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Energy Assessment

Lesson 18 from: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

Bill Burnett, Dave Evans

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Lesson Info

18. Energy Assessment

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

In this lesson, the instructors discuss the concept of energy in relation to designing a well-lived, joyful life. They explain that the brain consumes a significant amount of energy, and where we focus our attention and spend our energy determines how we experience our day. The instructors introduce a simple tool, a worksheet, for assessing the energy of different activities in our lives. They encourage the students to list activities that they do regularly and map them on a scale of positive to negative energy. The instructors then discuss the concept of flow, where one is fully engaged and energized in an activity, and suggest looking for activities that bring about flow. They also provide strategies for managing energy, such as sequencing activities and changing the environment. The students then engage in a pair discussion to share their energy maps and potential solutions to energy-draining activities.


  1. What percentage of our body weight does the brain account for?

    The brain accounts for about 3% of our body weight.

  2. How much energy does the brain consume?

    The brain consumes about 25% of the energy we spend every day.

  3. What is flow?

    Flow is a state of complete engagement and energized focus in an activity.

  4. How can we manage our energy?

    We can manage our energy by sequencing activities and changing the environment.

  5. What is the purpose of the energy assessment tool?

    The energy assessment tool helps us understand how the energy in our lives is flowing and where we can make changes to improve our energy levels.

Next Lesson: Reflection Session

Lesson Info

Energy Assessment

It's a really interesting thing. In about 180 pound human being, there's this little squishy three pound ish sort of thing called your brain. It's about 3% of your body weight. You'd think, well, it's 3% of you body weight, takes about 3% of your energy to run. No, in fact the human brain, we need about 2000 calories a day in an average diet. At least in the US is 2000 calories. And I've been doing about 2400. Need to work on that. But in that 2000 calories, 500 calories go to running your brain. Your brain takes up 25% of the energy you spend every day. You eat mostly to keep your brain moving. And so it's really interesting that this little, you know, it's only 3% of your body, but it takes up 25% of your energy. So where we put our attention, where we spend our attention, our brain energy, is actually how we experience our day. And we got a really simple tool. You've got the worksheet. It's a worksheet looks like this. Things can be positive energy experiences. They can be negative ...

