The Four Basic Operations Of Energy

How To Increase Energy And Motivation

I haven’t met a person yet that wouldn’t say that they need more time.  It’s the one resource that we all have the same amount of.  Those same people usually wish they had more energy as well.  Time and energy are connected.  You get a fresh amount every day you wake up.  However, time, unlike energy,  is set, you get the same amount every day and can do nothing to alter that.  Like time, energy can be wasted, but it can also be recovered.  There are things you can do to improve your overall energy level every day.  Likewise, there are choices that you make that can drain your energy as well.  Energy is the fuel of motivation

I once attended a business sales seminar where the person was telling us how to pick our clients and our friends.   He drew 4 quadrants on a dry erase board and said there are 4 types of people in your life.  Those that add value, those that subtract value, those that multiply and divide value.   The people who add and multiply value are those life-giving relationships that make life worth living.  While the people on the other end are EGRs (extra grace required).   A customer having a bad day might be a subtractor whereas that mooching family member might be a “divider.” Literally and figuratively often.

Energy Needs To Be Stewarded

I believe that these quadrants represent the energy needed in these relationships.   Like relationships, energy needs to be stewarded.   We can’t always pick what we have to do daily but if we know what drains us and what gives us energy we can often manage it and arrange our day.   In addition, to tasks, there is often time periods that affect our energy levels.  Right after I become awake I usually have the most energy all day.  Whereas any task around 1 PM to 3 PM is going to take longer and feel like it requires more effort from me.   Others reading this might have more energy at night and so on.   To help you identify these basic operations of energy you simply need to look at your motivation to complete or participate in each activity.

The Four Basic Operations Of Energy


If we were to do an energy audit this the type of activities that often fill our day.  Dropping the kids off at school, making lunch, finishing up that spreadsheet, going to back to back meetings, the list goes on.  Subtractive energy happens in an activity that you drains you.   It’s not that you don’t like it.   It could be something you enjoy.   You can do it, but at a cost.   For most people that might be something like answering a question that seems obvious.  You tell yourself you don’t mind answering the question but it drains you to do it.   For introverts, it can be meetings or certain conversations.  Often this can be a task that you used to enjoy but have mastered and become bored with.  This is the hardest energy drainer to identify because it’s usually part of your day to day routine.  It’s often something that you can’t avoid.  However, you can arrange the activities or minimize the activities to retain your energy.

If you’re a leader you can and should delegate these tasks.  Ideally, you’d delegate these tasks and activities to someone who enjoys them.    In many cases, these activities are unavoidable.   Sometimes these are activities that you do enjoy a great deal but drain your energy.

For me, an activity that requires effort and is draining are social gatherings.  During Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’m usually feeling pretty tired.  The family dinners and corporate gatherings are draining for me.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy them.  As someone who is introverted, it’s draining for me to around a small group of people.

Another example is playing the piano.  I love to continue to grow as a pianist.  I’m still a novice relatively speaking so the task requires a lot of energy to do.  I am often satisfied after a session but tired.


On the opposite end is the additive activities.  Typically these are activities that you enjoy.   Whereas subtractive energy tasks can be enjoyable but hard or not enjoyable and easy, additive energy activities are almost always something you enjoy doing.  Typically you do these really well.    Easy examples are pretty much any hobby.  You enjoy doing these things, many times you experience some happiness from them.  You might even feel a jolt of energy after doing it but it’s not going sustain you for days to come.

Hopefully, there are these activities all throughout your day.   For example, when I take a break I’ll often read a book or do an online class.  I love to learn so this recharges me a little bit.  It also takes my mind off of other activities.


The difference between additive and multiplicative can be found in your thoughts.  Multiplicative activities often will be found in your thoughts the night before.  The easiest example is often a vacation.  After a vacation where you do something that you chose to do to “relax” you often come back refreshed.  Even if you aren’t happy in your job, a good vacation can often reset your energy bar for a period of time.

For me, I love to write.  The day before a scheduled writing day I’m thinking about what I might write about.  What thoughts I have been pondering.   For me, I could write for 8 hours without a break and not feel exhausted when I’m done.    I love solitude.  The combination of solitude and being creative makes writing a multiplicative thing.

I know people that love parties and social gatherings.  They get hyped up for the gathering and are buzzing long after it’s over.  For others, it might only be when there is intense pressure or perhaps a challenge.

These are the activities you want to gravitate toward.  You could potentially build a career or even a life around them.


These are activities that should be avoided as much as possible.  Divisive activities are ones that can really drain you.  Easy examples of divorce or dealing with the loss of a loved one fall into this category.  However, in our day to day lives, there are activities that can really drain us.   A common complaint in the corporate world is meetings.  However, not all meetings are created equal.  There are some meetings that might be subtractive or even additive. However, it is such a common complaint that it’s safe to say many of them are divisive.  Not because of conflict but because they drain you.  It could be boring or perhaps the topic was revealed that the direction of the company was going opposite of your vision.

Easy examples are all negative.  When you feel you aren’t being listened to, when you have to redo a task, dealing with difficult coworkers or customers all of these are draining activities.

Secret Energy Sapper

There is one activity that we are all doing and it’s stealing our energy.    We feel like it’s an addictive activity, a small escape, but in reality, it’s stealing our life.  I’m talking about “scrolling” on social media.  This activity often gives you a small dose of dopamine to make you feel good about doing the activity but you feel worse after each use.  It’s addictive and divisive.

Next time I’ll cover how to do an energy audit so you can start to arrange your life around what gives you energy.

What are some things that energize you?


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