It’s been a long while since an organizing or personal productivity book got me excited, but I recently read The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz and highly recommend it. I got a new perspective on the elusive “work/life balance” and especially loved getting permission from productivity experts to indulge in naps.

The book is an easy read and the authors give up all the good stuff right up front. The rest of the book is filled with examples of how clients utilized the program the authors’ outline. There are also great resources at the back for those who want to try out the program.

The main premise of the book is that time is not our most precious personal resource, energy is. The amount of energy we have determines how well we use our time. That was a big “A ha!” moment for me, because I have always had this delusion that super successful people just don’t need much sleep and operate at 100% twelve hours a day.

In order to keep our energy and therefore focus high, the authors advise, we need to treat life like a series of sprints, not a marathon. Sweet relief! The whole “life is a marathon” analogy always sounded so exhausting. We figure out how long we can optimally focus at one time, then take short breaks, whether a quick snack, a quick walk, a catnap or an informal conversation with someone.

To make the most out of the focused parts of the day, we have to first—cue the thunder– define our life purpose and core values. Nothing creates motivation, that “can’t wait to start the day” jumping out of bed feeling, than a compelling future.  Unfortunately, Covid-19 can make every day feel like a sleep-in snow day with nary a party on the horizon, let alone a compelling future.

Since the future is definitely uncertain during a pandemic, this type of planning is trickier than it used to be. I suggest laying out a framework of near certainties—bills you have to pay and an approximation of how much time you have left on the planet—and fill it in with strong probabilities, like work and relationships and a reasonable amount of recreational activity.  Planning a week at a time or a month ahead might be all you can manage without knowing if you will be working, able to travel, healthy, able to find toilet paper or whether the power will be on or off—all the things that used to be taken for granted.

Reviewing your vision for your future each day or once a week can help motivate you to stay on track. Things that hamper your energy can still drag you down, so looking at where bad habits that affect you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually is important. Loehr and Schwartz point out that bad habits are hard to break, so ritualizing new behaviors that are put in place to help you achieve something you really want is key. New habits have to become automatic and in order to achieve that, habits have to be based on deep values and constant repetition.

Getting rid of junk food, negative thought patterns, addictions to substances and replacing them with healthy habits and thinking all help to raise available energy. For example, if you push yourself all day and think you deserve a few drinks in the evening you will wake up with an energy deficit, sometimes known as a hangover, however slight. The older we are, the less forgiving the body is of our bad habits and the more lethargic and less productive we become. A healthy habit of drinking water and spending quality time with people in your pod will create energy reserves you can draw on the next day.

An interesting and important tidbit from this book is the importance of stress to peak performance. Unlike most self-help books that tell you to reduce stress at all costs, Loehr, who works with elite professional athletes, says that in the same way a muscle needs to be stressed in order to get stronger, so do our mental, emotional and spiritual habits. We need to endure short term discomfort to reap long term rewards. 

An example would be practicing CPR regularly so that you are ready and calm if you ever have to really perform it. Another example is that if you are trying to become more patient, put yourself in situations where your patience is tested and use new habits, like deep breathing or counting to ten before you speak, until patience is more second nature.

If you have a some time on your hands lately, like a lot of us, check out the book or Tim Ferriss’s interview with Jim Loehr on his podcast The Tim Ferriss Show. Do some thinking and journaling about your values, vision statement and which habits are draining your energy and preventing you from achieving your objectives.