Designing your life for "energized time"

I believe that time is all we have and how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Well...until someone recently introduced me to the concept of "energized time". 

Let's say you want to create more time for a project. So you reduce family dinner time and sleep time by 30 mins. It works well for a couple of days. But after that initial gain, you start feeling less productive or energized during your project time. I think we all intuitively understand and agree with this. 

So it isn't just time that matters. How we feel during that time matters too. 

So now I believe that "energized time" is all we have. 

Understanding Energized Time

Life is a series of activities - things you think and do, and also how, where, and with who. 

Your energy levels - physical, mental, and emotional -  vary because of the activities. Higher energy levels mean you feel present, lucid, sharp, at ease, happy, and ready to run a mile. There are recharging activities that increase your energy and consuming activities that decrease your energy. For most activities, the marginal effect on energy decreases or even reverses over a prolonged length of time.  For e.g.: socializing for 30 mins can be energizing while doing it for 3 hours can be exhausting. 

Let's illustrate with a simple day. 

You wake up with higher energy after sleep, feel fresh after a shower and coffee. Then you get to work, and through the 8-hour workday, your energy levels spike up and down but drop on an average. They pick up again after you do a quick workout and enjoy dinner and entertainment with friends or family. 

The output and quality of any activity is a function of the area under its line (energy X time). Your work output is a function of the area under the work line. Your overall output and quality of life experience are a function of your overall energized time, which is the area under the entire line through the course of your life. 

So higher energy levels boost your output and quality of life, which is a great outcome. Now the question is how to influence it.  

Let's say you are in the middle of a tough project with a hard deadline and you decide to sleep only 5 hours instead of your regular 8 and work extra hours. 

Your work time is longer, but your overall energy and therefore your output is similar or even lower. You also end your day with lower energy, which will cascade onto the next day. If you keep this up over multiple days or weeks, you'd probably fall sick or burn out. Skipping or reducing exercise, social activity, entertainment, etc. will also have a similar effect (this is probably a key reason why a lot of us feel more stressed and blah during this pandemic and lockdown). On the flip side, if you sleep or relax too much (say 10 hours instead of 8 hours of sleep), then our energy levels may not increase proportionally or even decrease and we lose time for other energy-boosting or output-producing activities. If you don't do anything productive or purposeful, your energy level will probably drop as well. 

Let's say you decide to optimize for energized time. Instead of a continuous 8-hour block of work, you do a mid-day workout. 

Your overall energy levels go up, your work output increases (there may be a hit because of context switch), and you are chirpier during dinner! That's a good example of how designing and rearranging your activities can lead to more energized time. You can throw in other recharging activities like breaks or walks, change the environment or how you do an activity -- maybe use a comfortable chair or well-lit room, sleeping in a more comfy bed, etc.

There are similar energy level patterns at a week or year scale (fractal). If you don't engage in regular recharge activities through the week or years, your energy levels likely drop. 


Designing for more Energized Time

1. Deliberately plan for "energized time", not just time. By default, it is suboptimal. You have to reflect every day or week on your energy levels and plan thoughtfully for the next day/week. You can add or increase energizing activities, reduce de-energizing activities, change how and where you do the activity, or reconfigure your day. 

2. Explore, observe, understand the energy effects of different activities, and environments - what adds or removes energy, how that changes with time of day, environment, or lengths of time. Then experiment!

3. Listen to your body. If you constantly feel low-energy or drained, don't keep pushing. Take a pause, get back to higher energy levels, and redesign.

4. Increase your baseline energy levels. Just the good old grandma's advice - eat healthy, drink water, exercise, sleep well, don't worry, be happy and optimistic. 


I think this illustration captures the general idea quite well.