Monday, June 3, 2019

Solve for Energy, not Time (part 1)

Over the past year and a bit, I've had a bit of a realisation around what's important to prioritise. This has been a lesson that's been building up over time, 'helped' by various events in my life including my experience with mental health, the recent loss of a loved one,  the observation of some of the healthy, happy and thriving older people in my life and what they had in common, and of course, my love of reading.



I think the first time I was really able to articulate this idea of solving for energy, not time, was when I did this quick interview for the McKinsey website. And since then, I'd call myself a passionate and vocal advocate of this idea.

The basic premise is this - a lot of time, we focus on how to manage our time to be able to dedicate this to the right activities. However, we should instead be focusing on how to be at our best energy, so that we can bring our best selves to whatever we do, personal or professional. This latter strategy has the benefit of not only being useful in the short run, but also in the long run.

I think we all derive our energy from different sources - and I'd encourage you to explore what these are - but there are some that are common and applicable to all, no matter who you are, like sleep, healthy eating, and regular physical activity.

I'll quickly talk through some of the things I make sure to make time for in order to optimise my short- and long-term energy - these fall under two main buckets: physical and mental.

Physical

Sleep: I recently read Matthew Walker's Why We Sleep, and it was a terrifying wake-up call (heh) to find out what the detrimental effects (again, short and long term) were of me NOT having healthy sleep habits!

Some quick, (hopefully) scary facts: 1) Sleep deprivation can lead to higher mortality, risk of cancer, heart disease, weight gain, rate of infection, Alzheimer's, irritability, inflammation, lower productivity, lower rational decision making and memory recall, lower emotional control, and lower immune system function; 2) Driving while sleepy can be worse than driving while drunk - while drunk, your response is delayed but while sleepy, if you have a 'microsleep', you may not react at all (driving after having slept less than 4 hours can increase risk of crashing by 11.5x); 3) Sleep can help improve long-term factual recall and 'muscle memory'; 4) Less than 1% of the population is able to survive on six hours of sleep and show minimal impairment; and 5) Less sleep causes immediate effects on productivity, as immediate as the very next day. Need I say more? You should DEFINITELY read the book.

Since reading it, I make it a point to start winding down for bed around 10 pm every weekday – this means putting down all electronic devices, reading a few chapters, maybe meditating a bit – to allow myself to get to sleep by 11. I've also tried to implement some of the other healthy sleep habits that Walker recommends.

Physical activity: I learnt this lesson a long time ago that if I miss a few days of physical exercise, I notice a marked difference in my well being – not just physical, but mental too. Since then, I’ve made it a goal to get some activity in every single day. If I can’t manage a full workout, then I need to get in at least 10 minutes of activity, even if it’s just a walk. Done is better than perfect – a ten minute walk I did do is better than a 60 minute workout that I missed, and again, science talks about the importance of not just doing regular physical exercise but also remaining physically active (going to the gym everyday doesn't help if I keep sitting the rest of the day without any activity at all).

My 90-year-old granddad has, for as long as I've known him, worked out every morning (and what this means has changed over the years), as well as walked every afternoon (intensity may have changed but not frequency). It's admirable to see how fit and relatively independent he is at this age - this proof was enough for me!

Nutrition: Still something I'm working to get right, so I won't say much here, but it's important to mention because it IS important.

Rest: I see this as a little different from sleep, although it may include sleep. Rest can mean recovery. It can mean making the time for short breaks between work. It can mean going for a quick walk to energise yourself. It could mean taking a sabbatical. I put this at the end because it can be a very 'mental' thing too. Basically, I've found that sprints vs. marathon allows me to be more productive, and that rest contributes to this productivity and efficiency (and yes, before you ask, this is also supported by science).

Keep an eye out for part 2, where I expound on the Mental aspects I referenced. 

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