energy. Again, this is subjective like our first dashboard. If when I do something, when I'm done with, I'm even more energized than when I started, like teaching this class will be that for us. Then it's a high energy thing. If I do it and that end of it I'm kind of drained, or I'm just feeling really low, it's a low energy activity. So on that worksheet, I want you to list ... And typically what I do is I just look at my day timer or my calendar on my phone and I go, "What do I do all week?" Every week I have activities that I do. Some of them are repetitive. Or if that doesn't work, do a longer thing, do a month. And write down the energy things, the activities that you do over here, and then I'm gonna ask you to map them. But first just write them down. I wrote these down. I do an art class once a week, I have a budget meeting because I have to run the group, I have to do budgets. I do office hours, faculty meeting, workout, teaching, you get the idea, those are things I do almost every week or every other week. They're just activities. So I want you to write down activities that you do that are substantial, take a certain amount of time in your week or your month. Get about six or eight of those. No judgements yet. Just make a list. Just stuff you do. I have a date night with my wife every other week. I coach my master students. What do you do? What's your week or your month look like? This is a very simple sort of assessment tool. You can do this almost at any point in time, particularly when you feel like, wow something's out of balance, I seem like I'm drained. At the end of every week I'm just exhausted. Or at the end of every project I'm exhausted. Spending a lot of time with Power Point. What's going on, yeah. So let's assume you have a list of those and I can just keep talking while you're making that list. I want you to put it on the timeline. This is sort of, well it's not really a timeline. Just, you know, events that occur. But actually it's, I put it in ... It's actually good if you sort of put it in the order in which it occurs. So I have an art class on every Monday night. Every Monday night I go to a little studio over in the Mission and I draw naked people for three hours. It's fantastic. (class laughs) It's amazing. The drawing. I've never had a figure drawing class and that was something I wanted to challenge myself with. It's fantastic, a lot of energy. Budget meetings, I hate budget meetings. They suck. Office hours. I love talking to my students, it's fantastic. Faculty meetings, you know, I work with some of the top roboticists and medical haptics people and some of the top computer scientists in the world and we have a faculty meeting, we're talking about that stuff, it's amazing. And we have a faculty meeting and someone's saying, "Who forgot to write down how many copies you copied on the copier because we're $20 out of balance." Just something, it's a waste of time. So it's kind of a plus and minus. I like my workout, I like teaching, hate house cleaning, love date night. And this was interesting. Masters coaching my masters students, the students that I actually admit to the program. I have a coaching session with them once a week on their thesis projects and I noticed, huh, that's kind of a bummer for me. So you do the same thing. The scale is sort of lots of energy's higher than less. Lots of negative is lower than ... less. Just subjectively place those on a scale kind of in the order in which they happen in your life and map are they positive, negative, neutral. Don't agonize about it, just sort of ... Get 'em on there. And again, you can do this assessment once a month. Just as a quick, you know, it's a ten minute exercise to understand how's the energy in your life flowing? How is the attention of this 500 calorie brain burning all that energy? What's it spending it's time on? And does it feel more or less energized? So the next piece is, what do you notice about these energy patterns? And then, you know, what could we do about them if we see something that we don't like. So one of the things I noticed is of course, my art class is the highest energy thing. I find myself in states of flow. Now this is sort of a technical term and it was a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He studied this. Flow is that state where you're working on something and you're really engaged and time seems to stand still and you get a lot of energy out of it and you look up and go, "Whoa, it's 1:00 in the morning, what happened?" You know? I find that happens in the studio for me or in the drawing class. The class is over and I'm not even ready to stop, right? So flow states are something to look for. If you find yourself in states of flow often, you will experience things as pretty meaningful. Budget meeting sucks, it always does. The other one that was kind of interesting for me is why do I not like my masters students? These are the students I admitted. And we're working on projects that I think are great. That's actually your favorite thing, Bill. It's my favorite thing and it was a really energy downer. So you know, I want you to look at those things and notice what's going on. And then what, the question you have to ask yourself is, what is it, what's relatively accessible to change, either about the thing itself or how you do it. So there's two ways you can make a really simple change in your energy diagram. So for instance I noticed my budget meetings is always in negative. But I am the Executive Director of the program. I have to do budgets every week. The university wants to know how much money we spent. So that's not something I can just say, "I don't do that." I can't delegate that out. So what I do now is