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Weekly 3: How do you manage your energy?

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

November 28 · Issue #219 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: We’re often told to better manage our time to be more productive and increase our impact. But we should pay at least as much attention to how we manage our energy. In part because it influences what we accomplish with whatever time we have. This issue offers a few ideas to help.
(~5 min read)

#1. Manage your energy *and* your time
Personal development experts Catherine McCarthy and Tony Schwartz write in the Harvard Business Review that most of us react to rising demands at work by putting in longer hours. And this takes a toll on us emotionally, mentally, and physically.
The main problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource.
But as McCarthy and Schwartz point out, your personal energy is renewable: you can expand and regularly renew your energy by establishing specific behaviors that you practice and schedule, with the goal of making them unconscious and automatic.
They recommend focusing on the below four areas of your life to better manage your energy:
1. Physical Energy:
  • Learn to notice signs of your energy declining, including restlessness, hunger, and difficulty concentrating.
  • Take brief but regular breaks away from your desk every two hours throughout the day.
  • Eat small meals and snacks every three hours.
2. Emotional Energy:
  • Enhance positive emotions by regularly expressing appreciation in others through specific and detailed cards, conversations, emails, and notes.
  • Look at upsetting situations through new lenses. Use the “reverse lens” and ask: How might the other person in this conflict be right? With the “long lens” ask: How will I likely view this situation in six months?
3. Mental Energy:
  • Reduce interruptions (e.g., phone, email, other people) when you’re performing tasks that require a lot of concentration.
  • When possible, schedule designated times to respond to emails and calls.
  • Every night, identify the most important challenge for the next day, and make it your priority when you get to work.
4. Spiritual Energy:
  • Identify your “sweet spot” activities: those that make you feel effective, absorbed, and fulfilled; find ways to do more of them.
  • Live your core values. For example, if being considerate to others is important to you, but you’re frequently late to meetings, make an effort to show up five minutes early.
#2. Create a ritual that works for you
Dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp writes in her book The Creative Habit that it’s vital to establish some rituals at the beginning of the creative process, when you’re most in danger of giving up.
Think of rituals as “automatic but decisive patterns of behavior.”
Here’s Tharp’s own ritual that she performs every morning: she wakes up at 5:30am, puts on her workout clothes, walks outside her home in New York City and hails a cab to her local gym, where she exercises for two hours.
As she points out, the ritual is not the stretching and weight training she does at the gym – the ritual is the cab ride: “The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.”
For Tharp, there are two reasons why rituals are so effective:
1. They save you energy and time
Having a ritual takes the emotion, unnecessary decision-making, and need for willpower out of the process.
You don’t get stuck asking yourself questions like: What should I do first? How should do this?
2. They give you positive momentum
Performing a ritual boosts your confidence and increases the likelihood that you’ll follow through with your broader goals.
As Tharp puts it, “By the time I give the taxi driver directions, it’s too late to wonder why I’m going to the gym and not snoozing under the warm covers of my bed. The cab is moving. I’m committed. Like it or not, I’m going to the gym.”
She acknowledges that there is no ideal condition for creativity – what works for one person may be useless for another.
The only criterion is to make it easy on yourself: “Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it.”
#3. Your body has performance requirements
Author and researcher Josh Kaufman writes in his book The Personal MBA that it’s important to remember that your mind is a physical system. 
As Kaufman puts it: “Oftentimes, what we experience as mental fatigue or emotional distress is simply a signal from our body that we’re not getting enough of something we physically need: nutrients, exercise, or rest.”
Our bodies have performance requirements. Just as a car can’t run on an empty gas tank, we can’t operate for long without necessary inputs. 
Nutrition, exercise, and rest are those inputs. 
Kaufman offers some basic guidelines for each one: 
Eat high-quality food: Kaufman writes that the garbage in, garbage out concept is helpful here. The quality of your output, in this case your productive energy, will depend on the quality of your inputs. 
Kaufman’s advice is: “if your great-grandparents wouldn’t immediately recognize it as food, don’t eat it.”
Exercise regularly: Kaufman cites research by molecular biologist John Medina: “even low-intensity physical activity increases energy, improves mental performance, and enhances your ability to focus.” Simple activities like going for a walk or doing a few pushups can help.
Get enough sleepScientific research on sleep suggests that, for most people, getting seven to eight hours of sleep leads to better thinking and overall performance. You’ve probably experienced this in your own anecdotal experience. 
The next time you or someone else is underperforming, consider whether the above three inputs are relevant.
Quote of the week
“Energy will do anything that can be done in the world: and no talents, no circumstances, no opportunities will make a two-legged animal a man without it.”
- Attributed to poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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