In today’s fast-paced world, productivity has emerged as a critical aspect of our daily lives. The conventional approach to productivity involves time management, but recent research indicates that energy management is a more sustainable method for improving productivity and well-being. By utilising insights from various disciplines, such as organisational psychology, social psychology, nutrition, mental health, stress management, fitness, and focus, individuals can devise strategies to systematically expand their energy reserves and achieve more in their daily lives. This article will delve into the importance of managing energy levels and present real-life examples of individuals and organisations that have successfully adopted energy management strategies.
Energy Management and Organisational Psychology:
Organisational psychology has demonstrated that individuals who efficiently manage their energy levels are more productive and engaged in their work. Establishing clear goals, prioritising tasks, and incorporating short breaks throughout the day can help sustain motivation and energy levels. For instance, Google has implemented a program called “Jolly Good Fellow,” allowing employees to take time off to work on personal projects, subsequently increasing creativity and productivity in the workplace.
Social Psychology and Energy Optimisation:
Social interactions play a vital role in energy management. Positive social support from colleagues and supervisors can enhance work engagement, job satisfaction, and overall energy levels. For example, Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, encourages employees to partake in outdoor activities during work hours, resulting in increased productivity and employee satisfaction. Moreover, a study conducted by Halbesleben & Buckley (2004) found that employees who perceived high levels of social support at work experienced lower levels of fatigue and burnout.
Nutrition and Mental Health:
A balanced diet is crucial for maintaining energy levels throughout the day. Consuming regular, nutrient-dense meals with complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean proteins can fuel the body and brain. A study by the Harvard Business Review discovered that employees who ate healthier meals had a 25% higher job performance than those who did not. Additionally, addressing mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, or chronic stress can improve overall well-being and energy management. General Mills’ meditation program exemplifies this, as it reduced stress and increased employee productivity.
Stress Management and Fitness:
Regular physical activity is proven to boost energy levels and mood. Incorporating exercise into daily routines can reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and increase overall energy. The law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe introduced a “wellness program” that includes exercise classes and meditation, leading to a 50% reduction in sick days among employees. Furthermore, practicing relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises can help control stress and maintain energy levels throughout the day.
Focus and Avoiding Distractions:
Distractions can rapidly drain energy reserves, making it challenging to maintain focus and productivity. Techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working in focused intervals followed by short breaks, can help minimise distractions and optimise energy levels. This method is particularly useful for individuals who struggle with procrastination or find it difficult to concentrate for extended periods. Notably, the famous writer Ernest Hemingway used the Pomodoro Technique to help him write his books.
In conclusion, managing energy rather than time is a more sustainable approach to enhancing productivity and well-being. By incorporating strategies from various disciplines, individuals can systematically expand their energy reserves and achieve more in their daily lives. Real-life examples of individuals and organisations that have successfully implemented energy management strategies demonstrate the effectiveness of these techniques in improving productivity and well-being. Taking care of oneself, including eating well, practising stress management techniques, engaging in regular physical activity, and avoiding distractions, is essential for maintaining optimal energy levels throughout the day.
- Watanabe, N., Furukawa, T. A., Horikoshi, M., Katsuki, F., Narisawa, T., Kumachi, M., … & Cuijpers, P. (2018). A mindfulness-based stress management program and treatment as usual for university students with psychological distress: A randomised controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 48(14), 2327-2336.
- Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. (2003). The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press.
- Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2007). The Job Demands‐Resources model: state of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22(3), 309-328.
- Chatterjee, S., & Yilmas, E. (2019). Nutrition and Well-being: A Systematic Review of the Impact of Food Choices on Mental Health. Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 46(4), 674-690.
- Pronk, N. P., Katz, A. S., Lowry, M., & Payfer, J. R. (2012). Reducing occupational sitting time and improving worker health: the Take-a-Stand Project, 2011. Preventing Chronic Disease, 9, E154.
- Cirillo, F. (2018). The Pomodoro Technique: The Acclaimed Time-Management System That Has Transformed How We Work. Penguin.