I move my budget meetings to always be between my workout and a class. Because then I've surrounded negative with two positives and it can kind of neutrals out. At the end of the week I don't remember the budget meeting. I remember that amazing interaction I had with student. Right? So that was one. Just sequencing. Sequencing is a way to change the map. And the other one is masters coaching. So I should really like this and then I realized, oh you know what? We're doing this in the studio. We have a studio at Stanford called The Loft. It's a crazy place where all the students have all their stuff all over the place. But it's kind of their space and it's really noisey and it's really distracting, and I was trying to coach in their loft spaces and that wasn't working. I didn't wanna bring them to my office, cause now we're in my space and we can't have a conversation as peers. So I do what Dave does. There's a patio outside the coffee house and we go there and I buy my cup of coffee and we have a conversation. And now masters coaching is almost the state of flow. Because I'm working with my best students in an environment that works for all of us, for both of us. And they like it better too by the way. So you can change the sequence and you can change the place. So take a look at your diagram and see what relatively small changes either in sequence or place that you might be able to make, which will turn a negative into a positive or leave you net at the end of the week with more energy. Give that about a couple of minutes of thinking. Simple change. We're looking for stuff that's really accessible. Yeah, low bar, easy to change. I wanna put you in pairs now so just, can you talk to the person right next to you. Just fine if that's a pair you've been in before. I want you to go in pairs and talk to each other about the map. If you came up with a way of solving one of your problems maybe share it with the other person. That could be useful for them. But just talk ... Or if you've got a problem on your map and you go, I don't really know what to do about this, maybe that person has an idea for you. Yeah, so work together to compare your energy maps and just see what comes up for you. (classroom chatter) Okay so my three big energy drainers that I could think of was when, so I consult, I freelance, so I have to do my own business admin stuff. And I hate that stuff with a passion. Mm. And so one thing that I thought of was, well one, I need to actually do it more regularly and that actually helps alleviate some of the distress around it cause then it piles up and piles up if I don't. Yeah yeah. So I actually doing it more regularly helps- Like normalize it. Normalize it. Yep. And then also the idea of maybe giving myself a reward at the end of every time I do it. Uh-huh. Like every time I do my admin, I'm gonna get myself an ice cream or something, you know? Or do it with ice cream (both laughing) Oh, yeah. Do my books and have some ice cream. Cause you could still change your place ... There ya go. Go to an ice cream shop. Get yourself a shake. There ya go. And then just ... Right, And then house cleaning and maybe like hiring a house cleaner every few months. Oh Like a professional one. To like a deep clean. Yeah like a deep clean. Yeah. Like do my regular cleanings but then have like really one You maintain. Yeah. Deep clean. Exactly, they can get all the corners and all the under the bed stuff that I don't get. Yeah yeah. And some work admin stuff that I don't like as well but eventually I'll get to a place where I can delegate that out. Yeah. That would be great so. That would be good. Yeah. Nice. That's me. Ugh, my biggest negatives were, or energy draining things was cost and actually project management with a client. (laughs) (laughing) Your job. That was ... There's like project management and document control like about formwork and inputting and ... And then also team management, you know? Like dealing with like little petty arguments- Sure. Between people and stuff. Oh oh all right. So my thought on that was like if I'm doing the cost or document control type stuff, maybe, kind of like you said, whether I talk to my exec and do that at home or ... Mmm. Or at place where, hey, I just want you to know I'm gonna be at the beach. Yeah (laughing). At a coffee shop that I go to a lot. But I'm gonna still do it. Hey man, that's where I'm gonna be, call me. I can drop by the meeting, I'll be right back. Or and then with team management thing, I think it's more of hey, let's go to lunch and have our staff meetings or let's go to dinner and have our staff meetings or breakfast. Mmm. Instead of like k, let's go sit in the conference room. Yeah. I hate conference rooms. And I'll just like run through you know, a spreadsheet of the actions. Yeah. You know, and like I've also noticed that, you know, my exec, he likes to just send out lists of hey, here's what everybody has to do. We're gonna talk about it. Oh man. Instead of like just combining, like maybe making the tool like ... Hmm. Cause that's draining. Oh my gosh yeah. Do you have to read through Someone telling you all the time, that whole thing? Like hey, you're not doing this. So let me manage your job for you, it's like ... Yeah. Well hey, look. Very disempowering. Here's the things the team has to do. Make sure you both get a chance to talk. Let's talk about them and see who's most best fit for it. Yep. Or who wants to do it. Yep. And then go from there and like talk about that at lunch instead of like just getting grinded at. Right, right. Like thrown at you. Yeah. Any questions on the idea of managing your energy this way or observations that came up. Ways that you found to move something