How to Stress Less and Achieve More in Your “Green Zone”

By Cathy Gassenheimer
Executive Vice President
Alabama Best Practices Center

Time has been on my mind a lot these days.

Members of our professional learning networks ask how to find time for planning and learning together. Colleagues wonder how to balance work with family and outside interests. And as we move further into the fall, my guess is that most of us wonder how to capture outdoors time before it becomes dark earlier and earlier every day. How do we find the time and energy to do it all without burning out?

Carey Nieuwhof, the author of At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy, and Priorities Working in Your Favor, suggests some strategies that might help us maximize the time for work, family, and leisure. He is is a lawyer turned pastor, writer, and speaker.

Nieuwhof is also “a recovered victim of burnout,” we learn at the Next Big Idea Club website where Nieuwhof’s book is featured. “After shutting down from years of chronic, mounting stress, [he found] a way to cope with that exhaustion and recalibrate his lifestyle.”

Five Ways to Be At Your Best

In a recent NBIC “Book Bite” Nieuwhof summarizes his book in five different ways.

One: You Actually Have the Time. “One day I realized the most productive people in the world get the same amount of time as you and me,” he says. Every person on the planet has the same 24 hours in which to work, play, sleep, and live. Rather than tell yourself or others, “I just don’t have the time to do this,” flip the script and tell yourself “I had the time, I just didn’t take it.”

Everyone has three important assets they manage: time, energy, and priorities. Before committing to do something, ask yourself: “What do you wish you had time to do?” and make that a priority.

Two: Cooperating with Your Energy Levels Produces Greater Results than Competing with Them. Scientists have discovered that humans have about three to five hours daily when they are most productive. You probably know which hours are your best.

To help manage that time effectively, Nieuwhof suggests designating your most productive time as the “Green Zone,” and label your moderately productive time as being in the “Yellow Zone.” Your least productive time is designed as the “Red Zone.”

Of course, all of us have peak energy levels at different times. I’m a morning person, so I’m at my top performance level in the A.M. Others may be more productive during the afternoon or even the evening. Whatever the case, Nieuwhof believes your green zone should be reserved for those activities you consider your highest priorities.

Three: You’re Most Likely to Neglect Your Most Important Work. And that’s work we do on ourselves. We don’t always take the time to further develop those strengths that we currently have, thus passing up the opportunity to get even better at what we do.

Nieuwhof calls this phenomenon “cheating your gift,” and he suggests prioritizing time to ensure that we don’t lose something we are good at from lack of attention.

Four: No One Else Will Ever Ask You to Accomplish Your Top Priorities. When you ask someone for help, you are asking them to devote time to YOUR priority, not theirs. The same is true when you are asked for help. To be able to both help others and accomplish your important tasks, Nieuwhof suggests scheduling your own top priorities inside your green zone.

Five: The Wrong People Always Want Your Time. The Right People Rarely Ask for It. I grappled with this statement when I read it. Don’t the people important to me want to spend time with me? Fortunately, that isn’t Nieuwhof’s point!

He is referring to those people who demand a lot of our time but rarely change or benefit from the time we might invest in them. Nieuwhof contends those folks have a “flat learning curve” and are not helped by the time spent with you. Instead, he suggests flipping the equation and prioritizing time with those who you know will benefit and who you care about most.

Something to Think About

The next time you hear yourself saying “I just don’t have the time,” take a minute to ponder whether it is important enough for you to make the time. If you have children, remind yourself that your time with them is limited. Young children quickly become tweens and teens, and they’ll soon want to spend more time with their friends…and before you know it they’ll have a family of their own.

At work, instead of spending time with the underperformer, devote more time to those who are working diligently to accomplish your organization’s mission. Then, when your body reminds you that you are moving into your red zone, you’ll know that you spent your “green” time well.



Do you like podcast-style listening on your smart devices? You can download the Next Big Idea Club app and access a wide range of curated leadership and self-help audio/video material, including NBIC’s 12-minute nonfiction “book bites” that summarize new self-help and leadership texts – often read by the author.

There’s a two-week free trial (then $8.25 a month). If you decide to try it out, listen to Nieuwhof’s “bite” which he reads himself.