I often got asked by readers and friends: how come you have extra hours to do so many things: write two newsletters (Chinese and English), run two podcast shows (Chiwi Journal and A Paradise of Poems), publish novels (Chinese and English), found a business, work with clients from four continents, read 50+ books a year, play Fantasy Premier League game, translate well-known writers’ books in Chinese and still have ‘me’ time and social life?
My secret weapon is personal energy management.
Before I reveal the information, let’s look back to history to know who contributes to my secret formula.
Many historical figures with multi-talents made considerable achievements in more than one field of life. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, devoted his time to politics and government and was also a prolific writer and inventor and had interests in architecture, wine and birds.
Leonardo Da Vinci, the most talented polymath ever in history for his designs, art, cartography, geology, and anatomy, did various sketches in his notebooks that transformed the direction of human civilisation; Isaac Newton, a well-known physicist and mathematician, made contributions in philosopher and alchemist to unlocksome of nature’s greatest secrets…
The list goes on and on. Among all of them, Winston Churchill is the one I look upon the most because I can take the reference of his down-to-earth method of energy management and put them into my daily practice.
In his lifetime, Winston Churchill published more than 40 books with over 10 million words, won the Nobel Prize for Literature, painted 500+ pictures, and delivered 2,300+ speeches... And, of course, he was a busy politician who led Britain to victory in World War II.
Looking at Churchill’s daily routine:
He woke up, took a bath, and spent two hours writing and working. Around noon he greeted his wife (Churchill believed the secret to maintaining a good marriage was not to see your lover before noon) and enjoyed lunch.
After the meal, he took a walk around the house, fed swans and fish, then sat in silence and meditated or read poetry. Around 3 pm, he took a nap and woke up at 5 pm to spend time with his family.
Later, he would take a hot bath, dress for dinner around 8 pm, and continue writing or working before bed.
Day after day, year after year.
Apart from writing and working, Churchill developed two hobbies during the war to help him relieve stress and charge his energy: bricklaying and oil painting.
Although the skills would not reach the professional level, his hobbies provided him with a solitary mind to think clearly and cope with political disappointments when he was voted out of the parliament after WWII.
I learned from those great minds before me who genuinely believe in the power of daily routine and practice to cultivate a productive lifestyle. Here are my three tips to build up the energy management system that help me to achieve a productive lifestyle.
1. Calculate everyday time-spending with a value score
As Dan Heath said in his best-seller Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, we have to tackle the problem at its roots. In this case, we need to look at how we spend our time and where does our energy go and then decide how to use them more effectively.
First, let me share how I spend my day (based on the inspiration from Pieter Level’s blog) and how I value my daily activities (based on the excise from Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art School)
24 hours a day
7 hours of sleep = 17 hours remaining
1 hour to wash, dress, and coffee = 16 hours left
2 hours maintaining website/community channel + emails = 14 hours left
2 hours of walking and gym exercise = 12 hours remaining
1 hour grocery shopping or other chores = 11 hours remaining
2 hours chatting with friends and family = 9 hours remaining
1 hour of mealtime = 8 hours remaining
3 hours of deep work = 5 hours remaining
1 hour meditation and daydreaming = 4 hours remaining
2 hours of reading = 2 hours remaining
2 hours of entertainment (usually watching sports and movies) = 0 hours left
Once knowing our time allowance and the value of those activities, we can prioritise or arrange the time based on different projects and situations and follow our daily practice accordingly. Here comes my daily routine and practice:
When it comes to deep work, the bestselling author and peak performance expert Steven Kotler has summarised well in The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer.
We all heard about Flow State, but not many scholars could explain it as clearly as Kotler. He decodes the Flow State at its fundamental level with support evidence from neuroscience and psychology subjects. We have to master the 4-stage sequence to enter the Flow State:
2. Journaling and Meditation
It’s easy said than done to enter the Flow State. The best-seller author Nir Eyal shared in his book Indistractable how our emotions prevent us from doing deep work. The tactics include journaling and meditation.
Nir Eyal mentioned that all human behaviour is spurred by the desire to escape discomfort neurologically. Knowing our true feelings about specific scenarios is necessary to understand what we are running from to avoid energy drain.
I treat the journal as my trustworthy and loyal friend where I can express freely about everything. By consciously pouring out the thoughts and feelings from my head, I bring back to light what is buried deep in my heart. In addition to that, keeping a diary before bed has made me more disciplined and forged the habit of writing on paper instead of scrolling social media feeds that would disrupt my sleep.
In 2017, I got a chance to learn Transcendental Meditation and started to practise it every day. The most noticeable change from meditating is that I have become more aware of my energy flow. Those hidden and suppressed emotions that suck my energy up are finally coming out. It can be horrifying at the beginning of a few months of meditation because we have to confront those ugly things we avoided before.
Our distractions have a strong tie with emotion. We have to know the diversity of our feelings and what kind of pains we are trying to escape in order to maintain our energy level at a healthy status. As Sigmund Freud once said, “unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” Let’s be courageous and face them to cope with the problem at the root cause.
Last but not least, meditation is a long-term process, and just as the body needs to keep exercising to build muscle, the brain needs to keep meditating to develop awareness.
3. Build up a personal dashboard.
As the management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.” Once we understand our daily routine and know our energy consumption, it’s time to build up a personal dashboard to monitor and optimise our system.
I’d like to share three examples from my fellow 1729er and myself to showcase an example of how we build our personal dashboard:
If you are a high-agency person like me, here are my two cents on living a productive, ambitious and creative life.
Only one enemy stands in the way to prevent you from becoming who you are.
You know the answer, right? Just set yourself free by doing it, my friends!