Many people say time is our most precious resource. I disagree. What is time if you don’t have the energy to do what you want to do and be who you want to be?
I used to block out time for focused work on my calendar (a.k.a. time management). Cognitively and emotionally, however, poor sleep, nutrition, and hydration left me feeling empty. Then, I’d beat myself up for not having the “willpower” to do the focused work.
Reacting to this state of low energy, I’d procrastinate instead of addressing the root cause: my energy management (or lack thereof). Sound familiar?
Energy is life. Our energy has cascading effects on every thought, decision, and action we make.
Accordingly, energy management is the most underrated way to accelerate personal development and improve the quality of our lives.
Taking control of my energy has been a game changer, allowing me to run System Sunday while being a full-time management consultant. The best part? I now have more energy for my relationships and leisure.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The world belongs to the energetic.”1 In this actionable guide, learn how to harness life’s ultimate edge: your energy.
Health Disclaimer: This guide is based on my experience (n = 1). Seek the advice of a medical professional before undergoing a new health care regimen.
Personal energy management means designing your life to create, invest, and not waste energy.2 The System Sunday approach to energy management is holistic. Here, I teach how to align life systems to the shared goal of energy optimization. By life systems, I mean the following categories: Wellness, Wealth, Career, Environment, Relationships, and Mindfulness.
Emergence3 is a Systems Thinking term that describes the behavior of a system as greater than its parts. In other words, 1 + 1 does not equal 2. Instead, the combination of subsystems can lead to non-linear exponential results.
For example, you might become aware of a time in your life when you were pulsing with pure energy. Perhaps you combined a great workout with healthy nutrition. That moment—when your energy surpassed anything you’d ever experienced via fitness or nutrition alone—is an emergent state.
Again, system dynamics teaches that 1 + 1 can equal 3, 10, or even more. That’s why I often refer to the emergence of personal energy as exponential energy.
In the next section, we’ll talk more about why the alignment of systems is crucial. For the moment, just know people can experience more energy than they ever thought possible when life systems work together.
The two core principles of energy management are:
Personal energy management is the most underrated strategy for improving the quality of one’s life. This is one reason I featured energy optimization in my Superhuman Trends Report .
There, I discuss the chief principle of energy management: aligning your life systems to the shared purpose of creating energy.
Unfortunately, people’s subsystems often have incompatible goals, sabotaging their total system energy. I explain this further in Superhuman Trends:
One common mistake I see is people with conflicting personal systems. For example, they want to have a bodybuilder’s physique AND optimize for clear thinking (to excel in their knowledge-based career).
I sympathize. I used to consume a grueling amount of (lean!) protein to try and build muscle. Naturally, I’d be in a perpetual state of lethargy. This plan was like walking up a down-moving escalator.
You see, to achieve a sidewalk-cracking physique, bodybuilders regularly consume 10,000+ calories per day. Imagine the amount of energy that’s expended processing all that food! Bodybuilders make a massive sacrifice in their energy to look the way they do.
Here’s the takeaway, in the words of the brilliant Systems Thinker Donnella Meadows: “When a subsystem’s goals dominate at the expense of the total system’s goals, the resulting behavior is called suboptimization.”4
My fitness and nutrition strategy now? I combine the ketogenic diet with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Both are evidence-based methods for boosting energy.
Here’s what I love about pairing keto and HIIT:
Let’s look at another common suboptimization. This time in the category of relationships. An insight from Superhuman Trends:
Imagine you’re an ambitious person in a relationship with someone who wants to live a more whimsical life. As a result of these misaligned values, your partner may inadvertently (or intentionally) make you feel bad for working hard, draining you of emotional energy. Again, trying to walk up a down-moving escalator.
Energy has cascading effects on every thought, decision, and action we take. It determines the quality of our health, relationships, ability to create value—the list goes on.
My question is: Are you willing to sub-optimize your energy? I wish I’d asked myself earlier in my 20s.
The strategies and tactics in the following sections will provide you with more energy. Minding the principle of time and energy management ensures you make the most of both.
I’m often asked: Ben, what’s the difference between time and energy management?
Let me explain: Time management is allocating your time to do the right things. Energy management is actually having the energy to do the right things.
Here’s what happens if you only pursue one without the other:
The holy grail: Combine time AND energy management. Thus, you’ll be working on high-value activities during peak states of energy.
So, tactically, how does one align time and energy management?
Direct your highest-energy state to your most important task(s) for the day. So, if you experience your highest energy in the mornings, see whether you can “make in the mornings and manage in the afternoons.”5 Conversely, if you experience your peak energy state later in the day, flip the order so that your most important task is slotted then.
Another example: Maybe your critical activity for a given day is high-quality time with family. See how you might align your peak energy to that end.
We’ve just covered the two core principles of energy management. Now, you’re ready to take advantage of hacks and tactics. Onward!
Here, I’ll share four brutally effective steps you can take to feel ON today.
There’s a quote I love by author David Deida:
Self-discipline is when your highest desires rule your lesser desires, not through resistance, but through loving action grounded in understanding and compassion.6
Let’s make this real. There will come a time when you must choose between energy-draining food and energy-enabling food. And by “a time,” I mean today.
Perhaps that choice is between 1) a burger and fries or 2) a nutritious salad.
We need to equip ourselves with a compelling “why” so we can choose that energy-boosting salad without hesitation. While that lunchtime burger may taste delicious, it’s probably not worth the two hours of lethargy and low consciousness that ensues.
Here are some examples of compelling “whys” for more energy:
Trust me: There was a time (not long ago) I could barely sit upright after meals because I’d eat myself into a food coma. Now, I see food as a binary that either supports my goals or pushes me further away.
That’s the power of a compelling why—the fortitude to make the right choice, not through resistance but through loving action.
(Side note: I recently went to a wedding in Santa Barbara, my first trip back to California since growing up there. Briefly and without regret, I broke keto for an In-N-Out burger and fries. It was intentional and planned—including the route to enjoy it on a nearby beach. Worth it!)
Knowing yourself is key to energy management.
An introvert and extrovert could attend the same social event and have totally different energy responses. While an extrovert will find their energy boosted, an introvert will find it exhausted.
In other words, it’s critical to understand your energy vampires. Take a moment to list all the activities that drain you. Here are some categories to help guide your reflection:
(Feel free to return to this exercise later, as a thorough review may take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes.)
The next step is to minimize or eliminate the tasks that make you feel less alive. Accomplished by:
I acknowledge that some energy-draining tasks are unavoidable. Whether those obligations are familial or our duties as conscientious citizens. The hard truth is that we spend much time on energy-draining activities that we’re NOT obligated to do.
For instance, maybe a friend of yours demands a lot of emotional energy. You’ve started to feel the relationship is no longer reciprocal (the value exchanged is one-sided). Perhaps there’s good reason to keep this individual in your life. But, be careful. You deserve friends who amplify your greatness, not repress it.
Still unsure when to say “no”? Here’s some advice from two people smarter than me. The first is from Naval Ravikant (modern philosopher and CEO of AngelList):
As long as you’re doing what you want, it’s not a waste of your time. But if you’re not spending your time doing what you want, and you’re not earning, and you’re not learning—what the heck are you doing?7
Or, if you’re still unsure what to decline, try this “gut check” from author and entrepreneur Derek Sivers:
If your immediate reaction to an inbound request is not a “hell yeah!” then your answer should be “no.”8
My final take on energy vampires: Saying, “No thanks, I’m on a deadline” is always honest. Because when it comes to creating the life we choose…we are, in fact, on a deadline.
Here are some ideas for metrics you can track to optimize your energy:
I’ve found that these seven metrics are key variables to living a high-voltage life. (Again, this is my own experience of n = 1; see health disclaimer.)
Why do I self-track? As a famous quote (often misattributed to Peter Drucker) tells us: “What gets measured gets managed.”
I track these seven metrics because evidence shows that people are outright awful (including yours truly) at doing some of these vital activities.
For instance, approximately 75% of the population is dehydrated.9 And, it turns out, even being dehydrated by as little as 2% can significantly limit cognitive ability.10
So, I use HidrateSpark, a smart water bottle with a built-in scale and sensors that automatically measure my water intake. Its accompanying mobile app gamifies hydration, displaying a dial of current intake vs. recommended pace.
I’m a big fan of products that log my performance automatically. Then, it’s as simple as using my eyeballs to see how I’m doing. If the feedback tells me I’m slipping, I can course-correct and “stay on track.”
Not sold on self-tracking but want to keep an open mind? Learn more about its underlying principles (and benefits) in my Ultimate Guide to Self-Tracking.
Do you have a go-to list of energy “cheat codes”—actions you can take to quickly feel ON?
Among my favorites:
These “cheat codes” are covered extensively in my tactical guide: 75 Productivity Hacks to be 500% More Effective.
The guide has an entire section dedicated to 18 energy-related hacks (including gear recommendations). It’s the same price as this article: absolutely free. So, grab your copy.
And now some quotes from famous people to remind you that I stand on the backs of giants…
“The average person puts only 25% of his energy and ability into his work. The world takes off its hat to those who put more than 50% of their capacity, and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100%.” —Andrew Carnegie
“If your energy is as boundless as your ambition, total commitment may be a way of life you should seriously consider.” —Dr. Joyce Brothers
“Nobody but you is responsible for your life. You are responsible for your life. What is your life? What is all life? What is every flower, every rock, every tree? Energy. And you’re responsible for the energy you create for yourself, and you’re responsible for the energy that you bring to others.”
“Without passion, you don’t have energy. Without energy, you have nothing.” —Warren Buffett
“The difference between one man and another is not mere ability—it is energy.” —Thomas Arnold
“The world belongs to the energetic.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The real difference between men is energy. A strong will, a settled purpose, an invincible determination, can accomplish almost anything; and in this lies the distinction between great men and little men.” —Thomas Fuller
“You have two essential tasks in life: to be a good person and to pursue the occupation that you love. Everything else is a waste of energy and a squandering of your potential.” —Ryan Holiday
“A man must drive his energy, not be driven by it.”
—William Frederick Book
“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” ―Eleanor Roosevelt