Back in 2012, I remember having the ultimate productivity system setup. All the right tools were at my disposal – OmniFocus, Apple Calendars and Evernote. These tools have saved me a lot of time and I felt I had time management under control. I was always on time for appointments, I stopped working on the weekends, and most of my time was spent doing things I enjoyed doing.
I remember waking up on a Sunday morning wanting to do my taxes. An iPhone notification showed me that on my calendar I had a whole day blocked off to go through my backlog of paperwork. All the IRS forms were downloaded in my folder “Taxes”, the printouts were on my desk and the only thing left remaining was for me to fill in the forms and get it submitted to my accountant for final review.
As I was laying in bed, my mind said “get up and do your taxes today” but my body said, “give yourself another hour”. Even though I knew what I needed to do, I was too tired to get myself out of bed. I kept telling myself “just another thirty minutes” while I was browsing on my iPhone in bed. Once I rolled out of bed, it was already early afternoon.
My friend called me and he needed someone to talk to about his recent breakup with his girlfriend. After an intense hour and a half of listening and talking, I was not quite ready yet to get started on my taxes. It sucks to hear your friend go through bad times and as an introvert that phone call took a lot of energy from me.
I don’t remember exactly what happened after but I do remember this: I didn’t file my taxes that day. Despite having all the time in the world knowing exactly what I needed to do, I still didn’t get it done.
When I was journaling about that experience that same night, that’s when I had an epiphany. I used to think that time management was the same thing as productivity. As long as you manage your time well, you’re being productive. Whether you show up on time, use OmniFocus or batch tasks together…they all do the same thing which is managing time.
But that Sunday showed me a different side of what it means to be productive. It wasn’t a lack of time that held me back from filing my taxes. In fact, I had a whole day blocked off to work on it.
It was a lack of energy that held me back.
As I was journaling and reflecting, I realized that a major part of productivity revolves around energy. You can be a GTD master and have all the right productivity apps but if you don’t have the energy to execute, it doesn’t matter. It’s like having a beautiful red Ferrari in your garage with a full tank but if you’re too tired to drive, it’s useless.
To live a productive life, we want to have not only time but also energy.
TEA Framework Refresher
That’s why Energy is part of the TEA framework. We first introduced the TEA Framework in this article, and it breaks productivity down into three pillars:
We call it the 3 Pillars of Productivity. We’ve already covered the Time pillar in this post and now we’re going to cover Energy.
Energy Is the New Currency
After that day when I had my breakthrough insight, I started to research all the ways one can increase energy and save energy. After reading dozens of books, attending multiple seminars and interviewing peak performance experts I started to experiment. A lot. I ran over 100 experiments such as:
- Changing diets (keto, paleo, whole 30, and many more)
- Tried every popular workout program
- Changing my sleep patterns, tried various sleep hacks, and supplements to help improve sleep
- Every trick I could find on Google to motivate myself every day
Once I figured out what worked and what didn’t, I started to see how energy impacted my productivity. I noticed how…
- I procrastinated much less because I had more energy to do whatever I needed to do
- Most days I would wake up feeling great and ready to win the day
- By the time I was sitting down to work I felt I could conquer the world
- I felt more motivated than ever before and the motivation lasted much longer
- I was more consistent in doing what needed to be done and I stopped skipping habits
After experiencing these breakthroughs, I discovered the underlying reason I stopped procrastinating.
The Reason Most People Procrastinate
The real reason I procrastinated 90% of the time was due to lack of energy. Once I improved my health and how I felt every day, procrastination went away almost instantly.
But as soon as I had a bad night of sleep or I ate junk food for a few days, I started to procrastinate again. It was very obvious in hindsight, but it wasn’t until I started re-reading my journal that I put it all together. The higher your energy levels, the less you’ll procrastinate.
So I started a fun experiment. Every client that had procrastination issues, instead of telling them to use the Pomodoro Technique or do a powerful visualization exercise, I told them to get more sleep so they would get more energy. Most of them gave me a weird look when I told them to go to bed earlier to get rid of procrastination.
Luckily for me, they trusted me and went ahead with it.
Lo and behold, every single client reported back within a few days that procrastination wasn’t an issue anymore. They finally had the energy to power through tasks even if they didn’t feel like it. Bye, bye Procrastination. So if you feel like procrastination is a major issue in your life, then start sleeping more.
Sleep is just one part of the Energy pillar. We have distilled energy into three components.
The 3 Components of Energy
At Asian Efficiency we’ve distilled energy into three components:
If there’s one force multiplier for energy, it’s sleep. Most people don’t get enough sleep and it’s hurting their life in many ways they might not be aware of. When we lack sleep, we often:
- Crave junk food and add inches to our waist
- Procrastinate more often
- Lack willpower to do important work
- Make simple mistakes we normally wouldn’t make
- Don’t give our body enough recovery to perform at a high level
The number one action you can take to increase your energy is to get more sleep. We recommend that you go to bed earlier and have an evening ritual to get you ready for a good night of sleep. We have tons of free resources on this:
Inside the Dojo, our productivity library with a community of like-minded people, we have a more in-depth sleep course.
At first, you might be wondering why we include rituals under energy. As you might know from following Asian Efficiency, we consider rituals the superior cousin of habits. They are specific and more effective.
