Chapter 2. Energy

Find yourself all over the place? Busy rushing off endless tasks yet not feeling productive? Master the skill of managing your energy to optimize your output.


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00:01 | Hi. In this chapter, we’re going to talk about the first core element of focus: energy. It’s also the longest chapter in the Focus Workshop. Your skill of managing your energy is directly tied to your ability to get focused and stay focused. It’s an important skill because fundamentally, our life is the manifestation of where our energy flows.

00:26 | Let’s dive into the chapter with a research study carried out by a social psychologist Roy Baumeister. He’s also the author of the book Willpower. In 1996, Baumeister conducted a research together with his former colleagues to examine a tempting food challenge designed to deplete participant’s willpower. First, they teased 67 participants with freshly baked chocolate cookies. Then, part of the participants did get to indulge their sweet tooth, while the other part was asked to eat radish instead. After the food bait, while the participants thought the experiment was over, Baumeister and his team then gave them a second, seemingly unrelated puzzle to solve. And this was not any average puzzle, it was almost impossible to solve, purposely designed to test the persistence of the participants.

01:21 | Baumeister found that those who ate radishes made far fewer attempts and devoted less than half the time solving the puzzle before they gave up, compared to the chocolate-eating participants and a control group that only joined this latter phase of the study.

01:38 | This experiment has shown us something important. First, just like the participants, our energy is limited. Second, all forms of energy are inter-connected. Mental, physical, emotional, spiritual. These are the reasons why it’s harder to stick to your workout or to hold your temper when you’re feeling tired after a full day of work. The last insight is subtle, but it’s equally crucial. That our decision and action is never neutral. Every single decision we make and action we take consumes energy.

02:17 | When we connect three of these insights together, we found that opportunity cost is not only applicable in the economy but also in our day to day life. That said, when we spend energy on one thing, we can’t spend the same amount of energy on something else. And this further strengthens the importance of energy management.

02:39 | The first strategy to manage your energy is to have clarity on the big picture. And here, I’m going to show you the 25/5 rules originated by Warren Buffett. First, List 25 goals or things you want to accomplish in the next five years or in your lifetime. You can think of them by answering these three questions: What do I want to have? What do I want to do? And what do I want to be?

03:10 | I know these are not simple questions to answer. And I’m not expecting you to stumble upon it and come up with the answers in 5 minutes. Take some good amount of time to really think about them and list them down.

03:23 | Next, review the 25 items you just listed and circle the top five that matter the most to you. Now you have two lists. The top five list and the list with the remaining twenty. The top five list is what you want to spend your time and energy on right now. So, what about the other twenty? They are your A-A-A-C list. In other words, your avoid at all cost list.

03:51 | You see, it’s easy for us to want to have many things in work and life. But everything requires effort. The truth is, we have limited time and energy to work towards our goals. And there is where the 25/5 rules come in. It forces you to eliminate everything that is not your top priorities. What you want to do is never act upon your AAAC list until you’ve achieved your top-5 goals.

04:17 | I know it’s hard because the top 6 or 7 goals may be important to you too. But when they are not your top priorities, they become your distractions. And the most dangerous distraction is the one you love, but don’t love you back.

04:33 | As mentioned before, every decision and action consume energy. Therefore, the next thing you want to do is simple: Make fewer decisions. And it’s what I called decision minimalism.

04:48 | This is Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook. Have you noticed something special about Mark? Yes, he wore the same gray t-shirt, in almost every single public appearance. In 2014, he had his first-ever Q&A publicly. He answered many questions in that session, but one of the most interesting questions is this: “Why are you wearing the same t-shirt every day?” While everyone is expected a playful answer, Mark said this: Quote — I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community. — End quote.

05:33 | And here is the formula to practice decision minimalism: Eliminate, Automate, Delegate. Eliminate everything you don’t enjoy doing that is not important and not an obligation. For decisions and tasks that don’t enjoy doing but is important and is an obligation, automate it if it’s possible, and delegate if it can’t be automated. So, what is left for you to do? Things you enjoy doing and everything else that can’t be delegate and automate.

06:06 | Here is a flowchart of how the process should go. You can download this via the download link below this video. I know this isn’t easy. So start small. Start by eliminating unimportant decisions and tasks deliberately. Start by getting someone to clean your house if you hate it. And start by automating some low-stake decisions such as what to eat and where to eat.

