Approx. 3,800 words, 20-30 mins

(Photo credit – me. It’s my office in Chester.)

The Physical Quotient (PQ): Why Arbtech wants you to lift weights and sleep more

As a masters student and long-time reader of all things psychology, I’m going to kick this off with an uncomfortable truth: the strongest psychometric correlators with lifetime success outcomes in the workplace are IQ and something called ‘trait conscientiousness’. Almost no one likes hearing this. So, before you start on about how “everyone’s different” and “IQ tests can be flawed”, just take a breath.

Naturally, at the individual level (i.e., a single data point) your knee-jerk assessment is true. But, ladies and gentlemen, the world works in normal distributions. At the population level, these two articles (IQ and personality as explained by the five-factor model) predicting lifetime success outcomes in the workplace* are about the most statistically robust and valid concepts in all of social sciences. Indeed, they are more extensively studied and replicated than much of the medical literature. Consequently, if you don’t buy this, you can throw everything else out. And I mean everything. (If you chose that path—although I’ve not been down there myself—I’d hazard a guess that’s a fairly nihilistic place to be.)

*Maybe our individual, subjective definitions of success differ from the more objective and generalised definitions in the literature, but that’s another argument.

So, variously in the literature, IQ correlates with success (in the above context) as high as 0.6. Square that to get the variance and you have 0.36. The trait conscientiousness correl is about 0.4. Again, square that to get the variance and you have 0.16. Now we have 0.36+0.16=0.52. Or in other words, just over half of the variance in success is explained by what we might call “biological factors” aka, stuff you’re stuck with.

Why does any of this matter?

It matters because it’s not something most employers consider when recruiting, training and advancing their staff, and yet is WAY more relevant than the experience someone has, where their degree is from (with a few exceptions*), and or what they studied. Oh, and no one can control it or train it.

*‘Exceptions’ because there are (a few) institutions where you need to demonstrate above average IQ and conscientiousness to simply get in. MBA courses that insist you pass the general management admission test, or GMAT, and Oxbridge degree programmes are obvious examples.

What about EQ?

Instead of doing a poor job of explaining this myself, I’ll simply direct you to an epic rant by Harvard and Toronto clinical psychology professor, Dr Jordan Peterson, about EQ and why it doesn’t actually exist because it’s a made-up concept created by a journalist, here.

OK, so we can’t control IQ and personality, and there’s no such thing as EQ. What now?

Here’s something you can control: Your energy.

Sounds like waffle, but seriously, hear me out. If you’re not convinced, read it again. If you’re still not convinced, then comment below and we can have the conversation.

I’ve talked before about what I call the physical quotient, or PQ. You can read my thoughts on how that relates to leadership by clicking on the article link on my LinkedIn profile. This year, I’ve decided to double down on that concept by introducing not one, but THREE new benefits for employees at Arbtech. More on this later. First, I’m going to replicate an edited down excerpt from the book I wrote, Culture, which is about “how to be an Arbtecher”, as I think it explains the concept well and I’m not entirely sure that re-writing it would do it justice.

Here’s an edited down version of the chapter on Energy:

“Time management” is for idiots.

Manage your energy.

Whether you’re a gradate seeking to learn everything and prove yourself, or a senior manager with an impossible, horrendous workload, the method is the same: Prioritise, remove distractions, and focus your energy on what matters. Do the 20% that produces the 80%, and do it first (Pareto’s principle). Do nothing else until this is complete, and then, before you attack then next item, gather your energy.

  • Rest.
  • Stretch.
  • Eat properly.
  • Read something new.
  • Get outside and feel the sun on your face.

You get the idea. Expend your energy on what matters most. Then, instead of rushing through the next item on the to-do list, spare a thought for what helped you achieve that “matters most” in the first place: energy.

Energy is a function of what I think is the missing element in professional development, especially in leaders. I call this “PQ” (the physical quotient). The bottom line is, if you don’t manage your health, actively, your work will suffer. That said, “will”, not “can” or “might”. Furthermore, as you advance your career, people will look to you for guidance on how to act, what to do, how to be. Think about the example you set for them. If you slave yourself for 14 hours each day, work weekends and evenings, eat crap, never get any exercise, don’t sleep enough, and generally neglect your health, you will burnout.

