Book review: On Form, Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz. Manage energy, not time.


Managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance, health and happiness

On Form, first published in 2003, is a book on getting the most out of work/life balance. This book was a mind shift in how I approached work.

Before reading this, I would sit for hours at a time cranking out code, presentations or spreadsheet analyses. All powered by sugar and caffeine. Working like this increased the incidence of errors and left me stressed.

This book showed me the power of managing energy and balancing intense effort with rest in enhancing productivity and efficiency. It helped me connect the dots on how things like exercise, nutrition and purpose have an effect on work. So much so, that I prioritise health over work. Now, I work in ‘sprints’ but take regular breaks. Exercising is diarised and never missed. I don’t eat anything unless it fuels whatever I’m looking to do. This is has led to enjoying work and getting a lot more over the line.

The authors are productivity experts, former journalist Tony Schwartz and psychologist Jim Loehr. Schwartz has worked on several books (one with Trump, which he now regrets) and now runs a consultancy called the Energy Project1. Jim Loehr has worked with many sports and corporate clients, using the approach of increasing productivity through energy management2.

The four energy pillars

The book proposes that personal energy consists of four pillars:

  • Physical, defined by quantity of energy. This is the most fundamental pillar.
  • Spiritual, defined by force of energy. This is the most significant pillar and embodies purpose and values.
  • Mental, defined by the focus of energy.
  • Emotional, defined by the quality of energy. Positive emotions lead to a high quality of energy.

nutrition productivty energy.jpg

Optimising these four pillars has a synergistic effect that leads to high performance.

Work is a series of sprints, not a marathon

A key element to managing energy is fitting in enough time for rest and recovering. The authors liken work to athletic training. You can exercise all out for intense short bursts but you won’t get the benefits unless you rest and recover. In the domain of work this applies to emotional, physical and mental energies. In athletics, if you under or overtrain it can be counter-productive. The same is true for over or under working.

nutrition productivity sprints.jpg

The On Form training system

The second half of the book acts as a training manual for improving the four pillars to energy. It gives directions on

  • how to design work and rest (work in short bursts)
  • maximising physical energy (low glycemic diet, exercise, sleep)
  • emotional energy (positive daily rituals to build positive emotions)
  • spiritual energy (identifying your purpose and values)
  • mental energy (stimulating creativity, cognitive abilities)

When approaching projects and work this has lead me to ask the following questions:

  1. What’s the best way to break this project down into sprints?
  2. What’s exciting about this piece of work?
  3. With my energy levels where they are, what’s the next best thing to do to maximise performance? Most difficult piece of work, rest-up, some easy admin?

If you still believe in ‘time management’ read this book

Whilst some of the science is basic or has moved on since publication (e.g. nootropics, nutrition, advances in positive psychology etc) this will be a quantum shift to those with the mindset that non-stop grinding at work is the way forward. It has been influential in what I’ve been doing with Nutrition and Productivity blog.

That’s all from me, good reading.


Have you read this book? Please share in the comments below.

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