06:32 | Before we move forward to the next section, let’s take a short break. Go and pause this video now. Stand up, stretch, take a walk. Come back to this five minutes later. Don’t worry, I’ll be here for you. Alright, how was the break? All good? Let’s move on.

07:02 | Now, I’m going to talk about multitasking. In a recent study, scientists in Paris discovered something interesting when they asked participants to complete two tasks at the same time while undergoing a brain scan. When the scientists told the group they would receive a larger reward for accurately completing one of the two tasks, they found that nerve cell activity increased in only one side of the prefrontal cortex. However, when the greater reward was associated with the other task, the other side became more active.

07:35 | These findings suggest that when there are two concurrent goals, the brain divides in half. But what’s more surprising is yet to come. When the scientists asked the participants to attempt yet another task, they found that the participants regularly forgot one of the three tasks they were asked to perform. The participants also made three times as many errors as they had made when attempting only two tasks.

08:02 | While the society encourages us to juggle multiple tasks at the same time, science proves that multitasking is nothing more than an illusion. What seems like doing multiple things at the same time is actually switching back-and-forth between tasks. And it’s called context switching.

08:20 | It causes the loss of productivity because it takes as long as 45 minutes for us to get back to the state of full engagement from a little distraction like a notification from your smartphone. And in the long run, it actually kills our ability to focus because think about it, it’s a practice of distractions. Practice makes perfect, practice wrongly makes you perfectly wrong.

08:49 | The biggest reason why people still multitask boils down to this: they can’t differentiate the characteristics of a task. Every task has two characteristics: Urgency and importance.

09:01 | Urgent tasks are what you need to get done now regardless it’s important or not. It’s something that requires our immediate attention. And thus, they sometimes feel important even if they actually not. We spend hours every week answering emails without thinking if it’s actually important. And we watch news that has nothing to do with us because, simply, it’s time-sensitive.

09:25 | On the other hand, important tasks are things that matter to you now or to your future. And again, not all important things are urgent. And thus sometimes, we ignore important things in our work and life merely because they are not urgent. Two great examples for this: taking good care of our body and participating in our children’s life.

09:48 | Then, at the intersection, some tasks are both urgent and important. Something we need to get done right now that contribute to what matters to us. There is no absolute right or wrong area you should or shouldn’t be focusing on. If you’re someone who gets motivated by deadlines, you’ll perform better when things are urgent. If you’re someone who plans your time around the work rather than fitting tasks into your timetable, you value the clarity you gain by focusing on the important tasks.

10:20 | But there are a few universal rules here to reduce multitasking and improve focus, First, regardless which type of person you are, spend the time to think about how important of the things you’re doing. This trains you to think long-term. And thinking long-term is the cure of multitasking.

10:39 | Next, whenever you feel like you have too little time for too many to-dos. Start by completing the most important ones first. Then, find ways to delegate those that are not. And after that, set up systems to automate them, so it doesn’t happen again. A good example would be setting up an FAQ page for your product or services (if you’re running a business), so you don’t need to answer the same pre-sell questions again and again. And lastly, eliminate everything that’s not important and not urgent.

11:13 | The next step to overcome multitasking and better manage our energy is by setting up a priority system. And the strategy I’m going to show you is what I called the Big-3 method.

11:26 | First, list every project you have at hand — both professional and personal. As a reminder, no decision or action is neutral. Everything consumes energy, and all forms of energy are interconnected. Too much work affects your personal life, and the opposite is true. So, when setting up your priority system, you need to count both professional projects and personal projects in.

11:52 | Next, review every project and go through them one-by-one to figure out if they are still relevant. You can do this by referring to your top-five goals. Whether they are urgent or important, and whether or not you can eliminate, delegate, or automate it. After reviewing and filtering the list, select three projects and place them into a “Now” section. For everything else, place them under a section called “Project queue.”

12:22 | It looks something like this. Then, put it somewhere you can see it every day. The “NOW’ section sets the theme for your days, weeks, and even months. And the “Project Queue” is what you may or may not do in the future. When you have a new idea, add them to your project queue, so it won’t interfere what you’re working on at the moment.

