Energy Management

My first contact with fellow blogger, Phil Gerbyshak was when I posted a fairly in-depth comment about how I felt that energy management and time management were independent of each other and that both should be used fully. I also hinted towards my bias that time management was a superior philosophy for peak productivity rather than energy management.

I was wrong. I admit it. I must say I used to fall into the camp that believed that essential organization of time and priorities was the critical factor to overall productivity and performance. Time management has been an increasingly popular subject with many different techniques designed to help you organize your time in a manner that confers the greatest possible productive capacity. By carefully organizing your goals, objectives and priorities you could plan out the day for maximum efficiency.

Unfortunately, reality doesn’t quite work that way. Although carefully organizing my priorities and planning out my time did have a powerful effect, I was still nagged by the feeling that my actual day never quite lived up its imagined greatness the night before. There seemed to be some particular influence or effect that I couldn’t quite recognize that manipulated my day ahead. I now recognize what that influence was, energy.

I recently read the book, The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr. This fantastic book really pointed out the missing variable that was preventing me from having my days realize their possible potential. In the book, the two authors point out that most people are expected to maintain peak levels of mental and creative performance for eight hours each day when they realize it simply can’t be done. As a result people are continuously burnt out, stressed and functioning far below what their peak capacity is.

The book combined with some of my own experiments and research has given me a lot of new ideas for achieving peak performance and maximum productivity. The key point realized in the book is that energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of production. The authors also point out that cycles of maximal productivity and deep recovery allow for consistent and continuous usage of our full capacity.

I always knew energy played an important role in productivity. Being a health fanatic, I have been pursuing ways to increase the level and quality of energy in my days through exercise, motivational programs and careful diet control. This process of maximizing my general energy has allowed me to steadily build up more and more energy to greater productivity. After some of my recent research, I know believe that there were a few key areas I could use to ensure maximum productivity.

Cycle of Energy

My first mistake was that I didn’t truly understand that energy management, unlike time management, is a cyclical process, not a linear one. Time management, being linear, is simply the process of organizing and prioritizing your day so that you can get the more value in a shorter unit of time. In other words, your goal with time management is to effectively compress, organize and prioritize activities for maximum efficiency.

Energy management doesn’t work that way. Energy works in a similar system as a currency like money. In other words, after you’ve spent it, you need to regain some more before you try to spend again. Otherwise you end up going into a deficit. Energy deficits aren’t pretty. You know you are in an energy deficit when you are tired, irritable, stressed, frustrated and generally unenthusiastic. Ultimately a check and balance must be made. When your body, mind, emotions and spirit finally declare bankruptcy, you crash and burn out as the eventual price of poor energy management is.

The cycle of perfect energy management is one where you are fully engaged and using all of your resources for maximum productivity, followed by a period of intensive recovery where you regain all of your energy for the task ahead. Is this what most people do? No, of course not. Most people in today’s fast-paced world think that they can short-change the energy recovery process. Going further and further into energy deficit, they somehow believe that these rules of energy management don’t apply to them.

So the first key to effective energy management is to install habits into your life that promote cycles of deep engagement followed by recovery. Without this balance in the cycle, the system becomes unstable. Creating these habits means developing a ritual for recovering your energy. This could be as simple as sitting back and relaxing for fifteen minutes or doing some light exercise. I have talked before about how I take one day off per week. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this is an essential tool for creating that positive cycle of energy management.

Stress and Conditioning

The key to energy management is more than just managing the energy you currently have, it is in increasing your supply of energy. Being able to devote more energy, concentration and flow to an activity is the primary goal of energy management. To increase your energy, you must stretch it beyond its current capacity, and then recover it. This stretching of capacity is what most people refer to as stress.

You mean stress is a good thing? Yes, I mean exactly that, but only in a temporary situation. Temporary stress, followed by recovery builds muscles. Most people, however, go into a state of constant stress. Constant stress does not build muscles, it kills you. Prolonged stress has been medically connected with suppressing immune functions of the body which increases the chances of illness and disease.

I recently read a fitness article where the author stated that many people who fail to build muscle might be working out too much, rather than not enough. By ignoring the recovery phase their body couldn’t adapt to the process and couldn’t improve. A similar thing happens to people who do not use a cycle of progressive conditioning to handle their stress. The increased energy capacity doesn’t come from the stress, it comes from the recovery after the stress.