Dublin is an inspirational setting. Past and present stories of resilience are written into the city’s fabric and carried by its people. In Merrion Square, there is a unique totem to hopefulness that stands out more than most, the Oscar Wilde memorial monument honouring one of Ireland’s lauded poets and playwrights. Memorably, in Lady Windermere’s Fan, Wilde wrote, ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’ The power of these lines goes beyond their poetics, positivity, or universality because they touch upon something more profound, the hidden strength of the human psyche.
Optimism is a source of scientific inquiry and has been studied extensively to ascertain its physical and psychological benefits. These studies are ongoing, but optimism supplements better health. Research shows that it is associated with contributive behaviours such as being physically active and not smoking (Boehm et al., 2018), a healthy diet score (Hingle et al., 2014), better sleep quality (Sims et al., 2019), and higher composite cardiovascular health scores (ibid, see also Hernandez et al., 2015, 2018). We still need to find out how and why optimism scientifically influences these diagnostics, but we know it yields clear-cut results with empirical certainty.
Other points of influence that may not affect you daily but are impacted by optimism include high capacities for surviving a disease, particularly heart disease (Tindle et al., 2009). Studies also correlate optimism with improved recovery from surgery, broader immunity, positive cancer outcomes, positive pregnancy outcomes, increased pain tolerance, and more stability amid other health concerns. In all of these metrics, those with an optimistic outlook had better results than those who were pessimistic.
Even more impressive is optimism’s association with overall health and longevity. Having a positive outlook is predictive of a greater quality of life (James et al., 2019) and a lower death rate (Rozanski et al., 2019). Optimistic people—whether by disposition, purposeful mindset, or praxis—lead healthier longer lives. Although living better or ageing gracefully does not determine success, health is essential if we approach success as a web of holistic factors related to achieving maximum performance. The evidence is unequivocal; having a positive outlook can boost your physical robustness and provide the platform from which you will most likely achieve consistent success.
What is more, optimism is blind. The data suggests that optimism is a boon regardless of demographic factors such as income level or general health. Maybe this should be less surprising since the positive thinking associated with optimism is also attributed to effective stress management. Stress may not be equal, but it is universal.
Mental health and mentality
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a ‘state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in.’ Critically, WHO’s definition includes this addendum, ‘Mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders.’ It is more variable and directly assists our health continuum, which, by extension, aids our self-maintenance and performance.
Optimism is intersectional within the body and mind realms it inhabits. It supports psychological well-being, especially during uncertain times when the risk of deteriorating mental health rises. As recently as last year, a statement made by the American Heart Association (AHA) declared, ‘Positive psychological health is also multifaceted and may be characterised by a sense of optimism [my italics], a sense of purpose, gratitude, resilience, positive affect (i.e., positive emotion), and happiness.’
Moreover, mental health’s positive emotional and social dimensions help us foster productive relationships personally and professionally. Being aware of the many unseen components of mental health can help us generate empathetic responses to problems that arise with staff. None of this comes as intuitively as you might presuppose.
Our most recent 1% podcast with Dr Libby Sander identified some gaps in professional culture regarding expectations, an overemphasis upon certain kinds of productivity, boundary setting, burnout, the role of emotional intelligence in leadership, and even the physical space that we work in. I must reiterate Dr Sander’s points. Ultimately, everything is a possible component of our successes and our failures. It is up to us to harness them for our means rather than leave them to become something to be dealt with later.
Pushing out pessimism
Optimism’s counter-force is a balanced critical perspective, not pessimism. The AHA statement outlines that pessimism may be understood as ‘the tendency to expect negative outcomes or by the tendency to routinely explain events in a negative way.’ Just as optimism engenders varied physical and mental health benefits, pessimism is linked to unwanted outcomes such as cardiovascular risk and hopelessness (Pänkäläinen et al., 2019).
Optimism is an active process. Harvard Health Publishing explains that optimism is divided into ‘dispositional’ or ‘explanatory’ modes. Regarding the latter, being optimistic does not mean ignoring less pleasant situations. Accept them and approach unpleasantness more positively and productively. Imagine the best or at least the best possible scenario, not the worst. Be confident you can make it happen. Reconfiguring your visions to even moderately desirable outcomes is beneficial. On these terms, optimism is often a form of honest appraisal and reframing when unexpected or unwanted events occur.
