Scott H Young

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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70 Responses to “Energy Management”

  1. Nicely done Scott. You’ve offered some really great insights into energy management that are useful for everyone. Bravo!

  2. Chris White says:

    This was another really motivating post for me, and I really feel like a lot of it hits home. I wonder if there’s much of a relationship here with all the information overload, especially in regards to the internet. The cyclical model might explain the constant changing of interests and information that shorts itself out when prolonged stress is also present.

  3. Scott Young says:

    Thanks for the comments Phil and Chris.

    Chris,

    Information overload is another problem. Frankly I don’t think that the actual problem is with too much information, it is the perception and belief that we have to stay on top of all that information. To be honest, much of the information we try to keep up with has little impact on our life. I think that the true problem is in resisting the urge to consume information that has little or no bearing on us. Celebrity magazines and tabloids are the perfect example of this. Good thoughts.

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  5. Jim says:

    Is it a kind of obsessive compulsive activity due to anxiety or stress?

    Maybe?

    But I don’t think it is really a problem, because it also seems natural to ignore the unrelevant information when we focus on our own specific object.
    (and in the sense of pragmatics, “focus” is also meant to ignore something not at the center)

    P.S. English is not my native language. Please correct it if there is any mistake.

  6. ben casnocha says:

    power of full engagement is a great book which i have blogged several times….good job

  7. ActiveDad says:

    Scott, thanks for sharing your thoughts. This sure is a missing point in most productivity books I had come across in the past. If there’s anything about energy, it’s related to periods during the day when one has higher energy levels, that’s all. And David Allen (http://davidco.com) speaks of ‘open loops’ which have impact on energy. But clearly these sources don’t go into details let alone emphasize the meaning of energy for productivity.

    Will and purpose *need* energy – the building material for our actions – in order to produce results.

    Very true. All the best!

    Alex

  8. Scott Young says:

    Thanks for the comments Ben, ActiveDad and Jim.

    Ben,

    I had actually got some of the ideas about energy management from your posts. I don’t remember you offering a specific book so I simply searched energy management into Amazon and that was the first book to come up. Great to see we are on the same page.

    ActiveDad,

    Yes, most the ‘energy management’ I had seen fell into two camps. The first was the vague idea of energy cycles. This was based off the idea that you have high and low points of energy each day. Tony and Jim mention that in their book but they go into far more detail. The second strain isn’t really energy management at all but rather a focus on health, exercise, diet and balance to keep energy levels high. Keep in mind that there is a difference between creating a larger capacity for energy and managing energy. Although both are important, its far easier to find information on the former. Becoming wealthier is more than just making more money, you also have to use that money more effectively. The same thing applies to energy. Hopefully I’ll have some more thoughts on that to come.

  9. [...] Scott H Young » Energy Management Published in: Whatever | on July 31st, 2006 | [...]

  10. Ananga says:

    Thanks for a great and thorough post, I particularly enjoyed the point you made on Constructive Disengagement.

    I believe that one of the key challenges to our everyday energy management is sensory overload. Everywhere we go there is noise and distraction, it’s very wearing on the body and the mind. One of the best favours I’ve done my self is to learn to go “offline” or on “standby” like a printer or a phone that’s “on” but not active. I find it saves me energy and keeps my stress levels down.

    with best wishes, Ananga

  11. Scott Young says:

    Good thoughts, Ananga.

  12. Liara Covert says:

    I think this is a fabulous posting. It helps a person to understand potential benefits in what may seem to be erratic sleep patterns and eating habits. I know people who boost their energy quite effectively by eating many small meals and sleeping a number of times per day for short periods. We all benefit from learning what cycles work best for us.

  13. Scott Young says:

    Liara,

    Thanks for the comment. Finding your own strategy is important.

  14. [...] About Scott Young: Scott is a PBN blogger who writes about learning, goals, productivity and getting the most out of life. You can check out his blog here (subscribe here) or check out some of his other popular articles: Habitual Mastery (how to change habits), Double Your Reading Rate, How to Ace Your Finals Without Studying or Energy Management. Filed under: Success, Personal Development, Leadership on Apr 15,07   |   [...]

  15. [...] For anyone wanting a comprehensive look at maintaining optimal energy levels I recommend this article by Scott Young on Energy Management. [...]

  16. I love this post, Scott. You cite a great book here that is a profound work about how to manage energy. I also run every morning and do breathing exercises to “Power Up” my energy in the morning. I find that it is absolutely key to me being able to do my best and stay positive during the day.

    Another consideration, is what kind of energy do you have (i.e., what is the frequency)? High vibratory energy is different than low vibratory energy (since all energy vibrates, yes)?

