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The Way We're Working Isn't Working - Book summary

In our modern workplace, we’re facing the demand for more, faster and bigger results. We’re flooded by endless information, emails, meetings and urgent requests, and can’t keep up no matter how long or hard we work. As a result, we feel disengaged, depleted, and can’t find the time or energy to think deeply or creatively. Tony Schwartz explains why our current way of working isn’t working, and presents a better and more sustainable approach for both individuals and organizations. In this free summary of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, you’ll learn how to unlock 4 natural sources of energy—physical, emotional, mental and spiritual—to function optimally and feel more productive and fulfilled.

Why the Way We’re Working Isn’t Working

In 2003, Tony Schwartz founded The Energy Project to identify employees’ needs in the modern world and find ways to address them. After researching more than 12,000 people from 73 countries, his team found that most employees:
• Didn’t sleep enough;
• Regularly felt irritable or anxious at work;
• Struggled to focus on 1 thing at a time, and
• Felt they spent too little time on their strengths/passions, things that served their inner purpose or had long-term impact/value.

This book presents the principles, strategies and practices to address these challenges. It’s built on the core idea that it’s more important to manage our energy levels than to simply work longer/harder.

The Way We're Working Isn't Working summary - 4 Energy Sources for Peak Performance

Each of us is fueled by 4 main sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. The key to optimal, sustainable peak performance is to alternate rhythmically between activity and rest, to renew ourselves and expand our capacity in all 4 areas.

Humans aren’t designed to run like computers—for prolonged, continuous periods at high speeds. We are designed to operate in pulses or cycles, e.g. to sleep at night and be alert in the day. Research in different areas—from professional athletes to violinists and chess-players—revealed that top performers toggled between periods of high-intensity and total rest/renewal.

When we increase our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual capacities, we also increase our capacity to generate more value. The book dives into each of these 4 areas to provide:
• Detailed scientific and research background on how each of these sources of energy work;
• The strategies and activities you can use to expand your personal energy in each area; and
• How to optimized peak performance at an organizational level.


The 4 Needs Behind Peak Performance

PHYSICAL ENERGY => Need for Sustainability

Beyond basic survival, we need to sustain ourselves physically with sleep, nutrition, fitness, and rest. Our physical capacity lays the foundation for all other sources of energy. If you don’t take care of your body, you simply can’t perform optimally.

When we’re healthy, our body systems (e.g. heart rates, blood pressure, brain waves) all pulse rhythmically. To maintain a healthy rhythm, we must alternate between spending and renewing physical energy. Specifically, there are 4 Renewal Quadrants for physical energy:

The Way We're Working Isn't Working summary - Physical energy and sustainability

On the left are unsustainable renewal strategies. Most of us have no rhythm in our workday and use more energy than we renew. We spend the bulk of our work hours at the computer or in meetings, and sustain ourselves with temporary spikes from caffeine, sugar, and adrenaline. When we reach home, we feel exhausted and rely on TV, alcohol etc. to numb ourselves.

On the right are sustainable sources of energy, e.g. playing, resting, eating lean proteins and complex carbs. For peak physical energy, renew yourself regularly by toggling between the Energize and Chill quadrants. The greater your daily demands, the more you must recharge, like how a high-performance race car needs more maintenance and refueling.

If you are interested in more detailed insights on how to renew physically yourself for optimal performance, at both individual and organizational levels, check out our full summary bundle for The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.

EMOTIONAL ENERGY => Need for Security

Our emotions affect our performance. Our emotional well-being is driven by our core need for security, i.e. how far we feel accepted and valued.

There are also 4 Emotional Quadrants that reflect the quantity and quality of our emotional energy, namely: the Survival Zone, Burnout Zone, Renewal Zone and Performance Zone. Our full summary version of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working can teach you how to sustain positive emotional energy by toggling between the Renewal Zone (where you feel relaxed, peaceful and receptive) and the Performance Zone (where you’re calmly focused, energized, engaged and optimistic), at personal and organizational levels.

MENTAL ENERGY => Need for Self-Expression

All human beings have an innate desire to express ourselves by effectively using our skills and talents in the real world. This depends on our ability to control where we direct our attention, and to focus on 1 thing at a time.

