The tagline is 'Managing energy, not time, for high performance.' I am a big believer so when Sridhar suggested that I read this book I got my hands on it immediately. The authors quickly denounce work which celebrates breadth instead of depth, quick reaction to considered reflection, and spreading our energy thin by multi-tasking. Clearly, they say, its energy that is the fundamental currency of high performance.
Skilful Management of Energy - All Four Aspects
We need the right quality and quantity, focus and force of energy to perform well. Since our thoughts, behaviours and actions have an energy consequence, our performance, health and happiness depend on skilful management of energy. Skilful management of energy means that you are fully engaged i.e physically energised, emotionally connected, mentally focussed and spiritually aligned. That's the route to full engagement, full immersion in life. To prove their case, the authors cite examples of athletes, corporate executives and other high performers where they only worked on energy and the results came through beautifully in their performances.
In a diagram with four quadrants where energy is low to high and negative to positive, we ought to shoot for the top right quadrant which is high energy and positive - that's the full engagement quadrant. The four aspects require training in strength, endurance, flexibility and resilience.
Periodisation - The Mantra to Building Capacity
To build capacity in any area, push beyond normal. Stress is the key to growth, it expands capacity. Expose that area or muscle systematically to more stress, followed by adequate recovery and its capacity increases.
"That which does not kill you makes you stronger' - Nietzsche
The key to preventing energy depletion with overuse and underuse is by balancing our energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal. Normally we spend more energy than we recover and that's the first basic mistake we do as individuals and organisations. We need to learn to rhythmically spend and renew energy. We must fully engage and disengage. Instead of running a marathon, run short sprints.
It's Not Will Power, Develop Specific Rituals
Will power consumes a lot of energy and we have a finite amount of it. So we cannot rely on will power at all times. Instead, champions create positive energy rituals - specific routines and habits so we don't spend our energy (will power) forcing ourselves to go for it. A positive ritual is a behaviour that becomes automatic over time. It is fuelled by some deeply held value. A ritual is a carefully defined, highly structured routine that does not take up energy but is an automatic habit.
Change Mantra - Purpose, Truth and Action
To get into full engagement mode and build necessary muscle, we need to follow the PTA route - Purpose - Truth - Action.
- Defining purpose - how should I spend my energy in a way that consistent with my deepest value (need clarity on most important values, compelling vision)
- Facing the truth - gather credible data on how you're spending energy now, tests, diets (check fullengagement.com)
- Take action - Plan with energy rituals, food, time, know what is important vs urgent, create positive rituals that uplift
Physical Energy Management
Physical Energy management is fundamental to full engagement. It affects our ability to manage our emotions, sustain concentration, think creatively and maintain our commitment to our chosen mission. Physical energy can be increased by changes in habits pertaining to food, hydration, exercise and sleep. On the contrary, physical energy gets depleted through bad eating habits, excess weight, lack of exercise, hydration etc.
Energy is the capacity to do work. As humans, we spend energy and recover energy in a balanced manner - not overdoing by or underdoing. During the building energy phase, we must understand that oscillation works far better than linearity. This Work-Rest ratio - is called periodization or interval training. Following a period of activity the body must replenish energy - compensate.
Full engagement requires cultivating a dynamic balance between expending energy (stress) and renewal (recovery) in all dimensions. Rhythmic oscillations represent the fundamental pulse of life. Two fundamental rhythms we have in our lives are of breathing and eating. Our breathing, brain waves, body temperature, heart rate, hormone levels, blood pressure are affected by our physical rhythms.
Deep, smooth and rhythmic breathing is simultaneously a source of energy, alertness and focus, as well as of relaxation, stillness and quiet - the ultimate healthy pulse. After a physical workout where you have pushed for a period beyond normal, use breath which is a powerful tool for self-regulation. Extending exhalation prompts recovery. For a 3 minute inhale, do a 6 minute exhale and you self-regulate.