    Check out my article on “How to Overcome Negative Emotions” for more on this:

    http://www.360degreesuccess.com/general/how-to-overcome-negative-emotions/

    Regards,

    David

  17. [...] For anyone wanting a comprehensive look at maintaining optimal energy levels I recommend this article by Scott Young on Energy Management. [...]

  18. Scott Young says:

    David,

    I didn’t really consider vibrations, but that could be another useful layer to the metaphor of energy.

  19. Scott,
    Energy is all about vibration at the end of the day… but it’s literal, not metaphoric. We are all vibrating beings of energy, and the level of energy that we feel (as well as health, moods, etc) has a lot to do with our level of vibration (e.g. our vibrating frequency).

    David

  20. Scott you have opened a whole new way of thinking When it comes to energy & energy management & working at peak potential
    Thank You

  21. 4mind4life says:

    Thank you for distinguishing between the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of energy! Great article; an interesting read.

  22. [...] an all items count of 1000+. In the past, I would get paralyzed thinking of the massive amount of energy and time needed to get the list back to zero. Today, I simply accept that I’m behind and am able to [...]

  23. [...] an all items count of 1000+. In the past, I would get paralyzed thinking of the massive amount of energy and time needed to get the list back to zero. Today, I simply accept that I’m behind and am able to [...]

  24. Amit C says:

    Scott,

    Very interesting and informative article. I liked a bunch of things including the cycle concept.
    I plan to read all of your articles\blogs on Energy.

    I now realize I was talking about energy when I wrote, Ways to build your body back again

    Regards
    Amit C

  25. Bob says:

    People need breaks, thats all it means. I could be testing or learning new stuff at work, because right now its slow and they have no other work to give me, but I’m just trying to relax a bit. Its hard to be 100% productive 100% of the time, take a break people.

  26. [...] Energy Management – Forget time management, energy management is the art of productivity that doesn’t leave you burnt out. Manage your energy cycles for peak performance. [...]

  27. [...] talked a lot about the subject of energy management. The basic idea is that you have fundamental energy stores that need replenishing to get work done. [...]

  28. [...] Study Hacks, Cal writes about new research that shows procrastination is less about willpower and more about energy. I couldn’t agree [...]

  29. [...] already written about energy management before, but one observation I noticed is that it becomes increasingly more important, the more [...]

  30. Stoner says:

    dude i heard how the brain can focus on the same thing for only 20min at a time…u say u do 90min of schoolwork and then have 15-30min break for something unrelated…90 min? are u serious u stay focused on the same thing for 90min? all this reminds me of interval sprint training.

  31. Scott Young says:

    Stoner,

    I’ve never heard that the brain can only focus on something for 20 minutes at a time. Perhaps in a narrow context this is true, but just from personal experience, I’ve had moments focusing on one problem for hours, so it wouldn’t seem to hold up.

    Ninety minutes is a good time chunk, because you can accomplish a lot, but it is easier to commit to than a multi-hour studying session.

    -Scott

  32. Stoner says:

    thanks for the reply duuuuuuuuude

  33. Grace says:

    Scott,
    You have so many good posts filled with good ideas! I was poking about on your site and discovered this one that I had missed.

    I like your definitions, and wonder if there is yet another component of physical, and that is the homeostasis of the sleep/wake cycle. (One of the reasons that 90 minutes may be optimal for concentration.)

    You’ll find a good review of this concept in the book, The Insomnia Answer by Paul Glovinsky and Arthur Spielman.

    Keep up the good work! G.

  34. Scott Young says:

    Grace,

    Yes. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz talk about sleep as a component of physical energy in the book. I suggest giving it a read, my article is only a brief synopsis.

    -Scott

  35. [...] Energy management is the principle that the energy and focus you can bring to your work matters more than the time put in.  And when your schedule is threatening to kill you, strategic breaking can help you survive.  Not only that, but it can boost your energy so you actually accomplish more in a smaller amount of time. [...]

  36. [...] of this lost sleep is the result of a myth.  This myth says that the work you accomplish is a direct result of the amount of time you put [...]

  37. An says:

    This is an interesting read – I’ve been aware of this kind of energy levels but never really ventured to think about it until now.

    I remember learning about economics where they measure wage with the time input for labour, and not the quality of the input more common nowadays with creative industry (writing, technology, etc).

    Perhaps we can bring about a change in thinking in economics to make it more in line with how the human body works?

    Great job Scott.

  38. Scott Young says:

    An,

    It’s difficult to link reward systems to something like energy, because it’s very subjective. I’d recommend using it for your personal productivity, but it wouldn’t be easy to apply to a larger scale.

    On the other hand, companies like Best Buy have done well using a “Results Only Work Environment” which pays on performance, not time.

    -Scott

  39. Bonnie | free biorhythm says:

    Hi Scott

    I hope you don’t mind such a late addition to the comments, I can see why this is one of your most popular articles!