around that worked for you. Any takeaways? Yes. Insights, takeaways, or questions? Yeah. So I, I consult, I freelance, I have my own business and I get really drained by business admin. Uh-huh. And so the idea of, well actually, maybe doing it more regularly instead of procrastinating actually will help. In smaller chunks so there's not so- Smaller chunks and then also something like reward myself with an ice cream at the end of it or something like that at the end of it. Yeah, great. Okay. Now on that one, at some risk, I will share an example from one of our clients actually. I was doing a debrief and they had done this exercise, I said, "I did this thing and I found there's all this admin stuff I have to do." There's a person who works in a large corporation and part of her job is to write reports, you know, and I just hate that thing. And I was sharing with a friend and, you know, another colleague, and I said, "I just hate this. I don't know what to do about it. Can you give me any tips?" And the colleague says, "Well why don't you just not do it?" (students laughing) And she goes, "I can't, that's part of my job," and he says, "Are you sure? Try it." So she prototyped just not writing any reports for two weeks. (students laughing) Nobody complained. (louder laughter She kept not writing reports for a month. Nobody complained. Then she went to her boss and said, "Would you mind if I stopped writing the reports that no one reads?" And he goes, "Okay." (students laughing) Now, I can't promise you that'll work. But sometimes, you know it's not that hard. You gotta send out your invoices. Yeah that's true. Any other ideas or questions? Yep. I find the things that I don't like to do if I do them with somebody else, if that's possible- Absolutely There you go. It's a lot more enjoyable. Buddy up with somebody. Keep the energy together. Even if you're just parallel processing. You can make it more social. Yeah. It's a great idea. Make them do it. Yes. One of my biggest energy drainers was calling home. So calling back to Australia and you get like two weeks worth of like bad news or just like your life and people just wanting to talk at you so I was like can you combine that with something positive. So it's like if I was exercising or if I was exploring San Francisco and walking around, could I then at the end of it go, wow I went on a four kilometer walk whilst dealing with problems at home. So it was like, you know. Can you still be there and support a family but have something positive that you feel like you've done right, you know, good with. Okay. Fantastic. Good idea. You know, the, again, there's a high correlation between what you spend your time and attention on and how you feel at the end of the day. And it's not just about it ... It's not like just wear rose colored glasses and everything will be good. There's stuff you have to do and stuff you have to get done. But if you look at the energy that comes in and out of your day or your week it will give you a much better sense of where your engagement is high and where it's low. The sequencing of things is important. Also, the place in which you do things is important. We were very careful to set this space up to be the kind of place we could create in. And energy engagement are highly correlated to attention and to meaning, what you actually spend your time on all the time. What you attend to is in fact the experience of your reality so. And know most of the online users of course will be doing this sort of, you know, module at a time and it wouldn't have to, but for those of you who've been with us all day long, we very intentionally made the energy assessment tool the very last thing we did. It's not the most logical thing to do at the end of the day. But, you know, when we scrub our curriculum and we develop these things, we don't just look at logic, we don't just look at usefulness. Our final scrub as we call it, on curriculum development is always and what's the energy? These are human beings. Maybe the last thing we had to do is like the energizing fun thing at the end of the day. So the whole point being, you know, you are an animal and you consume and use energy and we wanna make sure you're doing that well.

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A fantastic class for someone seeking to optimize their life for a greater sense of satisfaction and especially for someone who is considering a career transition. We are taught effective methods for brainstorming, examining, and prototyping our options, and we are given an approach for the hardest task of all: how to make a choice when faced with multiple good options! Also great tips for networking and getting your foot in the door. This class was very timely for me as I've been struggling with making a decision on what my next career was going to be. I now feel equipped with tools that will help me make that decision with less agony and more fun! Also, I'm a huge fan of design thinking, so it was great to see how that methodology could be applied to making one of the most important decisions in our life.

Karen Vitto

Great course! Great for who like me is on their 30's starting life in a new country with a new language and have been out of the industry for 4 years. Designing new goals, making new networking and starting a MBA for some updates on my carrear. Really helped with some focus. Super recommend!


Loved this class! It was high energy, fast paced and well organized, as well as inspiring. It helped me to make more concrete things I've been thinking and dreaming about. I'm so glad I took it. I made great contacts and will definitely use this material in the future!

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