At work, you break intense periods of focus of 90-120 minutes of work with rituals like walking, meeting people, reading etc. Having meetings with no phones is a ritual that improves focus during the meetings. The rhythm - 90 minutes of work and 15-minute break helps immensely to form a rhythm and increase physical energy. A break every 90 minutes - 120 minutes has been shown to increase productivity by 30% increase. Establish times to step off the track and create time cocoons.
To build capacity push your muscle beyond limits and suffer short term discomfort for long term reward. As Victor Frankl said - 'The best moments in our lives occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.'
To improve physical energy the key things to keep in mind are
- the food we eat (kinds of food, frequency, quality, don't skip breakfast, ideally eat 5-6 low-calorie nutrition-rich snacks instead of heavy meals)
- intake of water (hydration, drink 64 ounces of water a day)
- sleep (sleep early and wake up early, maintain timings, number of hours, growth and repair period) - - exercise (strength training, interval training)
The Japanese have a term for death from overwork - karoshi. Typically you can kill yourself by overworking. The five factors that indicate you are overworking and not replenishing are - long hours at work, no holidays or breaks, working at night, high pressure and working in a demanding environment. The idea is simple - don't overwork and kill yourself. Instead, build physical energy by changing a few habits to be fully engaged with your work.
High performance is possible when we are experiencing pleasant and positive emotions such as enjoyment, challenge, adventure, opportunity, self-confidence, content, social skills, patience, openness and trust. Our emotional capacity is our ability to experience a full range of feelings, the capacity to hold opposites. Many people have a very narrow range of emotions.
Emotional Intelligence is the management of emotions for high energy. The big emotional muscles to be worked on are - self- confidence, self-control, social skills and empathy. The smaller muscles to build are - patience, openness, trust and empathy. Like in physical energy capacity building, you need emotional renewal periods to build capacity too. Emotional spend must be followed by periods of recovery. The ability to summon positive emotions during intense stress is effective leadership. So after an emotionally draining experience find any activity that's enjoyable, fulfilling and affirming which serves as a source of emotional renewal and recovery. While working on your emotional muscle, train to develop patience, empathy and confidence.
The question to ask yourself to know the quality of your emotional energy is - how frequently have you experienced joy and deep satisfaction at work? How often are you able to pursue an activity that gives you joy and satisfaction - like singing, dancing, gardening? If you don't have joy and satisfaction, make it a priority to include them in your workday.
In a study by Gallup the key to sustained performance was found to be having at least one good friend at work. How many friendships at work do you have which are fulfilling, emotionally satisfying, people who you can trust, ask for help, who are there for you? One good friend can help maintain the rhythm of oscillation - giving and taking, talking and listening, valuing one another.
Emotions that arise out of threat or deficiency such as fear, frustration, anger, sadness have a toxic feel to them, are infectious and drag us down. Negative emotions are costly and inefficient.
A cause for our emotional energy depletion could be the conflict we undergo when we choose one emotion over the other instead of holding both - the opposites. If we choose toughness we exclude tenderness which is not a good thing really. Similarly, by choosing between self-control and spontaneity, honesty and compassion, generosity and thriftiness, openness and discretion, passion and detachment, patience and urgency, caution and boldness, confidence and humility, we shut out a large part of our emotional range that is available to us. The term 'anacoluthia' releases you from the dilemma of being true to one virtue which means that another will have to be sacrificed for it. Anacoulthea means a mutual entailment of virtues, where one virtue dovetails into another and too much investment in one, will cause you to lose balance in the other. We must remember that we are the sum complexities and contradictions and our aim should be to move freely and flexibly between all emotions
The key to maintaining a high amount of mental energy is to cultivate a state of realistic optimism - seeing the world as it is, but always working positively towards a desired outcome or solution. Our mental capacity is what we use to organise our lives and focus our attention.
The key muscles to improve to maximise mental energy are - mental preparation, visualisation, positive self-talk, time management and creativity. Things to avoid and work on are short attention spans, pessimistic outlooks and rigid and narrow perspectives. The story of boxing champion Ray Mancini who approached them for help because he had 'one negative thought' stands out. It shows how champions work on their mindsets.
