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energy management 101

Let me show you a different way of looking at time management and productivity. Whenever someone brings up how they want to be efficient and productive, people automatically think they need to carefully monitor their time and try random techniques to boost their productivity.

To them I say: forget about it. Forget about managing your time. Forget about learning a new technique. Forget about finding an app that promises you to be more productive.

Start with the basics – how you manage yourself and especially your energy.

“Thanh, what have you been drinking? Are you okay?”

Trust me on this one. Let me show you how managing yourself and your energy will drastically improve your productivity so that you never have to worry about “time management” again.

Managing Time versus Managing Energy

Here’s the first mind shift you have to make: you can’t “manage time”. Time goes by regardless of what you do. It’s not under your locus of control.

On top of that, time is not the best unit to effectively measure productivity. The number of hours we put into something has no correlation to the amount of work actually done, or the amount of “value” produced by that work. 8 hours in an office isn’t necessarily as productive as 4 or 14 hours at home.

On the other hand, how much value you produce in the world is something you have a direct influence on. More importantly, how you feel and how energized YOU are has a directly impact on the output you produce. As I like to say, you can’t get stuff done when you’re tired.

By addressing your own needs first, whether that’s physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, you can skyrocket your productivity and the value you give to the world (or workplace).

For example, if you’re out of shape, you have a harder time focusing for long periods of time. Have you ever noticed that whenever you start exercising again, you feel better and your quality of focus goes up?

Another example is addressing finding purpose behind your work. Recently I had a conversation with a friend who’s very successful at what he does but he feels “empty” inside. He’s making great money, he travels, he gets stuff done but it’s just paying the bills to live. While he is productive in the sense that he gets stuff done, there is no positive energy behind his work. He’s just looking at spreadsheets all day and making changes to his website.

I started to dig deeper and get into his head because the problem I saw him having is that he didn’t know his “why” – his purpose behind the work he’s doing. Once we talked this through and he got a better understanding of his purpose, it was as if he had new life in him to do the same work but with more positive energy and a direction to go in.

Same work, different energy. Plus, he felt more productive than ever before.

This is why at Asian Efficiency we always stress the importance of managing yourself and your energy levels. Every team member gets this ingrained as part of their training because we don’t focus on the amount of hours you work. We focus on the results you produce, that you love what you do and that you live up to your potential.

The Energy Pyramid

Now that you see the value of managing your energy levels, it’s time to get a little geeky. I’ll show you an introductory model we use to teach this. I have to give credit to the book The Power of Full Engagement where I got it from but here’s my interpretation of it with some extra insights.

Here’s the Energy Pyramid.

The Energy Pyramid of The Power of Full Engagement
The Energy Pyramid of The Power of Full Engagement

As you can see, this pyramid is divided in four layers (or energy types):

  • physical
  • emotional
  • mental
  • spiritual

The basic idea behind the energy pyramid is that we have different levels of energy that we use as fuel (all of them will be explained below).

The order of the layers is important. In the pyramid you can see that the physical layer forms the foundation of the pyramid. Every other layer relies on this foundation. Let me describe each layer and how they all work together.

Physical Energy

At the bottom you have the physical layer. In other words, your physical energy forms the foundation for how you feel. When one of these is depleted, everything else crumbles down. It consists of these 3 components:

As I said earlier, you can’t get stuff done when you’re tired. When you don’t sleep well, you can’t be productive. If you’re in bad shape, you can’t focus anymore by the time lunch comes around. If you have bad eating habits, you will always feel sub-par which directly affects your output.

Addressing any of these will instantly improve your productivity. A good night’s sleep makes a world of difference to how you feel and how productive you are. Likewise, when you regularly exercise you feel better more times than before and your focus is much better. Or replacing junk food with fruits and vegetables will first make your body feel horrible at first, but after that you’ll feel more energetic than ever before.

Your physical energy forms the foundation for how much energy you have. Thus, your productivity. That’s why whenever someone comes to us for help, we always look at these three components first.

  • Are you getting enough sleep?
  • Are you exercising regularly?
  • Are you eating the right foods?

We don’t look at which app you use or what system you follow. Although they are important, it’s not as important as your wellbeing. It’s not something people want to talk about, but you need to know this truth. For your productivity, it is far more important how well you take care of yourself than it is to find the right system or app.

Emotional Energy

Emotional energy is all about the set of emotions you need to feel in order to perform at your best.

Think of the last time you were “in the zone” and where you were so into your work that time just flew by. How did you feel?

Did you feel angry? Did you feel sad?

Of course not. You didn’t experience any bad emotions. You felt positive ones.

That is what you’re looking for – positive emotions that will help you do your best work. Things like:

  • enjoyment
  • challenge
  • adventure
  • opportunistic

When you’re engaged you feel a positive set of emotions and that’s when you do your best work. On the other side of the spectrum, bad emotions such as anger, fear, sadness or frustration drain your energy and burn up willpower.

