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.