Josh Kaufman

Bestselling Author, Business & Self-Education

The Power of Full Engagement - Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

This post contains my personal notes about the big ideas in Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement. My book notes are different from many of the book summaries you’ll find on the web. Instead of following the structure of the book in question, we’ll isolate and examine the key ideas and themes that make the book useful. Along the way, I’ll tell you how I actually apply the ideas. Enjoy!

Most businesspeople focus on managing time, which is misleading: true effectiveness is more about managing and investing your energy, and that starts by paying close attention to your body. Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement describes how to optimize your daily energy levels by improving your daily habits and routines.

About Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz

Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz are the authors of the Personal MBA-recommended book The Power of Full Engagement. For more information about Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz’s work, check out their website.

Here are 10 big ideas from Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement

1: Time is not the most important thing to manage - energy is what’s actually important.

Most productivity thinkers over the years have fixated on the idea of time: there are only so many hours in a day, so if you want to be an effective person, you should learn to manage them wisely.

Time, however, passes on its own - you can’t really manage it. What you can manage is the energy you bring to those hours.

If you’re low on energy, it doesn’t matter if you have a lot of time to accomplish a task - you’ll be so exhausted that you’ll make very little progress. If you have a ton of energy, you can get many things done in very little time.

The Power of Full Engagement is about managing your energy, and helping you find ways to feel more energetic each day.

2: Wise use of available energy is what leads to results.

Energy is finite, but expandable. You only have so much energy to use each day, but our capacity for productive effort expands as we use it. As long as you take care of yourself and pay attention to how much energy you have, you can accomplish surprising amounts of work.

3: All hours aren’t created equal - pay attention to your energy cycles, which naturally oscillate.

Time management proponents make the mistake of assuming all hours are fungible - equal to any other. On a calendar, there’s no visible difference between 9:00-10:00am and 12:00-1:00pm.

Physically, there’s a huge difference. Our body operates in Energy Cycles in which our energy fluctuates up and down. You may be familiar with the circadian cycle, which is responsible for our waking/sleeping pattern. There are other cycles as well, which naturally oscillates every 90 minutes between high and low energy.

This cycle is normal, so it pays to respect it. Every hour and a half or so, your body needs a bit of relaxation and rest. Powering through the dip in energy is actually counterproductive - you’re not giving your body the rest it needs to operate at peak performance.

4: Energy diminishes with overuse and underuse - it’s best to think in terms of sprinting and recovery.

When working, think like a sprinter - you can cover a lot of ground in a quick burst, but you can’t keep up that pace all day. With a little rest between bursts, however, you can sprint over and over again.

If you tax yourself too much, you’ll wear yourself out, and you’ll need a longer period of recovery before you’ll be ready to go again. At the extreme, some people work themselves to the point of exhaustion, at which point their body forces them to recover via injury or illness. You can only push yourself so much - Recovery is mandatory, not optional.

5: You are not a machine: humans need relaxation, rest, and recovery for top performance.

The ideal many people seem to have about human productivity is working like a robot: no rest, no food, no sleep, no recovery all day every day. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Humans are physical beings, and we have physical needs. Instead of viewing your body as a vehicle for your brain, it’s useful to think of your body as one integrated tool, which you use to get things done. If the tool breaks or wears down, you won’t accomplish anything.

Here’s a great little story Warren Buffett often tells: if you were told that you could only have one car for the rest of your life, you would take immaculate care of it. You would polish, protect, and maintain it as best as you could. Our body serves the same purpose, so treat it the same way.

6: You have a Gas Tank - if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll inevitably break down.

I’m willing to bet that at some point in your life, you reached your breaking point - I certainly have. You don’t have unlimited energy, and if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll collapse. That’s never a good thing. You have a Gas Tank , just like any vehicle, and when you run out, you’re sunk.

I recommend pushing to the point of 80-90% of your capacity, then going no further. That approach helps you stretch your limits and get a lot accomplished while still leaving ample time for relaxation and rest.

6: Used consciously, stress is a good thing - it’s a form of energy resistance training.

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s possible to exert yourself too little. Stress is not always negative - it’s a signal our bodies use to generate more energy to meet the demand. As long as we’re getting enough rest and recovery, it pays to exert ourselves - that’s how we become stronger over time.

8: Daily rituals can help you keep your energy high.

Taking care of yourself is a huge priority, and there are a few simple habits that can help keep your energy levels high each day.

Food is your body’s fuel - ensure you’re getting enough (not too much), that’s it’s high quality, and that it contains enough of the protein and nutrients your body needs to function optimally. You also need enough water: tea is also a good option for variety. Stay away from refined sugars. When in doubt, eat like humans ate thousands of years ago. (Personally, I also have to be careful about wheat gluten, which I discovered via self-experimentation.)

Vitamins are also important - our diet has changed dramatically in the past several thousand years, and so we often don’t get many of the trace minerals we need to function optimally. (Side note: I recommend reading The Protein Power Lifeplan by Dan and Mary Eades for a detailed examination of what our body needs to function optimally.)

9: It pays to track your energy cycles, so you can plan to maximize them.

Everyone’s energy cycles are a little different, so it pays to learn what yours are. I recommend using a variant of what Peter Drucker recommends in The Effective Executive : keep a time journal, but focus on your energy levels throughout the day. Every hour or so, tune in to how you’re feeling - are you at a high point, or at a low point.

Once you know your patterns, it’s far easier to plan your day around your cycles. For example, my best times for focused attention are mid-morning and early afternoon. Accordingly, I schedule my day to allow me to write during those periods, and as a result, I get more done.

10: Time should be spent either being productive or consciously resting - otherwise, it’s time wasted.

Have you ever had a day where you half-worked? At the end of the day, you didn’t get much done, but you felt like you had just run a marathon?

Those days are days wasted. If you’re not being productive, take a break - a real break. Pretending to work does no one any good. Recharge your batteries, then go back to your work when you’re relaxed and refreshed.

This principle is a strong case for taking an afternoon nap - after lunch, your body goes into a natural down cycle. Taking advantage of that natural down period to recharge isn’t lazy - it’s very smart. By taking twenty minutes to relax and recharge, you’re setting yourself up for a more productive afternoon.

Published: October 2, 2010 Last updated: October 2, 2010

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