    You talk about cycles of energy, are you familiar with the concept of biorhythms? The idea is that we have specific cycles regarding specific types of energy such as physical or intellectual.

    I find that checking my biorhthm chart can help me work with my natural energy levels and predict any low energy days (plus make the most of high energy days!).

  40. p.s. forgot to add my website link :D must be a “duh” day on my biorhythm :)

  41. [...] Energy Management [...]

  42. Lee says:

    It now seems at long last the tide in turning for the better for energy management.

  43. Scott, you say “Prolonged stress has been medically connected with suppressing autoimmune functions of the body which increases the chances of illness and disease.” Did you maybe mean to say “immune functions”? Because any “autoimmune” activity is when the immune system attacks healthy cells, which is rather bad. Sorry for picking nits in an otherwise insightful post.

  44. shreevidya says:

    this was really energizing. nice one.

  45. WOW! – brain overload – seeing all these opinions and comments posted over several years by different folks makes it seem that the term Energy Management has been gaining an entirely different meaning. It is obvious to me that some people are thinking of Energy Management, and its application, in a strange, even mystical way.

    Weird….

    Of course, energy is all around us. It is everything. It is us. So Energy Management is managing ourselves, managing everything……

    C’mon people, with all this talk about managing our mental, emotional, and spiritual energy I am getting a headache.

    OK, so Energy Managenet means different things to different people. I guess that based on what is going on in my own tiny little world (the USA) the practical definition I give Energy Management is: a comprehensive process to effectively procure, distribute, allocate, monitor, and account for all energy/utility resources, and the development of dynamically adaptive tools that predict and forecast the use/requirement of those resources. The goal, of course, is to maintain maximum levels of efficiency. Please note that “efficiency”, in today’s world, is also be synonymous to “cost effectiveness” or “profitability”, or even “health and well being” for you spiritual energy guys.

    To achieve optimum levels of efficiency (or profitability) an Energy Manager cannot shortcut the long and ardous management process. The correct management approach requires comprehensive monitoring and accounting of all energy resources, and a full understanding of energy operations, from generation to load usage.

    And by the way, this process is indeed applicable to all the energies that are mentioned in this blog (physical energy, mental, spiritual, etc.), but remember, to manage anything correctly the initial focus must be on quantification. If you cannot quantify, measure, monitor, and report on energy, how the hell are you going to manage it?

    In my business I meet a bunch of people that really do not understand the Energy Management process. Many of the Real Estate Management companies I meet with have hired an “Energy Czar” or have promoted one or more of their portfolio managers to an “Energy Committee”, but these folks do not really practice or even understand the energy mangement process. Some of them think that all they have to do is hire a good broker to buy electricity at lower prices. Others welcome product pushers into their office (i.e. GE, Sylvania, Carrier, Siemens and many others) and begin a load-focused approach to efficiency, without even having installed a single load profiling utility meter and without analyzing interval data that would tell them why, when, and how they are using energy, and for which loads.

    Just about everyone is now hip with the green movement, preserving the environment, saving the whales, and all that jazz. You have to sit there and hear so many morons talk about “sustainability, sustainability, sustainability, LEED, LEED, Energy Star, bla, bla, bla”, menawhile half of them are just a bunch of parrots that know only what they pick up by reading the paper on the way to their office. And now I see that Energy Managent is also about spiritual energy, emotional energy….

    Oh, my…

    I guess it’s time to confess – it kind of bothers me that the term Energy Management is so misunderstood. It bothers me when this term is interchanged with “sustatinability”, just because “sustainability” has been publicized so well by corporate America.

    I am not a presumptuous, supersmart guy. I don’t have a phd in anything. I am just a guy like you. Maybe I just look at things differently. Maybe I have been exposed to different experiences and have formed my own stubborn opinion about what the subject of Energy Management should really be about. The Energy Management that I live and breathe has more to do with finance and economics than spiritual well being.

    To each his own I guess, but I think that is simply logical to conceive that if we do not begin to focus on only the practical aspects of the Energy Management I am concerned with, even if only for selfish financial reasons at this point, our planet and way of living will go down the toilet fast. Managing Energy they way you mean it in this blog will not count for anything if we do not first ensure that our world’s energy resources are managed well.

    Am I the only one who has observed this?

    How long will it take for government leaders and CEOs to recognize the problems with energy apathy and ignorance and do something about the deficiency of adequate management?

  46. greg hope says:

    My search for energy management was averted in, “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,…”. I was thinking, ‘well it’s about time.’

    Funny, ‘though it’s all true, and I like it. But I was looking (I guess) for macro-energy management: that is, of machinery and such.

    Yours is a very good analogy: one is exactly the other.

  47. [...] For anyone wanting a comprehensive look at maintaining optimal energy levels I recommend this article by Scott Young on Energy Management. [...]

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