Review: The Power of Full Engagement

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance or other book of interest. Also available is a complete list of the hundreds of book reviews that have appeared on The Simple Dollar over the years.

The Power of Full EngagementAs many long-time readers of The Simple Dollar know, I’m quite focused on time management practices. Without good time management skills, I would have never been able to get The Simple Dollar off the ground.

One particular facet of time management was always a challenge for me, though. I would always find that I was more productive on some days than others and at some times of the day as opposed to others. I also began to realize that there were other factors tied heavily to my productivity: the amount of sleep I got the last few nights, whether I forgot to take medications, and so on.

Eventually, I began to realize that energy management was in a lot of ways as important as time management, and that’s exactly the philosophy described in this book, The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.

Fully Engaged: Energy, Not Time, Is Our Most Precious Resource
The basic premise of the book is that people are most productive when they go through periods of high stress followed by periods of renewal. This is in contrast to the typical idea of time management in which everything is approached like a marathon with a consistent level of stress throughout. The problem with that route is that it doesn’t account for your natural fluctuations in energy. It eventually leads to “burnout” or significant disengagement (you’re just collecting a paycheck).

The Disengaged Life of Roger B.
Roger B. is a person who spends so much of his time responding to external stimuli (the incessant demands of his job, a busy family, community responsibilities) that he’s essentially burnt out on everything and isn’t giving good performance in any area of his life. This is mostly because he never takes time for himself to genuinely relax and figure out what he wants out of life. I’ll admit that pieces of the story sounded incredibly familiar to me.

The Pulse of High Performance: Balancing Stress and Recovery
The key idea in this book is that best way to really perform well in any area of your life is to stress that area hard, then follow that period with a respite that’s free from stress. That doesn’t mean being on call or just having low stress. It means time to recover and rethink. It means a genuine period of rest and reflection and regrowth without a continuation of the stress. A great sports champion doesn’t play nonstop. Why should a great writer or a great employee?

Physical Energy: Fueling the Fire
The authors start off by looking at physical energy, heavily looking at physical fitness as a way to build up physical energy. They recommend that people train by working very hard for periods, followed by periods of almost no work at all. Stress your body nearly to the point of breaking, let it rest and recover, then repeat. This will make your body stronger.

Emotional Energy: Transforming Threat into Challenge
A similar theme – stress, rejuvenation, repeat – pops up again here when looking at emotional energy. Rather than facing a steady ongoing level of emotional stress, you should look at that consistent threat as a challenge and tackle it head on. Yes, this will cause a great deal of stress at once, but resolving that issue will reduce your stress over the long term.

Mental Energy: Appropriate Focus and Realistic Optimism
You can’t just focus mentally on one thing all of the time. You also can’t focus entirely on what others insist that you focus on. You have to spend at least some of your time doing what you want to do, unwinding from the tightness that you’ve built up. Without that unwinding, you’re unable to keep the things you need to focus on in your life in perspective and you’re unable to determine what’s realistic regarding them.

Spiritual Energy: He Who Has a Way to Live
Here, the authors argue that much of the ongoing stress in our lives comes from living in a way that isn’t in accordance to the values we have, whatever they may be. Often, living in accordance to those values means occasional peaks of stress (when doing something that’s hard) followed by a sense of peace and ease of living because those values guide you. You aren’t doing things that are wrong to you, making life easier to handle.

Defining Purpose: The Rules of Engagement
So, how do you really get started on this? The authors say that the foundation of all of this is purpose. Why are you here? What do you want to do with your life? What’s the destination? On top of that are your values, which guide you to that purpose. You move toward that purpose by simply taking on challenges in your life head-on, then taking genuine breaks where you turn off that cell phone.

Face the Truth: How Are You Managing Your Energy Now?
It’s often hard to face the real challenges in our life. We tend to take shortcuts that work well in the short term, but fail us in the long term. We keep up a wall at work. We take a pessimistic, snarky attitude about things. The list goes on and on. However, if we take that short-term heat head on and face the truth of our situation, we can move onto a path that actually makes life easier.

Taking Action: The Power of Positive Rituals
How do you keep going on this path? The authors suggest positive rituals. All of us have a morning ritual where we go through certain actions automatically each day. If you want to move toward the big goals in your life, you need to add to your daily rituals. Make going for a walk each day “normal.” Make working on your novel a bit each day “normal.”

Is The Power of Full Engagement Worth Reading?
I felt that The Power of Full Engagement offered up a powerful perspective on managing one’s time and energy. The idea of bearing down on particular things then alternating them with a rest period is a powerful one. The book also does a great job of walking through the ramifications of that perspective in different dimensions of life.

If you’re finding it difficult to achieve the things you want to achieve in life, The Power of Full Engagement is well worth a read. I found lots of food for thought in those pages, which is the most I can really ask for from a book.

Check out additional reviews and notes of The Power of Full Engagement on

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

Loading Disqus Comments ...