12:43 | The Big-three is similar to the 25/5 rules in a smaller scale. It draws a clear line and shows you what you should be focusing at the moment. When reviewing it daily, it sets the theme so you can mentally check in to what’s important right now, instead of letting your energy drained by endless new ideas and projects. It is useful in both individual and organizational level.

13:11 | Now, let me add a few more tips on how to better prioritize and reduce multitasking in organizations. First, reduce the number of open projects. Try not to get into a new project before an old project is completed. And only start a new project with sufficient preparation. Make everything clear and collect all necessary resources you need before you start a new project. Lastly, establish a system to put every team member on the same page.

13:44 | Alright, here comes another break. Pause this now. Get away from your desktop or mobile device. Come back after 5 minutes. Welcome back.

14:06 | There are two more things I want to cover in this chapter. We can’t get away with circadian rhythm when we’re talking about managing our energy. A circadian rhythm is a roughly 24-hour cycle in the physiological processes of living beings, including plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. Circadian rhythmicity is present in the sleeping and feeding patterns of animals, including human beings. There are also clear patterns of core body temperature, brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration, and other biological activities.

14:43 | That said, our energy level throughout the day is directly tied to the circadian rhythm too. As you can see this graph, our energy isn’t raising linearly during your sleep and dropping linearly when you’re awake. Instead, it’s a series of rise and fall throughout the day. And the best way to maximize our productivity is by scheduling tasks accordingly to our rhythm.

15:12 | Schedule energy taxing work that requires a high level of willpower, creativity, and critical thinking when your energy is at peak. On the other hand, do simple tasks or take a break when your energy is low.

15:27 | This rhythm also suggests that it’s more efficient for us to work in a sprint-stop-sprint mode with regular breaks, instead of working non-stop for long hours. And you can use the Pomodoro Technique to achieve this. It’s a technique originated by an engineer Francesco Cirillo.

15:47 | Here is how it works. Start by selecting a task you like to get done Then, set a timer to 25 minutes and start doing it. Eliminate all interruptions and engaged fully during the 25-minute period. When the timer rings, stop working and rest for 5 minutes. Do anything relaxing and non-work related. Repeat the process for 4 times. After the fourth sprint, take a longer rest — 15 minutes or more — until the next work-sprint.

16:21 | This technique works for almost everyone because it forces us to be fully engaged during the 25-minute work period. And it also encourages us to take regular short breaks to replenish our energy. When I’m implementing this technique, I get what usually took me 5 hours to complete done in only 2 hours.

16:44 | The last thing I have in this chapter is sleep. Sleeping is the big part of energy management. In the book Tools of Titans, where Tim Ferriss interview 200+ top performers in the world to learn their habits and routines, he states that more than 80% of these high achievers take their sleep seriously.

17:03 | It’s not a coincident because when we sleep, our brain flushes out the metabolism waste created by the brain activity during the day. This alone makes sleep extremely important without even looking at other functions and benefits of a good night sleep.

17:21 | I’m not a sleep expert. However, here are three tips I have for you to improve your sleep significantly. First, the length of sleep. The average range of an ideal amount of sleep is 6.5 hours to 8.5 hours. Asides from the amount of sleep, consistent sleep ritual plays a crucial role. Stick to a sleep schedule with the same bedtime and wake up time, including weekends.

17:50 | Next, optimize your sleep environment. The best temperature for a high-quality sleep is between 16°C to 18°C. At the same time, make sure your sleep environment is free from any noise and light that will disturb your sleep quality.

18:07 | And lastly, practice a before-bed ritual. Exercise during the day helps you sleep better at night. But try to avoid vigorous workout and energy consuming work a few hours before sleep. Practice a relaxing ritual an hour before bedtime also helps train your body and mind to shut down at the right time.

18:30 | That’s for this chapter. And I know it’s long. Feel free to rewatch it so you can fully understand the concepts and techniques to put them to good use. In the next chapter, we’re going to talk about the second element of focus: Stimulus.


  1. If you're interested in learning more about the research on ego depletion carried out by Roy Baumeister, here's the link to the research paper.
  2. Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney.
  3. Divided Representation of Concurrent Goals in the Human Frontal Lobes by Sylvain Charron and Etienne Koechlin.
  4. Pomodoro Technique is tardemarked by Francesco Cirillo and he has an entire course on how to use it (and become a certified trainer using it) on his website.
  5. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss