The 4 Elements of Physical Energy and How to Master Them

“Manage your energy, not your time.” – Tony Schwartz

This is the quote that made Tony Schwartz famous. And it is one, that I believe best represents a truly efficient lifestyle the best.

And yet, living in a way where you “manage your energy, not your time” is incredibly hard, at least for me. It probably took me around 1 year just to fully grasp its meaning. Since then, I’ve turned my life upside down and changed my routine dramatically.

As we develop tools for better social media management here at Buffer, we use an informal line to help us make better decisions. It goes something like this:

“Working more is never the answer.”

Whenever we are struggling under more workload, the first thing is to stop what we’re doing and think about a better way to manage our energy, not to add more work hours to our days.

Schwartz famously proclaims in his book, that most of us are chasing the wrong resource: hours in the day. Instead, we should focus on something entirely different: our energy.

Our energy can be broken down in 4 different elements:

The order of how these energies are written down is not random by the way. But Tony gives them this specific order to guide us through developing our energies in the right way. And in doing so, your physical energy comes first, because it is naturally our base and foundation for any other energy or focus we want to develop.

So for this article, I wanted to break down all elements of physical energy as our most important foundation. Let’s dig in:

Your physical energy – how healthy are you?

Your physical energy naturally serves as the base, says Schwarz. It is going to be very tough to build out your other energies without taking care of your body first. What’s most interesting is that up until now, your physical energy is the most discounted element in our day to day lives.

To break it down further, how you arrive at optimal physical energy is through these 4 elements:

Nutrition – Do you keep a sustainable glucose level in your blood stream?

We’ve talked before about the importance of nutrition when it comes to productivity. After all, nutrition is your fuel. And yet, so many of us neglect what they eat every day gravely. Here is a typical graph of our glucose level, showing the difference between eating more sugar and less. From first sight it is clear that most of us base too much of their diet on the 3 big meal times throughout the day and get a similar spiky pattern of ups and downs:

To optimize your above graph, I wanted to pick out 3 most important parts to get your nutrition back to the level it might have once been:

Fitness – How well do you transport oxygen through your body?

The second element of great physical energy is how fit you are. Meaning, how much oxygen your blood stream can transport at any given time. And working on your fitness level doesn’t just come with great health benefits. It can serve as the most important element to change your life into the one you want:

Out of all possible habits and routines, the gym habit is by far the most powerful one writes Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit. The reason is simple: Going to gym creates something called a “cornerstone habit”. That means, you can build any other habit you want, around this habit. After you have a consistent fitness habit, you are basically ready to tackle any other challenge much easier.

In a powerful post from Leo Babauta, he addresses the 15 most common excuses to form a gym habit and how to work against them. Here are my 3 favorite ones:

And as the last help with this, exercising also makes us happier.


Sleep – Do you sleep enough to renew your body?

We’ve talked in depth about how much sleep you really need to renew your body overnight. And one of the key elements I keep coming back to myself is to focus on both light sleep and deep sleep in your sleep phases. Here is outline from sleep tracking app Zeo on how the average data on sleeping for its users looks like:

What is most interesting to know if your amount of sleep drops below the above mentioned level is this. The research on sleep shows that it changes our cognitive functions entirely:

“Working overtime doesn’t increase your output. It makes you stupid.”

The problem with not getting enough sleep is quite simply that we don’t know we aren’t getting enough. And the consequences can cost us dearly.

What I’ve personally started to experiment with, together with the whole Buffer team is to start tracking our sleep with the Jawbone UP fuelband:

It’s been an amazing help to get better sleep, and also know if you are getting the right kind of sleep. What I tried to optimize over the past few days was the amount of deep sleep I’m getting every night. The reason for this is that deep sleep serves as the most important element in your sleeping phase for renewing your brain cells and body cells. I’ll definitely have to do a more in depth article about my findings here. For now, here is my best sleep pattern yet where I got over 4hs of deep sleep:


Renewal – Renewing your energy levels within the day

Tony Schwartz talks about this last part as one of the most overlooked elements of our lives. Renewal that we get throughout our day. Yes, that’s right, if you are anything like me, that’s probably the last thing anyone does and yet, it couldn’t be any more important.

Fittingly he mentions that even the fastest racing car couldn’t win the race with at least one or two great pit stops. The same holds true for ourselves. If we don’t have “pit-stops” built into our days, there is now chance we can race at a high performance.

To better manage your renewal throughout the day, here are 2 quick ideas to help you get started:

Building up all 4 of these elements for a greater capacity of physical energy will build the base for getting better at whatever it is you want to improve, says Tony Schwartz.

What are your thoughts on physical energy? Are you working consistently to improving this element? I’d love your thoughts on this in the comments.