Positivity often begins with self-talk. The thoughts within us can uplift or inhibit us. Much self-talk comes from logic and reason; listen to it. Equally, self-talk comes from misconceptions we create from doubt, if not fear, a lack of information, impossible or unrealistic expectations, and preconceived ideas of what will happen to or against us. These thoughts are not reasonable. Quiet them. Cynicism and downbeat steadfastness are not virtues and spread quickly in a pressurised workplace. If you tend to be pessimistic, you can still learn positive thinking skills. Optimism is part mind state, part mental practice. Identify negative thinking, and try to reduce it. Examples include filtering out what is going well and emphasising what is not, personalising setbacks or making them your fault when they are not, blaming others when it is your fault, expecting the worst possible outcome as opposed to planning for it, magnifying minor setbacks, setting impossible standards so that disappointment becomes a fait accompli, and adopting a polarising view of things as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ whereby leaving no room for nuance. Envision what you want to happen next or understand what remains possible and focus strictly on actualising it.
I began this article with a personal flourish intentionally. We are human, and success is not mechanical or natural. It is earned and does not typically follow a linear or smooth path. Similarly, goals require commitment, and so does our physical and mental health. If these elements in any way become a hindrance, our long-term professional performance will likely dip. Without question, our ability to reach and maintain maximal performance levels will be diminished.
In a piece fittingly titled, ‘The Optimism of Uncertainty, Howard Zinn reminds us that ‘To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, and kindness. What we choose to emphasise in this complex history will determine our lives.’ If nothing else, science backs up that very last point incontrovertibly. Zinn continues, ‘The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.’
At this moment in time, the global context is bleak. War, economic, and energy crises loom overhead. More things are more uncertain than they have been for a while. All of which impact our work and our lives. We must take nothing for granted and care for our bodies and minds. We may not know why, but optimism significantly helps us do so.
Boehm, Julia K., et al. “Is Optimism Associated With Healthier Cardiovascular-Related Behavior?” Circulation Research, vol. 122, no. 8, Apr. 2018, pp. 1119–34, https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.117.310828.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Optimism and Your Health.” Harvard Health, 1 May 2008, https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/optimism-and-your-health.
Hernandez, Rosalba, Hector M. González, et al. “Association of Dispositional Optimism with Life’s Simple 7’s Cardiovascular Health Index: Results from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) Sociocultural Ancillary Study (SCAS).” BMJ Open, vol. 8, no. 3, Mar. 2018, p. e019434, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019434.
Hernandez, Rosalba, Kiarri N. Kershaw, et al. “Optimism and Cardiovascular Health: Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).” Health Behavior and Policy Review, vol. 2, no. 1, Jan. 2015, pp. 62–73, https://doi.org/10.14485/HBPR.2.1.6.
Hingle, Melanie D., et al. “Optimism and Diet Quality in the Women’s Health Initiative.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 114, no. 7, July 2014, pp. 1036–45, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.018.
James, Peter, et al. “Optimism and Healthy Aging in Women.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 56, no. 1, Jan. 2019, pp. 116–24, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2018.07.037.
Levine, Glenn N., et al. “Psychological Health, Well-Being, and the Mind-Heart-Body Connection: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association.” Circulation, vol. 143, no. 10, Mar. 2021, pp. e763–83, https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000947.
Pänkäläinen, Mikko, et al. “Pessimism and Risk of Death from Coronary Heart Disease among Middle-Aged and Older Finns: An Eleven-Year Follow-up Study.” BMC Public Health, vol. 16, no. 1, Nov. 2016, p. 1124, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-016-3764-8.
Rozanski, Alan, et al. “Association of Optimism With Cardiovascular Events and All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” JAMA Network Open, vol. 2, no. 9, Sept. 2019, p. e1912200, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.12200.
Sims, Mario, et al. “Optimism and Cardiovascular Health among African Americans in the Jackson Heart Study.” Preventive Medicine, vol. 129, Dec. 2019, p. 105826, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2019.105826.
Tindle, Hilary A., et al. “Optimism, Cynical Hostility, and Incident Coronary Heart Disease and Mortality in the Women’s Health Initiative.” Circulation, vol. 120, no. 8, Aug. 2009, pp. 656–62, https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.827642.