By operating with this progressive conditioning you can slowly, but surely, increase your capacity for energy. Start by finding what you current capacity for energy is and then push yourself to a little above this level. So if you find it difficult to maintain complete concentration for more than thirty minutes, make your goal thirty-five. Just remember to recover after this period to reap the benefits of this stretching.

Energy is More Than Just Physical

The final point that really hit on me from reading this book and doing further research was one that I already knew but couldn’t really articulate. Energy is more than just the physical energy you use from exercising. There are other levels of energy that work in similar fashion but are equally important. Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr point to four main characteristics of energy: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. I disagree somewhat with their exact classification of what each of them means, so I will substitute my own interpretation for some.

Physical – This is the primary and most fundamental source of energy. Physical energy is regulated by diet, exercise and sleep. This energy is tapped regardless of whether the task is physical. Most of us do not do particularly physically demanding jobs, but physical energy is still incredibly important. Physical energy describes the capacity for energy.

Mental – Mental energy is your ability to concentrate, analyze and be creative. These higher level faculties basically describe the quality and clarity of your thinking. Mental energy is necessary for all of us, despite our career or hobbies. I believe that mental energy is essential the focus or direction of the energy we have. Mental energy can be increased through the stress and conditioning method, through challenging mental study and tasks, deep learning and creative activities.

Emotional – Emotional energy is your ability to control and maintain your emotions. People with a high amount of emotional energy will be positive, enthusiastic and happy. Low amounts of this energy are the manifestations of anger, despair and frustration. If physical energy represents capacity, mental represents direction, then emotional represents quality. A high degree of energy that is directed in a negative manner with hateful or angry emotions is incredibly draining and destructive.

Spiritual – I really like Tony and Jim’s definition of spiritual energy. Here they bring up spiritual energies not as being a religious or metaphysical type of energy but the energy we get when we are associated with purpose. I have previously mentioned how important I feel purpose is to our lives. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, purpose seems to be a necessary ingredient to live successfully. As the two authors point out, purpose and spiritual energy is the most important and most powerful form of energy. With a strong sense of purpose, energy can be created even when there is barely any physical, mental or emotional capacity. Spiritual energy represents the power or force of energy.

The distinction between viewing energy as a simple manner of physical capacity, to a complex, multi-dimensional quality gives us a lot more power to control it. Surely improving your health and physical vitality can give enormous energy, but that energy cannot be utilized unless the other three aspects are put into full effect.

With this knowledge in hand, I think there are a great number of opportunities for getting more energy and therefore more production and value out of life. I will probably be exploring some of these ideas by conditioning some new habits in the upcoming months. I have already started a morning run to energize my mornings, but there are so many other ideas to consider.

A few simple ideas I have been thinking of to maximize this new information would be:

  • Constructive Disengagement – Full engagement is using all of your resources and can only be maintained for a short burst. By experimenting with some constructive disengagement techniques, it may be possible to speed up the energy recovery process. This could mean completely involving your mind or body in a pursuit that has no relationship with the task you expended energy on. I know many people use similar techniques in reading fiction, painting or meditating. The one tricky property of energy is sometimes that it is best regained not by doing nothing, but by doing something completely different.
  • Shorter Work Cycles – Although with school and various activities I rarely could work longer than ninety minutes at a time, I had planned on working about eight hours each day during the summer (mostly on this website). Now I am questioning whether a method that would have a ninety minute period of work followed by fifteen to thirty minutes of rest may be more productive in the long run.
  • Goal Breaks – I am a constant and habitual goal setter. Goal setting is a powerful tool for achieving focus and results but I also notice that it does require a lot of energy. It may be beneficial to go through a long term cycle of goal setting followed by curious exploration and wandering. I have mentioned previously how I felt straying away from goal setting for periods could improve lateral growth, but I am now also questioning whether it could also increase the long term sources of energy.

I tend to write in a very authoritative tone which is somewhat misleading. I think this sometimes makes it sound as if I believe I have all the answers. This is far from the truth. I do believe that my abundance of research and experimentation (which is actually fairly rare…) have given me some insights into personal development that I like to share, but I am also aware of the sheer amount of new information I am finding every single day. I have added a new category for energy management in this blog as I hope to keep you updated on what I find.

I think if you wanted to know how to use this information, I would start by working on your physical energy. Most people in the West are currently overweight and very sickly. Clearly there is incredible room for improving, what is likely the most important aspect in your energy levels. If you are already in fairly good condition, this might be a time at looking how you can improve many of the other aspects of your own energy levels from stimulating your mind, controlling your emotions and creating a compelling purpose.

