Energy a fundamental concept in time management

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Photo by Natalya Letunova on Unsplash

Energy is a basic concept in physics, but not only. In project and time management energy is essential to move from one state to another.

Understanding energy is key to get the subtleties in project management. If energy is well managed, your life and your teams will be.

A few weeks ago a co-worker came to give a presentation to my team. Wow! It was very well prepared and presented. In one story in his talked, I felt he well describes the concept of energy in our life. 

The concept of spoons

Here’s the story, one day he was with his friends at a restaurant and one of them asked to another friend.

“What’s it like to live with lupus?”

She looks at them, thinks a little and gets up. She picks up all the spoons around her. Everybody wondered what is happening. She comes back, everybody’s intrigued, and she puts all the spoons on the table next to each other and she starts.

la theorie de l'énergie en gestion de projet

Photo by Ema Grec on Unsplash

When I get up in the morning sooner than my body would have liked, it costs me a spoon, and she takes it off from the table. Take a shower, it cost a spoon. Go to work 1 or 2 spoons if there is traffic. Then work costs me a few spoons, and if I have difficult meetings or difficult conversations, it costs me even more spoons.

Many times when I finish my day at work, I only have a few spoons left. I’m lucky if I have three left. So I can go home, eat and shower. However, it is not uncommon for her to have to choose between eating and bathing.

She goes on to explain two important concepts:

  1. She never knows how many spoons she will have in the morning when she gets up
  2. It is important not to borrow next day the spoons, as it mortgages the day and she never knows how many spoons she will have.

This story has spoken to me. It is extremely visual.

We certainly have more spoons than people with extraordinary conditions, but we all have an amount of energy available, it’s not unlimited. Our energy is not unlimited and many things can cause it to fluctuate.

The Law of Least Effort—Minimum Energy

This is not a expression that comes out of the blue. It comes from the fact that any system tends to minimize its energy level. Which means, minimizing the amount needed to maintain a condition.

Look at the image below, it nicely illustrates the concept of minimum energy state. The image shows the idea that there are local minimums. Sometimes, it is not easy to find the absolute minimum of a system and you have to go through several states to get there.

We can consider that we are also a system and we are also constantly working towards our minimum state. In our case, what makes it more interesting is that our system is constantly evolving. Our minimum today will not be tomorrow’s minimum.

And besides, our minimum alone or in a group is not the same. For example, you walk with a friend, you will have to adjust your walking speed if we do not walk naturally at the same speed.

An example to illustrate the concept of minimum energy in our lives

You’ve probably heard of Daniel Kahneman’s famous book Thinking Fast and Slow. He explains very well the concept of minimum energy in chapter 3 of his book, The Lazy controller. For those who don’t know, here’s a quick summary.

There are two systems in our lives that help us be effective and make decisions. A system that thinks quickly and jumps to conclusions if no danger of error or danger is detected. This quick system is unable to answer a specific question. It will create short cuts to prevent the second more energy-intensive systems from getting involved. System 1 allows system 2 to be lazy. The combination of the two systems allows us to reach our minimum energy regarding our navigation in life.


  1. System 1 is automatic and instantaneous
  2. System 2 is conscious and time consuming

Here is a 2 min video version to explain the two systems.

Therefore, our mind tends towards minimum energy, allowing the more energy-intensive system 2 to be lazy and less engaged. However, there are more than benefits to this system. System 1 often takes the easy way and its interpretation of reality can be wrong.

The Notion of Speed and Wavelength

I mentioned speed and wavelengths in another article. To be on the same wavelength, we need to adjust our speed, and to do that we need energy.

  1. Accelerating demand energy,
  2. Braking burns energy, for example electric cars have understood and recharge batteries during braking.

So, to adjust to others we need energy. As much to accelerate as to slow down.

Another element is that we all have a preference for speed. For example, when we walk, it is quite obvious to notice when we have to accelerate or slow down to adapt to our partners relative to our normal speed. 

We not only have a natural walking speed, we also have a natural thinking speed, communication speed, interaction speed. Acknowledging our natural speed is essential because it allows us to understand why sometimes a situation requires so much energy.

Just think of your last conversation with someone who was speaking so slowly that you couldn’t keep up. We all have a preference for speed. And speed is displacement vs time again time is the key.

Our interests, our passions, our frequencies.

Another article explains that we are all pianos. Our interests, our passions, our expertise are in fact the frequencies that make us vibrate, our piano notes. 

Knowing your frequencies is understanding who you are, and it’s as important as understanding your natural velocity. Indeed, developing a new talent, discussing a subject that is foreign to us or not of interest to us will also cost us energy.

Daniel Kahneman explains this well in his book Thinking fast and slow, P35.

As you become skilled in a task, its demand for energy diminishes. Studies of the brain have shown that the pattern of activity associated with an action changes as skill increases, with fewer brain regions involved. Talent has similar effects. Highly intelligent individuals need less effort to solve the same problems, as indicated by both pupil and brain activity. A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical activity.


Why understand our energy level is so important

Some conclusions 

  1. We have a limited amount of energy :  number of spoons
  2. We are moving towards minimum state
  3. Analyzing and being conscious takes more time and energy
  4. Adjusting to be on the same wavelength as others takes energy
  5. Frequency adjustment also requires energy.

So changing state requires energy. Many elements of our lives require us to change state to align with others.

This is where the magic of the energy concept is so important, managing energy is  the basic of managing your time and your team.

When we are alone, our minimum energy will be different than when we are with others. Going from being alone to being with someone else changes in the system. A new system is created and a new search for a minimum energy level will probably be necessary.

For example, you are with your spouse, he wants to go to a restaurant, because he does not have the energy to prepare the meal and you do not want to go out, you too are exhausted. Finally, you decide to order and have yourself delivered. If your spouse was alone, he would have gone to the restaurant. Your new system does not have the same needs which create the new minimum energy state.

Energy is the concept that binds everything

Energy is therefore the element that connects all the concepts associated with our personality in project and time management.

  1. The x-axis is linked to our frequencies, interests and level of detail.
  2. The y-axis is related to the speed of change of state

Energy is essential to move around the grid and adjust to the rest of our team. Knowing your minimum energy state, our  default style is essential, as it helps us identify what to work on to align with others. 

If you are with someone who needs more details, you may need to learn from that person. If you are communicating with someone who needs more time to think before moving, we will have to adjust our speed.

In any case, the need for energy is essential if we want to adjust to others and get the most out of your team.

Managing your time and your project means managing your energy and finding the minimum energy state for everyone.


Next Steps

I hope you enjoyed this article and that it will help you in your time management and project management. If you have not already done so, I suggest you read:

  1. 4 personalities in project and time management
  2. Ask me my time distribution guide, it is excellent to strive precisely towards the minimum energy state.
  3. Take the time to observe your energy level during the day, week and year. Does it vary? What’s costing you a spoon?
  4. Subscribe to my blog to receive the next articles, they will talk about tips to increase your energy level.

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