We move between 4 attentional states that reflect our quality and span of attention: The Reactive Zone, Scattered Zone, Tactical Zone and Big Picture Zone. The goal is to get in flow—the state where you’re so absorbed in an activity that everything else fades away—and improve your capacity for absorbed attention by alternating between the Tactical and Big Picture zones. You can get our complete summary bundle to learn more on how to overcome distractions, direct your focus and cultivate the whole brain at an individual level, and how to improve productivity and innovation at an organizational level.

SPIRITUAL ENERGY => Need for Significance

Humans have a need for meaning, significance and connection. We feel energized when we serve something bigger than ourselves. Our spiritual energy is derived from our deeply-held values and sense of purpose, which are manifested in our daily behaviors.

Our values/purpose comes from our unique life experiences. They’re extremely personal and subjective. So, unlike the other 3 energy sources above, the details of the 4 spiritual quadrants are actually decided by you. Do get our complete summary bundle for The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working to learn how to:
• Uncover your best self (and its associated values) and your worst self (and the associated values deficit);
• Cultivate your personal spiritual energy; and
• Reach the full potential as an organization.

Making the Shift: Embrace a New Way to Work

To maximize all 4 sources of energy, you probably need to make some fundamental changes. This can be especially hard if you’re an employee who doesn’t have full control over your work environment or schedule.

To help you put everything together and start making positive shifts, Tony Schwartz also addresses how to:
• Develop personal awareness (since we can’t change what we don’t notice);
• Facilitate change with rituals and habits; and
• Forge a real partnership at work between individuals and organizations

Getting More from The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working

If you often feel tired, irritable, and/or struggle to focus your attention or find meaning and drive in your work, this book can definitely help to turn things around. If you’d like to start making positive changes to your life, do check out the our full book summary bundle which includes a one-page infographic, a 19-page text summary in pdf, and a 30-min audio summary in mp3.

The Way We're Working Isn't Working full summary bundle

This book was previously published under the title Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live. It’s a follow up to Tony Schwartz’s best-selling book, The Power of Full Engagement. It’s packed with background information and research to explain each of the 4 energy sources, with many examples and case studies of the authors’ clients and other successful organizations (e.g. Ernst & Young, Sony, Ford, Zappos, and Best Buy). Each chapter in the book comes with a short outline and suggested action steps. If you’d like these additional insights, examples and details, you can purchase the book here or visit

Learn another powerful framework for energy management and peak performance with Get in the Go Zone!

About the Authors of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working

The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance is written by Tony Schwartz, Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy.

Tony Schwartz (born 1952), author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, is an American journalist, book author and the President and CEO of consulting firm The Energy Project. Schwartz was previously a columnist for The New York Post, associate editor at Newsweek, reporter for The New York Times, a staff writer at New York Magazine and Esquire, and the President for LGE Performance Systems. He authored/co-authored several books, including The Art of the Deal with Donald Trump and The Power of Full Engagement with Jim Loehr.

Jean Gomes is the chairman of The Energy Project Europe, with more than 25 years’ experience in consulting and coaching.

Catherine McCarthy is the former chief operating officer of The Energy Project.

Quotes from The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working

“By following this program, you will deliberately strengthen and renew your four key sources of energy so you can ultimately achieve sustainable excellence at anything.”

“Intense effort for short periods, followed by intentional rest and recovery, is more efficient, more satisfying, and ultimately more productive than moderate, continuous effort for longer periods of time.”

“It’s not how much time we invest into our work that determines our productivity but rather the value we produce during the hours we work.” 

“Systematically investing in people’s capacity, beginning at the physical level, is the key to fueling sustainable high performance.”

“How we feel profoundly influences how we perform.”

“Our identity is the sum of the stories we tell about ourselves. Our worldview is the sum of the stories we tell about others.”

“Stress is the means by which we expand capacity, as long as it’s balanced by intermittent renewal.”

“Knowledge is power…but there may well be an inverse relationship between the volume of information available to us and our ability to make sense of it.”

“Significance is not our birthright. We must find ways to invest our lives with meaning.”

“A value is an aspiration. A virtue is a value in action…the ultimate measure of our lives is the actions we take.”

“The more we’re willing to see, the bigger our world becomes.”

“We create the highest value not by focusing solely on our strengths or by ignoring our weaknesses, but by being attentive to both.”

Click here to download The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working summary & infographic

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