When you’re trying to be productive while you’re experiencing negative emotions, that’s like trying to run a marathon with a heavy backpack. You can still do it, but you’ll have a lot of resistance.

Notice how the emotional layer is on top of the physical layer. When you have your physical energy needs met, it becomes a lot easier to experience all these positive emotions.

For example, a good night of sleep will make it less likely that get out on the wrong side of the bed. Or it can be very difficult to be excited take on a new exciting project when your body is fatigue and wants to rest.

From my experience, trying to tap into positive energy at will can be challenging. What seems to work best for me is just to get rid of all negative emotions. When I do that, the positive emotions will naturally follow.

Like one time I felt really angry after I got some bad news (not to be repeated here). Instead of trying to act all positive, I just reframed the news into something positive and my anger slowly disappeared. Then when I tried to get work done, all the positive emotions I needed would naturally come to me.

Mental Energy

Your mental energy is for your concentration and quality of focus. I like to refer to this as your “attitude to everything”.

When you have a positive attitude and outlook, then your quality of focus and concentration go drastically up. When you tackle a new project with optimism and a positive outlook, you can bet that you’ll produce much better results than when you tackle it with pessimism or a negative outlook.

What’s great about this layer is that you can easily address this with specific techniques. You can…

  • think positively
  • have positive self-talk and dialogues in your head
  • do visualization exercises
  • effectively manage your time

All these will help use your mental energy in the best way possible.

This is where “time management” really comes in, but only after your physical and emotional needs are met. Only then can you really harness time management to do your best work, e.g. being able to schedule an hour of uninterrupted time or planning your schedule the best way possible to get into Hero Mode.

Notice how the mental layer is on top of the emotional layer. It’s very hard to focus or concentrate when you’re angry. But it’s easy to do it when you feel enjoyment or excitement.

You can also make the link between physical and mental. It’s hard to focus when you only slept 2 hours, just like it’s challenging to concentrate when you just ate junk food.

Spiritual Energy

Your spiritual energy refers to the driving purpose behind the work you do.

Don’t confuse it with anything religious or woo-woo (as I initially did). Think of it as the reason why you do the work you do. What’s the reason or purpose you get out of bed to go to work?

This means that you know yourself, what your core values are and that you align your core values with the work you do. Only then can you leverage your spiritual energy.

Personally, I don’t like filling out complicated forms. I think it’s boring and I don’t put much effort behind it when I need to. We all know that dreaded feeling of stuff we need to do but we only do it with half our energy and intention.

Contrast that with the work I do with Asian Efficiency. I used to think it was woo-woo and nonsense that some people got out of bed excited to get to work. I thought they were crazy until one day I realized I’m now one of them.

Now I easily get excited about anything dealing with Asian Efficiency. I get out of bed easily because I love what I do. Whenever there is a hurdle, I’ll leapfrog over it because I have a passion for this.

Do I still need to fill out complicated forms? You betcha! Now it’s different though. Although I might not be excited about it like a little kid in a candy store, I do get excited about how filling it out will get me closer to where I want to be.

Same work, different energy.

When tough times are ahead, I’ve found that this source of energy gives me that extra push. The challenge for most people is finding this energy and not losing sight of it (trust me, it’s easy to do).

Pick Your Layer

Everyone who wants to be more productive comes from a different place and has different needs. That’s why this Energy Pyramid is so useful because you can see what someone needs to address in order to go to “the next level”.

Likewise, when you look at productivity through this model, you will start to understand all the problems surrounding procrastination, distractions, focus, and time management. For example, a lot of procrastination can be attributed to lack of energy or it’s easier to get distracted when you don’t enjoy your work.

So figure out what you need to address. Which layer or component is it?

Here’s a simple starting point:

  • If you’re brand new to productivity, address the physical layer.
  • If you feel fine but your feelings bounce around a lot during the day, address your emotional energy.
  • If you’re procrastinating a lot, address your mental energy.
  • If you find it hard to enjoy the work you do, find your purpose.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. Love, love, love this article. So glad you included it in your July compilation archive.

    I recently started exercising much more regularly and it has changed how I feel about work, life, my passions, everything. It’s amazing and yet not surprising how much the physical has to be in the right zone for everything else to begin fitting into place.

    Keep up the excellent work!

    Clipping this article to Evernote :)

  2. I purchased the better sleep product from Asian Efficiency, great results, I was eating but not very much due to an ongoing personal challenge. I know what they say at Asian Efficiency is REALLY GOOD STUFF, it is the self discipline and execution I struggle with, mostly due to emotionally entangled issues I am working on resolving. Keep up the great, insightful work, love reading your Articles!

  3. I simply love this article. I keep coming back to see the pyramid and think about my energy levels. It´s so helpful. I’m considering buying the book mentioned at the beginning :-) Have a great day and good luck writing many more amazing articles.

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