A GUIDE TO MANAGING YOUR ENERGY

Your energy is one of the most important variables in your life. You can't do things without it. Here is a framework for thinking about and managing your energy.


This is a long and heavy article. We can break it up into two areas. How your energy works; and how to manage it.


How Your Energy Works


Here we borrow heavily from the laws of thermodynamics. Consider that you have three types of energy which require managing. There is physical energy, which allows you to train and be awake. There is mental energy, which allows you to think about things deeply (remember those times after a long and intense day when you just couldn't think about things any more?). And there is emotional energy, which allows you to connect with things, situations and people emotionally, and which can also run out (think of a particularly draining argument with a loved one, and after a certain time you can't really get upset any more, you just feel emotionally drained).


For the remainder of this article, I will refer to "energy" generally; but the concepts can be applied to the three different types of energy separately. Where they require different treatment, I will do so.


Closed System


The first law of thermodynamics states that in a closed system, the energy within that system can only be spent on work of some type; or added to or taken away from the outside.


This fits nicely with our own energy state. On one level, we are a closed system, with a certain level of the three types of energy named above. If we expend that energy - through exercise, work, deep thought, watching an emotional movie - we spend that energy, and it is depleted, until a point where it runs out. Likewise, this energy can be topped up - by eating, sleeping, relaxing. So at every point, we can consider the level of energy we have; the expenditure of that energy; and the recovery of that energy.


Throughout the day, our levels of energy move up and down, depending on what we've done to expend it and to recover it.


Outside Engagement


Now, you are not alone in this world - you are constantly interacting with people, events and situations. They are affecting your energy levels, both taking energy from you, and giving it to you.


Think of seeing a friend who is particularly dramatic and fatalistic about their lives, this might absorb your emotional energy, such that you come home and complain of feeling "drained".


Think of another friend, who you love seeing - they are funny, engaging, always interesting and uplifting to be around - you might say they energise you.


A long management meeting might drain you mentally. A vigorous tennis match might drain you physically, but recharge you mentally.


The important thing to remember is that everything affects your energy in some way. It therefore follows that, unless you are content to let your energy float with the wind, and be what it may - if you want some control over your energy levels - you need to be conscious of the energy impact of what you do and who you see.


Dispersal


The second law of thermodynamics talks about entropy - the fact that energy gets fragmented over time.


This is a useful model to use. Think of your mental energy. Imagine you have a long and taxing task which requires deep concentration, like say writing a chapter of a book. Consider that on a given day, before sitting down to write your book chapter, you do a number of other things first. You answer a few emails. You read a blog post. You talk to your accountants and you choose and order a new bike. By the time you get down to sitting down and writing, your mental energy has been fragmented in multiple directions. It has been expended in several little pieces, in different directions, and by this time you are to "mentally fried" to do some solid writing.


Consider the counterfactual, if you had finished your morning coffee and got down to writing. You write for 3 hours solid. You break for lunch, then do another couple of hours. Now your energy has been concentrated on one task, which you completed effectively. You might still need to do those other things, but we will come to that later.


The key point is, as you expend your energy it fragments; and you must control the fragmentation to achieve your desired goals. Getting distracted, procrastination, spreading yourself thin, all serve to fragment the finite amount of energy which you have. Is that really what you want?


Equilibrium


This quickly leads to the concept of energy equilibrium. This can be defined as the level of energy in balance with other systems (remember you are one "energy system"). Thus, you may or may not be in energy equilibrium with another individual - they may be an energy drain, an energy source, or an energy complement (someone with equal energy to you, who neither drains nor energises you).


We love to be with energy sources, who energise and revitalise us. We hate being with "energy bandits", who drain us and use us to vent and to re-energise themselves. It is possible to have a great iteration where we energise someone and they energise us. This is what we have with good friends, and is often referred to as "having chemistry".


This concept can be applied to your environment. Do you work in a place which you find draining? Have you ever worked somewhere which is energising? This is created by the culture and people in your environment, but sometimes we find "toxic environments", which describe a situation where the environment drains you emotionally, mentally and physically. You can be at a draining dinner party, or an energising networking event (or vice versa of course!).


Overall, it is worth considering whether we are at energy equilibrium in given situations or with certain people, as disequilibrium can have a material impact on us.


Managing Your Energy


Now that we have a basic framework for how energy flows through, into and out of your body, we can turn to the important matter of managing it.


The first thing to consider is simply energy efficiency. That is, the way in which you let energy into and out of your body, and manage your energy stores. For each of the different types of energy - physical, mental and emotional - ask yourself, what do I do to recover it, and how have I been spending it?


On the recovery side of the equation - have you been getting enough sleep? Have you been relaxing enough? Have you had enough time to process and contemplate? What about nutrition? How have you been refuelling? Have you been getting enough water, enough protein?


Then consider the expenditure side. Have you been training more than the Minimum Effective Dose? This will drain physical energy, mental energy and time, precious time. Have you spent time in your day on trivial things? Are you attending meetings that you can avoid? Are you seeing people you don't really want to? Are you spending a lot of time angry? This will drain your battery very quickly. Audit your day - maybe a daily detailed activity diary for a week - and ferret out those things which are draining your energies. How much energy could you have saved by avoiding certain events/ actions/ activities? Energy isn't free; and nothing is energy costless.


Now consider efficient resource allocation - this is what I referred to in the chapter writing example above. It may be that you have to do a certain list of things; but are you sequencing them efficiently? Are you better off doing the hardest, most taxing task first, and then the smaller, less draining tasks in the afternoon? Is there a sequencing which will allow you to get more done for a given amount of energy that you have? Again, this concept applies for all types of energy.


Energy Capacity


Another factor to consider is your energy capacity, and the fact that sometimes it is beneficial to expend energy, and make room for energy renewal.


Imagine sitting at home for a week, doing not a lot. Maybe you watch some TV. Maybe you read a few books. Then, after a week, imagine going for a 10k run, relatively fast. Then that night, a good sleep. You'll get home drained, but will probably feel great in the following days. Emptying your battery and refilling it has a revitalising effect. Emptying it completely - leaving 110% out on the pitch - not only refreshes you, but increases your capacity, effectively making your "battery" bigger.


A major energy block is a negative feeling. It is both a block and a drain. Limiting thoughts are a big energy block. Consider a limiting thought you may have. Maybe you think your career has been bad. Maybe you think you cannot be creative. Maybe you think you are bad at relationships. This type of thing suffocates you. This is a whole other series of blog posts of course - I deal with negative emotions here - but in terms of energy management, these are energy blocks.


This means that, as long as they remain in place, they will prevent you from emptying the tank, refilling, discharging - ie, they will stop you from utilising your full energy capacity. The limiting belief will sit there and be like a solid block of energy, stuck inside, preventing you from refilling, but not discharging itself. It's like having 80% of your fuel tank full, but unusable - so you're only working with the remaining