The Power of Full Engagement

"Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance."

- The Power of Full Engagement, page 4

The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr isn’t the first book on budgeting time and energy, and it won’t be the last. But it’s arguably one of the most important. We all have a growing number of things we want (or need) to try out. It could be that new project at work, or dance lessons, or that class you’re trying to ace. As co-author, Tony Schwartz, illustrates in an interview, time is not the best way to deal with this; time is finite. Comparatively, energy capacity can be expanded; you can add to your energy, and you can also restore and renew your energy.

The Power of Full Engagement centres around the athlete metaphor: in order to achieve high performance in our lives, we must constantly seek incremental improvements, and push beyond our normal limits by training in the systematic way that athletes do (reminiscent of the idea of deliberate practice originally posited by Geoff Calvin in Talent is Overrated).

Additionally, The Power of Full Engagement also reinforces the point of recovery and renewal and the essential role they both play in increasing energy capacity. That’s something we don’t hear every day.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

The Importance of Renewal

"The longer, more continuously, and later at night you work, the less efficient and more mistake-prone you become."
- The Power of Full Engagement, page 56

Whoa, back up. We’re not going to work into the night anymore? How am I supposed to keep up with the stuff I need to do?

The Power of Full Engagement highlights a series of studies revealing that shift workers who work nights have twice the number of highway accidents as day workers and considerably more on-the-job accidents as well.  While I’m almost certain that the decreased visibility at night is at least partially responsible for the increased number of highway accidents, I can hardly find a cause unrelated to fatigue that plays a part in the accidents that happened on the job.

Next time you’re working on that project, try not to work on the crucial parts late into the night. Or, take a nap/break and continue once you have been refreshed. Winston Churchill took an hour’s nap every day when he was leading Britain in the war. Here’s a more modern example of what happens when you don’t rest enough:

“To his surprise and frustration, his efforts were proving counterproductive. Longer hours and more intense commitment weren’t translating into more creative output…Given the firm’s exceptional earlier success, it was clear that the problem wasn’t a lack of talent or skill – either in Jake’s case or more broadly in the organization. It struck us that he was effectively trying too hard – pushing himself relentlessly to be more creative and productive, and doing the same to his staff. We suggested to Jake that he was spending too much mental energy without sufficient recovery, and that the answer might be to build in more down time to think in different ways, and to allow ideas to percolate” (page 98).

This finding is also mentioned by Jonah Lehrer, neuroscientist and author, who was recently talking about creativity with Stephen Colbert. He explained that the majority of people don’t make enough time to be creative. Less work can lead to increased results, especially in this niche (don’t sneer, this is what the Pareto Principle – aka the “80/20 Rule” –  is based on).

As the authors note: “It is not the intensity of energy expenditure that produces burnout, impaired performance and physical breakdown, but rather the duration of expenditure without recovery” (page 41).

Okay, so you get the point: Rest is important. How do we ensure that we are functioning at full mental capacity?

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Recovery Rituals

"Each time Ivan Lendl stepped up to the line to serve during a tennis match, he predictably wiped his brow with his wristband, knocked the head of his racquet against each of his heels, took sawdust from his pocket, bounced the ball four times and visualized where he intended to hit the ball. In the process, Lendl was recalibrating his energy: pushing away distraction, calming his physiology, focusing his attention, triggering reengagement and preparing his body to perform at its best. In effect, he was programming his internal computer. When the point began, the program ran automatically."
- The Power of Full Engagement, page 172

Similarly, The Power of Full Engagement highlights examples of things people like to do during breaks. Some people typically do yoga in their office, but the activities range drastically. Jake (from two quotes ago) painted for two hours in the morning a couple of times per week. Others walk downstairs and go get their shoes shined (literally, at a shop) and chat with friends in twenty minute increments.

What hobbies do you take great pleasure in, and how can you integrate them into your life? Take around a 15-20 minute break every 90-120 minutes, and make sure you are getting the renewal that you need.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

20-35 minutes of exercise, 3-5 times per week

"Because mind and body are so inextricably connected, even moderate physical exercise can increase cognitive capacity. It does so most simply by driving more blood and oxygen to the brain."
- The Power of Full Engagement, page 101

The mind’s abilities excel when it has more fuel. In this case, then, exercising doesn’t just function as an improvement to the body, but also serves to improve your cognitive abilities.

The following highlights just how crucial exercise is: “A research team at the University of Illinois set out to test the cognitive functioning of 124 women ages sixty to seventy-five who never or rarely exercised. The women were put on a three-day-a-week program that included either a brisk one-hour walk or an hour of gentle yoga-style stretching. In effect the exercisers were asked to push past their comfort zones physically, while the stretchers were not. After just six months, the walkers demonstrated 25 percent higher scores than the stretchers on a series of key cognitive tests” (page 101).

You don’t have to be an aspiring bodybuilder to take advantage of this mindhack: just simply start immersing yourself in more than 30 minutes of continuous exercise that challenges you (usually around 65% – 80% of max heart interval, but everyone’s different – and Actionable Books is not responsible for any adverse effects), 3-5 times per week.

The result is that you’ll have more energy when you wake up in the morning (which will sustain itself throughout the day), and you’ll be more present in both your personal and professional life.

Engagement means a more fulfilling life, and earning the ability to enjoy each moment. It means seizing the power of renewal, and re-igniting our physical bodies. Don’t just manage your time; manage your energy. The Power of Full Engagement will show you how.

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Herbert Lui

ABOUT Herbert Lui

Herbert Lui is exploring the intersection of entrepreneurship, art, and technology. He is passionate about writing and design, and believes in learning by doing...
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