Thinking uses up geat energy - though the brain only has 2% of the body weight, it consumes almost 25% of the body's energy. An understanding of how the left and right brains work helps understand the creative process. The left brain is the seat of language, follows a step-by-step, logical process, is time conscious and arrives at logical conclusions. The right brain is more spatial and visual, sees things all at once, relate parts to the whole, solves problems intuitively with sudden insights. Now the creative process consists of the following five stages - first insight, saturation, incubation, illumination and verification. The first three are right brain functions and the last two are left-brain functions. The process is nothing but cycles between the right and left brain.
To attain high mental energy we need to adopt the periodisation process, find oscillating rhythms between engagement and disengagement. The best creative work happens largely at an unconscious level, thinking when we are aside and not actively seeking results. So we need to work in cycles of engagement and disengagement. Leonardo da Vinci said that 'the greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish much more when they work less. Go away and have a little relaxation, when you come back your judgment will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause them to lose the power of judgment.' Changing channels helps creativity.
To strengthen the mental or the brain muscle, use it more. Unlike other muscles, the brain gets better with more usage. Do something new, learn new words, paint with colours, challenge the brain. Physical exercise helps brain growth too.
Our motivation to spend energy comes from spiritual energy. It is a powerful source of of\motivation and preservation and drives action in all areas of our lives. It fuels passion, perseverance and commitment.
Our spiritual energy comes from a deeply held set of values to a purpose beyond self-interest. Spiritual energy ignites the human spirit. The key muscle that supports spiritual energy is character - is the courage and conviction to live by one's values even with personal hardship and sacrifices. The supportive muscles of high spiritual energy are passion, commitment, integrity and honesty.
Spiritual energy, however, requires a balance between commitment to others with self-care.
To expand spiritual capacity - subordinate your needs and go beyond self-interest. Find a cause greater than yourself. When we go beyond self-interest we find greater self-worth and meaning. (Ironically, self-absorption drains energy.) Tension of striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task with honesty, integrity and resolve, fuels our spiritual energy.
In Spiritual energy expansion and renewal are interrelated. To renew spiritual energy one can spend time in nature, read books, listen to music, meditate, do yoga, engage in service to others. Spending time with children is considered a great spiritual practice.
Spiritual energy overrides physical energy
An example of how spiritual energy works is that of Cantor Fitzgerald - a company that had its offices in the WTC towers which lost over 600 of its 1000 workforce in the attacks. The grief of losing their colleagues found an outlet when the Chairman announced that 25% of profits earned for five years would go to the families of those who died. The employees who survived worked with rare passion, even employees who left the company came back to work on this purpose. They became as they said - a band of brothers. They found a purpose, a meaning other lives.
Spiritual energy is about caring deeply. It is the first thing that we need to work on as it overrides even physical energy. The search for meaning or purpose is called the hero's journey. Our self-transformation starts with discomfort, illumination, pain, call to adventure, push into the unknown, doubt, fear, uncertainty, hardships, search for a mentor, are tested to the brink of giving up, endure the supreme ordeal, slay the dragon, faced the arkness within ourselves, calling on untapped potential and creating meaning where it didn't exist. Its a lifelong challenge, a worthy purpose.
We want to be the best we can possibly be, but we don't want to pursue the heroes path.
"You can work long hours but still be slothful. the things that keep us from finding meaning are failure to engage actively in life and a certain laziness or lack of caring that allows us to let others make our decisions and tell us what they mean" - Joanne Ciulla
Spiritual energy is a unique source of energy and passion. Ask yourself the following questions:
- how excited are you to get to work in the morning
- how much do you enjoy what you are doing for its own sake rather than what it gets you
- how accountable do you hold yourself to deeply held set of values
It helps to know our deepest values and what is sacred to us - Persistence, integrity, excellence, creativity, commitment - are good values to begin with.