What rituals allow you to do is to take consistent action. Rituals will either give you energy (sometimes in the form of momentum) or save you energy.
For example, here is a list of rituals that give you energy:
- Morning ritual – start your day with lots of energy and feeling positive
- Exercise – regular exercise creates capacity for you to have more energy
- Meditation – a mindful practice that calms down the mind to give you energy on what’s present
On the other hand, there are also rituals that save you energy such as:
- Batching tasks – when you group similar tasks you get them done more efficiently
- Taking breaks – we need to disengage and recharge anytime we push ourselves
- A weekly review – the more we review what is needed from ourselves the less energy we waste on activities that shouldn’t be done at all
We cover a lot more rituals inside our Rituals course. For the purpose of this article, you need to understand that rituals are here to give you energy or to help you save energy (another way of saying that is to stop wasting energy so you have more capacity for other things).
Motivation is an interesting form of energy. It can’t be measured in scientific ways but we all agree that it’s real. It’s a mental state of mind and its core it’s a feeling.
When you’re motivated, you feel energized. This feeling is something everyone can manufacture on command but it’s a fleeting feeling. It’s something all of us have to generate each day – some days more, some days less.
Even if you sleep well and you have the right rituals in your life, you can still feel unmotivated and nothing gets done. Have you ever slept 8 hours and you felt fine but you still procrastinated?
Oftentimes this is a motivation issue. Luckily for you, it’s relatively easy to turn around because motivation is a state and feeling. You can easily drum it up by playing your favorite upbeat music, changing environments or get your body moving. If you’ve ever been to a Tony Robbins seminar, you know what this looks like. You’re jumping up and down and dancing to upbeat music and before you know it, your physiological state has changed and now you’re all of a sudden motivated.
One other tactic people don’t talk enough about is visualization. The power of visualization is very effective to get yourself motivated. As humans, we’re driven to move away from pain or go toward a big benefit. You can use visualization exercises to drum up motivation by visualizing all the negative consequences if you don’t do something. For example, if I visualize all the negative consequences of not processing payroll, I can imagine all the negative things coming my way:
- AE employees will be unhappy
- I will get direct messages and emails from disgruntled people
- I am not providing for their children food, education, and life
- I can imagine the sad faces of the people I work with
- Someone quits and leaves AE
And so on. By just visualizing all the negative consequences I’m instilling (imaginary) pain in myself that motivates me to take action. Can you see how powerful this is?
The same is also true for positive visualizations. You can use pleasurable benefits for your visualizations to motivate yourself. You could visualize how achieving a certain goal might transform your life which would trigger you to instantly feel motivated.
If you’re interested in learning how to do a visualization exercise, learn our Envision Film tactic here.
Another way to rekindle your motivation is to reconnect with your purpose. This could be your life purpose (if you have one) or simply understanding what your why is behind a goal, project, or outcome that you’re seeking. For example, whenever I don’t feel motivated to exercise, I’ll review my WHY behind my exercise regimen. It’s this emotionally compelling reason that motivates me to get going. We cover this a lot more in detail inside our courses but if you want to learn how to discover your WHY then read this post.
Everything you do that requires effort should have a clear purpose and vision behind it. Write this down. When you feel unmotivated, revisit it and you will see how it will spark you to take action.
But What About Diet and Exercise?
You might be wondering why I didn’t mention diet and exercise. Are they not important?
Actually, both are very important and have a major impact on your energy levels. Based on our experience, every human has basic universal sleep needs that are easy to coach and fix. The same is true for rituals and motivation.
This is where things break apart: when it comes to diet and exercise there’s no universally agreed standard. I might do well with a low carb diet whereas someone else needs to eat a lot of carbs to maintain proper function. Another person can only walk 5,000 steps a day and feel great while another person needs to lift weights five times a week to perform at a high level.
After working with hundreds of clients and having done 100+ experiments with diet and exercise, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s very difficult to prescribe a baseline of what one needs to do for diet and exercise. There’s too much variance of what works and doesn’t work for an individual and that’s why I left them out. Especially when you have to factor in all sorts of dietary restrictions, chronic pains, health concerns, and so on. So to clarify: I believe your energy levels are impacted by diet and exercise. You should exercise frequently (you already know that) and eat healthy (you know that too) to improve your health and increase your energy levels. What you should do specifically will differ drastically per person based on their unique DNA, budget, resources, and circumstances. When you work 1-on-1 with an Asian Efficiency coach, you will get personalized advice on how diet and exercise could help increase your energy but for the sake of this post and our online training materials, we will exclude them.
When you sleep well, have the right rituals, and become motivated you’ll see permanent and positive changes to your energy levels. This works for everyone and why we will focus on these three components in our training materials.
As with anything you can expect from Asian Efficiency, everything we teach is actionable. There are many ways you can increase your energy but the follow three actions will give you the best ROI:
- Stop using any electronic device an hour before bedtime and go to bed 30 minutes earlier than normal.
- Implement a morning ritual.
- Visualize all the negative consequences that might happen when you’re about to skip a task or procrastinate.
In our next post, we’ll teach you the third component of the TEA framework and that is Attention. This is crucially important to make sure you’re spending your time and energy on the right things.
If you want to find out where you should start within the TEA framework, take our quick Productivity Quiz. It will give you customized advice and action steps that will focus on your top productivity goals.