Energy management continues to be a subject that fascinates me, especially with the recent addition of this new information. By understanding the cycles of energy we can stay filled with energy and avoid burnout. Undertaking conditioning and progressive increments of stress followed by deep restoration we can even expand our capacity for energy. Finally, by recognizing the multi-dimensional aspects of energy you can really take control of a force that guides your life.

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  • energy management

    I just read ‘the power of full engagement’ and thought it was an excellent book. I absolutely agree that it is energy and not time that produces the best work and have started taking my lunch breaks (which I never did before) as a result

  • kiki

    hey scott, do u have any tips for people with low energy, get stress doing work and having their dy planned out with to do lists…

  • kiki

    Question Rephrased! sorry Scott, do u have any tips people who get stress doing work and having their day planned out with to do lists…

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  • Marvin

    This right here is a great example of dence helpful advice to be more productive/efficient. Thoseof you who read this and took as much from it as I did, I suggest we read it agian. You have a great way of relaying the information you’ve discovered through whatever extensive research it is that you do. And that book you mentioned just jumped from a book I’ve never heard of, to the top of my list. Good call Scott, thanks.

  • Lynne

    I enjoyed reading this. I agree that people should take a time off (even if it’s just once a week) to relax or do something else aside from work. Because, if you don’t, you’ll get tired easily and end up hating what you are doing.

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  • Dries Smit

    Interesting. My previous experience and experiments in project management has actually led me to believe that time management and energy management are mutually exclusive; the one acts antagonistically on the other!

  • James


    I enjoyed your article on energy alot. This has been a topic i wrestle with on a constant basis. I just wanted to share a few personal insights.

    In one of your posts you mentioned you hardly study and use it as more of a light stretch- I’m guessing this is after having a firm grasp on the material? I agree, a light study stretch is beneficial because you need all your energy for the test.

    Also As someone who is very active, at my job, running, ect. I find it difficult to ever be sedentary. For example i have much better comprehension when i stand up and read opposed to sitting. I learn easier when I incorporate movements which require me to be alert. Do you ever experience any of these issues?

    Lastly, i Love your blog. It’s a very mutually beneficial idea with a slick design.

    Take care,


  • Energy Consultant

    Interesting post, I think Energy management and time management is the key factor of success business. It is necessary for everyone that he manage both in his life in a particular manner.

  • Energy Broker

    You are absolutely right. Time and Energy management is the key factor of success of any organization.
    Thanks for sharing

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  • http://n/a Kerry

    Thank you for the fantastic advice. I have been trying to understand and manage my different energies over the past year. You have laid out exactly what I have been struggling with and trying to understand.

    Thanks again!

  • http://Nil Ronnie M

    Yes, the answer is now know. It is the energy level. Nothing else. Could being passionate to a cause leads to extraordinary level of energy?

  • Audrey

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  • Andrea

    Hey Scott! I’m an MD from Costa Rica, I just finished med school and I’ve never had problems with learning new things and acing tests since I was a girl. I learned to read at age 3 and I’ve never really studied much. But last June I had my first big failure in studies, I didn’t qualify for Dermatology residency. When I was studying I found myself procrastinating, wasting 10 out of the 12 hours I planned to study and sometimes I didn’t even study at all. I had 4 months to learn a 3000 pages book called Fitzpatrick atlas of dermatology but I literally had to chug the whole thing, and at my due date I had read less than half of it.

    So I placed 4th nationally and only the 1st one got to enter the medical residency. I scored 65 out of a 100 and you needed 70 to pass.

    I was demotivated, but I found out what made me fail:

    – Seeing it as a loseable challenge, almost visualizing my defeat since the beginning… I lost confidence on my abilities

    – Studying alone, since I was always the one who explained things to others, just reading and reading wasn’t working

    – Being able to sleep until I want to, since being in made school made me wake up at 5 am and go to bed at 1 am, having free time was making it worse for me

    Anyways I hope I explained myself since my first language is spanish (did I mentioned my textbook was in technical english?)… but what I wanted to say is thank you, cause I’ve found very useful strategies here, and I’m definitely going to apply them for my next test wich is next year in June.


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  • lynne

    Hi, a very interesting post. The ideas you mentioned in order for us to maximize the information you gave are really great. Energy management is something that I really need to do. Thanks fro sharing.