Running on Empty … Time to Refuel!

Kathleen Peterson Rants & Raves by Kathleen Peterson

If your auto is running on empty, the gasoline gauge has passed the red line that shows you’re almost out of gas. The term “running on empty” is used when you have drawn on all your resources, are barely struggling through, have used all your energy, and are exhausted.

We all know that when our gas gauge is heading towards “E,” we had best get to the station to refuel or we will be stranded … unable to carry on. Despite this clear indicator there are times when we do run out of gas and face the consequences of the distraction that led to it! Too bad that as humans we have no such gauge to indicate we are “running on empty.”

There are many references to this phrase, including Jackson Browne’s hit song “Running on Empty” where he croons:

Running on, running on empty

Running on, running blind

Running on, running into the sun

But I’m running behind

Clearly this song was not written about the gas tank in our car. It speaks to the demands we all place on ourselves; we wind up simply running blind and running behind. We are more doing than being; we are more busy than productive. There is a kind of bravado existing in the workplace – the bravado of “doing” – donning the “busy” badge as if it is a testimonial to our own importance or commitment. I am here to say that I think it is time to check your life’s fuel gauge!

As professionals we are challenged to maintain a full tank – that level of energy sufficient to tackle all the activities associated with our collective “deliverables.” Lately I have seen far too many folks seeming beaten down, exhaling as if they simply have nothing left. There is no fight and no energy left for innovation. What remains is just unadulterated aggravation. If you see yourself in this scenario it is time to stand up, shake off the blues, and refuel!!

In their book, The Power of Full Engagement,[1] the authors write, “We’re wired up, but we’re melting down.” They write about how we “fuel up with coffee and cool down with alcohol … we become short tempered and easily distracted.” So are we more productive?

As a leader you might be tempted to measure individuals by how many extra “hours” they put in. If you come in early and leave late, are you setting an example? Let’s rethink these productivity indicators. The best leaders are balanced; they are able to recognize the value of rest and renewal and set that example. Of course, when we work on a special project or major initiative there will be times of great demand. We will work the extra time required to fulfill the objectives. However, if your new norm is “overwork,” you are on a very slippery slope.

We have equipped ourselves with devices whose initial offer was to keep us in touch, up to date, and more productive. Today, we spend all kinds of valuable fuel just trying to locate them! A friend recently had a near breakdown when she couldn’t find her phone. As it turns out, the phone was found and a great relief washed over my friend as she brought herself up to snuff on all the nothingness that had occurred in the relatively short time the device was “missing.” She even experienced resentment toward her own attachment and beat herself up for the time and effort involved in the search. What a waste of time and energy! Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.[2]

What kind of energy do you really have to invest in your profession and in yourself? If you are involved in your company’s initiatives related to Brand and the Customer Experience, running on empty is a hazardous condition. And this condition puts the objective at risk. Leaders that are out of gas often don’t even know it. Unlike our vehicles that simply come to a complete stop when out of fuel, our bodies and minds do not! We will continue to spend fuel we don’t have until we blow out some part of us that might just stop us in our tracks!

Here are a few tips to monitor “refueling” and the management of your most precious resource … your energy! Think about clever ways to build breaks into your day.

  1. Take breaks at least every 90 minutes РAccording to Loehr and Schwartz, this is one spectacular way to re-energize. You might take a brief walk, have a complete workout, or simply go to lunch. Renewal is the objective of intermissions every 90 minutes.
  2. Take your summer vacation and make it restful – We have all embarked on vacations that are more work than work. In some cases, these adventures are also designed to demonstrate to others how “cool” or “crazy” you are. If your vacation plans will not yield a renewed you, RETHINK the plans!
  3. Eat right (and consistently) – Avoid the trap of crap foods we draw from when we are running. Grab an apple or eat some fresh summer veggies. Reducing junk by any measure and replacing it with energizing foods is a deliberate step! And that is the true key … being deliberate.


I could go on, but let’s leave it at this. Take the time to inventory your fuel and your fuel sources to assure that you are not running on empty. To be a great leader and fulfill your organization’s Customer Experience objectives, you must have the energy it takes to facilitate organizational energy and action. For now, just take care of yourself, maintain your good nature, and gain peace of mind.

“Running on, running into the sun … but I’m running behind” Jackson Browne

[1]Jim Loehr, Tony Schwartz, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal,page 42, (Free Press), 2005.
[2] Ibid, page 48.