When it comes to just about everything, all of us would like one thing to be possible – to get more done in less time.
That human desire is the exact subject of a book that changed many lives – “The Power of Full Engagement”, written by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr.
Their premise is simple:
Performance, health, and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy.
We have just 24 hours a day. It is fixed and it is a fact. What is not fixed (but it is a fact also) is the quantity and quality of energy available to us. And mind you, when we talk about the energy, we are talking about our most valuable resource, the starting point of every single action or reaction.
The more we take responsibility for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered and productive we become, Tony and Jim say.
Time versus Energy
Let’s start from the most common advice ever. When something’s not working or showing desired progress, the standard advice is to double the time invested in it.
In another word: spend more time and more energy.
But is that the right thing to say? Isn’t there some better way, a more clever one?
Your project is not moving forward? Well, work harder. Want to mend complicated family relations? Spend more time with them. You are not good at yoga or math? Dedicate even more time.
What we are losing from the sight is that it is not the quantity of time invested. It is always been about the quality of energy you give to something (or someone).
“Nature itself has a pulse, a rhythmic, wavelike movement between activity and rest. Think about the ebb and flow of the tides, the movement between seasons, and the daily rising and setting of the sun. Likewise, all organisms follow life-sustaining rhythms — birds migrating, bears hibernating, squirrels gathering nuts, and fish spawning, all of them at predictable intervals. So, too, human beings are guided by rhythms.”
Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr
And we are not, by any means, designed to endure constant high speed. Like everything in nature, we are also have a rhythm.
The Circadian Rhythm
The most famous rhythm which we adhere to is the circadian rhythm. We live our lives in 24 hour periods. We’re on and awake for 16-18 hours. This is the time of spending energy. After that, we’re off and asleep for 6-8 hours. This is when we renew our energy. To sum it up: a period of activity is followed by a period of rest.
Or, to say it more plastic, a period of energy investment is followed by a period of energy renewal. Because, as you must know, everything in life must be restored or renewed.
And that is how it should be if we ask nature (and not our CEO or manager).
We all had biology so we must know that our energy resources aren’t endless. If you try, out of the blue, to sprint, and you decide it to do it with 100% of your energy – you will change your mind in about 10-20 seconds.
We simply can’t sprint 100% for more than 10-20 seconds. Just the same, we can’t concentrate on success for many hours.
This means only one.
Our energy has its own rhythm and we should definitely respect it and act accordingly.
Just think of your circadian rhythm as a 24-hour internal clock. It is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. You have to know it to use it in your advantage.
For example, you noticed how you feel all sleepy and slow at the same time every day (for most of us, that time is after a lunch break)? Well, if you are not happy with that, blame your circadian rhythm for it.
However, instead of blaming some invisible clock in your body, maybe it would be more constructive to listen what it has to say.
If you are trying to do your best, just try to live a rhythmic life with periods of activity followed by reciprocal periods of rest.
We need to live life as a series of sprints, not a never-ending marathon.
The Ultradian Rhythm
The other type of rhythm is the ultradian one. It’s a cycle that repeats itself countless times during the day.
“These ultradian rhythms help to account for the ebb and flow of our energy throughout the day. Physiological measures such as heart rate, hormonal levels, muscle tension and brain-wave activity all increase during the first part of the cycle – and so do alertness. After an hour or so, these measures start to decline. Somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes, the body begins to crave a period of rest and recovery. Signals include a desire to yawn and stretch, hunger pangs, increased tension, difficulty concentrating, an inclination to procrastinate or fantasize, and a higher incidence of mistakes.”
Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr
Allow us to elaborate on that.
Let’s say you are in your office. Working on a very important project. For about 90 minutes you are in high-performance mode. Your alertness, concentration, creativity, emotional resilience, and mental stamina are all at the top of their game.
Then comes the period of critical 20 minutes. Your body is in need for some rest and any type of energy renewal. You should react to that cry for help your mind is sending.
And remember that this is just one of the rhythms your body is happy to dance on.
So, to treat your body and mind with what they deserve, just follow Schwartz & Loehr’s advice.
To get the most out of your working day, go full out for 90-120 minutes (fully engage) and then take a 15-20 minute break (strategically disengage).
The very concept of maximizing performance by alternating periods of activity with periods of rest was first advanced by Flavius Philostratus (A.D. 170–245), who wrote training manuals for Greek athletes. It was Russian sports scientists who resurrected the idea in the 1960s. They began applying it, and achieved impressive success on the Olympics.
This work-rest ratio is the soul of so-called periodization, a training method used by elite athletes throughout the world.
If you wish to implement this to your work life, there are a few things that have proven helpful.
First of all, use energy rituals to replenish your tank. Rituals are POWERFUL, remember that. Use them to your advantage.
Researchers say that 95 % of our behavior is habitual, and only 5% is conscious.
So, why not create some habits that will do us good?
Our strong point is made of 4 different sources of energy:
Physical, Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual Energy
If you would like to be at the top of your game, just keep optimized all 4 of sources. To do so, pick any (or many) rituals we neatly categorized by the energy source.
Daily walks, deep breathing, yoga, running, eating healthy…
Dance, meditate, dinner with your partner or a close friend (just the two of you) once a week, reading a book, gazing at the sunset…
Again meditation, playing brain games, ditch multitasking, be kind…
Meditation (oh, what a surprise!), spending time outdoors, listening to classical music, reconnect with your inner child…
We know, all this sound so corny and already said a million times. But you are forgetting something. We never said, “try this and you will be energized”. No. We said, “create new rituals”. So, just to be sure you understand it, don’t go to yoga class for two weeks. Don’t eat healthy for the two whole days. No.
Integrate some of these activities into your everyday life, make it an essential part of it and stick to it until it becomes second nature to you. This when you will see progress.