World Health Organisation. Mental Health: Strengthening Our Response. 17 June 2022, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response.
Zinn, Howard. “The Optimism of Uncertainty.” The Nation, 2 Sept. 2004, https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/optimism-uncertainty/.
What does it mean for a person to function at their peak? Peak performance means that all basic needs are met so the mind and body are nourished, which allows for the highest level of success. It’s about long-term, consistent, and sustainable growth.
Often, peak performance is a term used in the athletics world. Athletes are in a constant cycle of training and recovery, learning their body’s cues in order to perform their best in matches or competitions. But the same mentality and techniques can be applied to entrepreneurship, the business world, or to anyone who is striving to live their best life. Superhuman status is not just for the elite.
“Peak performance in life isn’t about succeeding all the time or even being happy all the time. It’s often about compensating, adjusting, and doing the best you can with what you have right now.” — Ken Ravizza, Sport PsychologistKen Ravizza, Sport Psychologist
The power of the to-do list
It may seem simple, but one way to achieve peak function is by writing down goals and to-do lists for accountability. The goals should be SMART goals: specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound. But a to-do list can include everything from long-term planning to what to accomplish before breakfast the next day. To-do lists help to organise the mind in a more linear fashion and create space to focus on the present moment rather than stressing about what’s to come.
It is also important to not rigidly adhere to a to-do list. Psychologists have found that a growth mindset is more indicative of long-term success and motivation. Part of being a highly successful person is learning to adapt to the inevitable fluctuations of life.
Mindfulness & mental health
Mindfulness and meditation can help with stress and the ability to remain calm under pressure. Prioritising mental health is equally important as physical health and the items on a to-do list. Goals are important, but they also need to be sustainable.
In fact, in a study in The Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, athletes who performed just twelve minutes of meditation a day showed higher mental resilience than those who didn’t. They also had more improved focus during training. Rest and recovery can often seem counterintuitive when schedules are jam-packed and the lists endless, but ultimately, taking the time to be present and slow down will lead to more effective results.
Diet, nutrition & sleep
A healthy diet, nutrition, and adequate sleep are essential to achieve peak performance. Sleep debt — fewer than seven hours of sleep — may be an ‘unrecognised, but likely critical factor in reaching peak performance’, says Cheri Mah, researcher at the Stanford Sleep Disorder Clinic and Research Laboratory. There is a strong correlation between diet and nutrition and quality of sleep. For example, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol negatively impact sleep, whereas eating a Mediterranean diet, and a diet high in Omega fatty acids, may lead to more restful sleep (Godos et al., 2019).
Many high performers work around their ‘peak performance hours’, which is the time of day when a person is most efficient based on the body’s chronotype and circadian rhythms. In other words, knowing whether one is a night owl, or a morning bird can help determine the day’s structure for optimal success.
The importance of deep work & flow
Lastly, the ability to be in flow is not only a factor in success but also happiness and overall life satisfaction. ‘Flow’, a term first coined by positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, refers to being completely immersed in the task at hand. It can be achieved by avoiding multitasking, focusing on quality of the work rather than doing as many things as fast as possible, and by doing a task that is enjoyable.
In the book, The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance, the authors explain that optimal focus also requires some level of stress. Too much stress will inhibit focus, and too little leads to a lack of motivation. To achieve deep flow, then, there needs to be some sense of urgency in the work. There needs to be a purpose driving the task.
Peak performance is not achieved overnight. It requires consistent practice, having clear goals, and holding oneself accountable, while also maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Anyone can achieve peak performance and success by implementing the right habits.
More on sleep
- “Studies show that reducing sleep by as little as 1.5 hours for even a single night could cause a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32 percent, while also doubling the person’s risk of sustaining an occupational injury.” (Read more)
- The Power of Sleep: Unlocking the Secrets to Success with Elite Sports Sleep Coach Nick Littlehales
- Cracking The Performance Code with Justin Roethlingshoefer
- Performance improvement lessons from leading sleep expert Pat Byrne
- The impact of sleep on performance with Motty Varghese