Finding our Purpose:
A clear purpose moves source from negative to positive, external to internal and self to others. It moves us from being externally motivated to internally motivated. Money may not buy you happiness but happiness may help you get rich. Extrinsic rewards have actually been shown to undermine intrinsic motivation.
Ask yourself - is this life I am living worth what I'm giving up to have it?
Our values have intrinsic worth. Values fuel the energy on which purpose is built. They define an enduring code of conduct.
Ask yourself these questions imagining a hypothetical end of life scenario -
- what are the 3 most important lessons you learned and why are they so critical?
- what are the 3 qualities of someone you deeply respect
- what is the one-sentence description on tombstone that captures how you really were in your life?
Your answers can give an indication to the values you value.
Rules of engagement - Values
Values are behaviours, choices in life. A virtue is behaving in alignment with values. Self-care as a value is important. (Value-driven companies perform better in the long run - Jim Collins)
Create a vision statement - lofty, ambitious, identifying core values and what they mean in practical everyday terms. A vision statement is a declaration of intent about how to invest one's energy
Our hero's journey is grounded in mobilising nurturing and renewing our most precious resource - energy in the service of what matters most.
Face the Truth
This is easier said than done because it is not easy. We are masters at self-deception. We have an active defence department - we withdraw, rationalise, intellectualise. Our shadow selves split from us because it violates our self-image. We rationalsie with a "not dead yet" thought - which is self-deception.
But we must face the painful truths and contradictions with hope and positive energy. We must gather facts and ask questions to know of our energy engagement. We must identify our common performance barriers, retain openness to possibilities. Truth frees up energy. If we don't acknowledge, we act out unconsciously.
Be open to possibilities - maybe you are wrong. Don't identify with a singular view of yourself.
Accept your limitations - don't justify.
In a study of tennis players, there was hardly any difference in their training regimen, but the best players followed certain rituals between points which the replicated blindly. Lesser players didn't have the rituals, which made it difficult for them to recover and prepare between points. the number of times they bounce the ball, the speed at which they did that, what they touched as they went bout was also carefully cultivated.
It's not about will We are creatures of habit. 85% is automatic and only 5% consciously self-directed. That's why the power of positive rituals is important to effectively manage energy. Reduce need to rely on the conscious will and discipline. Help translate values and priorities into action
Jack Nicklaus, the famous golfer sais that he increases focus as he goes in to tee, peaks focus as he sets up for the swing, has a mental picture of what he is trying to do, both exclusionary and positive, then drops his focus. We must increase our focus in key parts of the game and save our energy up when we don't need it.
Rituals conserve energy. We advance by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them. Rituals pull us. We miss them. Since will and discipline are limited and precious resources use rituals.
There is an example of how a writer benefited from adopting new rituals - Instead of normal workdays, he was asked to start workdays early at 630 and get into minutes of writing without any distraction (no phone, emails). A breakfast of healthy food, at 830 am, break till 1030 am, and then back to work till 12 noon. This four and a half hours focussed work achieved more than what he achieved in double the time before.) Afternoons were devoted to research and reading for the book.
Offset will and discipline by building rituals fuelled by our deepest values. Rituals require a 30-60 day acquisition period. Build serial rituals, one significant change at a time when change required is large. Rituals help facilitate change.
Key behaviours in getting rituals right -
- Bigger the challenge, more exacting the rituals.
- The specificity of timing and precision of behaviour are important.
- At all times the focus must be on doing things properly.
- One must also be clear about 'what to do' versus 'what not to do'.
- Increase focus incrementally as opposed to overdoing it.
- Chart your course and chart progress
The book is a gem. There are so many things that are explained so well. The idea of full engagement being holistic, the idea of emotional being about holding opposites, the wonderful idea of hero's journey in the spiritual journey and how important it is, are deep concepts simply explained. Makes sense for individuals and organisations as always. Thanks, Sridhar for the wonderful book suggestion. Thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend for anyone interested in high performance.