New York magazine writer who founded the Energy Project in 2003. Ford (F) CEO Alan Mulally and his team are among his clients, as are managers at Google (GOOG) and Procter & Gamble (PG). Client Jim Kelly, ING Direct's chief operating officer, says that he now "looks for moments of good energy and favors them, and [tries] to rethink moments of bad energy and manage them better."
Getting numbers-driven banking execs cozy with the notion of good and bad energy may seem odd, but many have become believers in Schwartz's concepts, which start with the premise that while time is finite, energy is not. He tells executives to "pulse," or intersperse periods of intense work with breaks to renew their energy levels. And he directs clients to adhere to daily rituals such as writing in a journal or eating breakfast with the kids. By feeding personal needs, he suggests, managers nurture a positive mindset that leads to better performance. "The more time you spend in [a] negative emotion, the more subverted your effectiveness is."
Schwartz's axioms—part Maslow's hierarchy of needs, part basic nutrition and wellness—can often seem like little more than common sense. Training sessions start with an acknowledgement that much of the content won't sound new, and ING Direct's Kelly admits that Schwartz's coaching is "intuitive." Still, fans like Keith Lawrence, a human resources director at P&G, calls Schwartz one of "the most outstanding resources I've ever met."
Schwartz first met Jim Loehr, a performance psychologist who frequently worked with athletes, in 1992 while writing a magazine story. Schwartz says the two men teamed up years later, as he helped Loehr adapt his ideas about managing energy for the business market. The two wrote a best-selling book, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy Not Time, and Schwartz joined Loehr's LGE Performance Systems (now the Human Performance Institute), where they taught companies "Corporate Athlete" training sessions. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) acquired Loehr's institute in December, five years after Schwartz left to start his own firm. (Loehr, now a competitor, declined to comment for this story.)
Practical Teachings Hard-charging executives take to the idea of positive "energy management" with a mix of zeal and skepticism. In a recent training session for a major New York bank run by Schwartz's colleague, Annie Perrin, executives embraced some of her suggestions, but were incredulous about others. ("Seven to eight hours of sleep? That's too much!") And despite Perrin's calls to "intentionally orient yourself to the positive when everything is negative," some bankers were dubious: "How do you deal when negative energy is coming down from the top?"
Sony's Lynton was also apprehensive at first. He wasn't sure what to think of the broad term "energy management," and as someone who "tends to be slightly skeptical and even cynical about this stuff," Lynton thought it might be too theoretical. But those worries later gave way to support for what he calls a very practical leadership program. The coaching has helped him hold better meetings and give more positive feedback, he says, and he and Pascal now urge employees to take more breaks and resist e-mails after 8 p.m. Lynton compares the training to Rashomon, a Japanese film told from several viewpoints. "Everybody you talk to takes a different thing away from it."