The first-order impact of burnout is that this is bad for you both in work and at home. The second order impact is that your burnout is bad for Arbtech, because we lose (some or all) your productivity. The third order impacts are more insidious and damaging. Your behaviour casts a shadow. People will try to mimic this shadow to accelerate their own advancement, and fall foul of the same fate as you did. Finally, if this behaviour goes unchallenged it will eventually permeate our entire culture through the mechanism of compounding.

In other words, you have a responsibility to manage your health and energy, not just for yourself, but for everyone else, too.

Deep work

I have kept this section deliberately short because I have written about the value of what Cal Newport calls “deep work” before, here: https://arbtech.co.uk/book-review-deep-work-cal-newport/. I encourage you to read it. If you like the premise, I strongly encourage you to read the book, which as you already know, Arbtech will buy for you.

The ability to work deeply—that is, on work that creates value, free of distraction—is critical to managing your energy. And likewise, managing your energy is equally critical to working deeply. If you can work deeply for an hour or so, one to two times each day, you can achieve an incredible amount of work, probably more than you need to each day i.e., most of the time, your daily load of admin and reporting could easily be achieved in two, 90-minute sessions of deep work. These sessions should be entirely free of distraction.

To achieve deep work, I unplug the Ethernet cable from my computer and lock my phone in the car. I turn the office phone onto DND (edit: I have now removed the landline phone from my office permanently), grab a drink and some food, and shut the door. At this point, there is nothing to do other than singularly focus on the task at hand. I can direct 100% of whatever energy I have left to the task. You might not be able to do this with every single task you face, but it’s certainly an effective way to manage your energy and tackle the majority of your hard, cognitive problems.

As most of you know, I have a sign on the inside of my office door, exactly at my eye-level that reads, in very big letters, “Make a fucking dent in it”. The idea is that I sit down, work deeply, and if by the time I am exhausted by the effort I haven’t finished, I have made a sizable dent in the task. Naturally, when I go to open the door to leave my office, I am faced with the stark and binary reality that I did exactly that, or I failed. This is a classic example of the complexity of the architecture of decision-making (in this case, I manipulate my environment to give me no choice but to smash the obstacle to my goal).

Willpower, stoicism, and the trichotomy of control

The literature is clear: Willpower is finite. It is not partitioned by home, kids, spouse, work, finances, health, etc. It’s one big tank and everything drains it at once. If you neglect your health, of which the energy you can attack a problem with is a function—and this suffers, your willpower suffers likewise. Also, don’t expend your willpower on small stuff at work. It’s not worth it. Instead, use your willpower to feedyour body and mind. Eat properly, stretch, be active, enjoy the outdoors, read. Those are things worthy of willpower. If you feed those things properly, you’ll discover, as I have, that work doesn’t drain your willpower at all.

Other than being fit and healthy, in body, there is also a “way of being” that is helpful to overcome the demands on your willpower, especially at times when it is already running low, so you can feel fit and healthy, in mind. It’s called stoicism. I’m certainly not telling or even recommending you all convert your philosophical and deep-thinking views to stoicism. However, I am saying that there are things we can all learn from the stoics, which if practised in our work lives, make everything that bit easier, and a lot less stressful. (I never, ever feel stress. Ever. And I think it’s a combination of having done a lot of tough things in my life, and what I have learned from the practice of some aspects of stoicism).

Although the term “stoic” has been diluted and corrupted these days, often to mean detached, heartless, indifferent or cold, its origins are far less ominous. To be a stoic, like Epictetus or Aurelius, is to master your emotions to the benefit of your decision making. As a stoic, you are someone that can perceive and control not the event, but your reaction to the event. You concern yourself only with your reaction, in other words, only with what you can control directly and without interference. This does not require willpower. In fact, the opposite. It is additive to willpower. It makes what willpower you have go a bit further, and with practice, much further still.

Stoics react with logic and ethics. They don’t concern themselves with worry about things they cannot control. Stoics of course think carefully about the future, but they reserve their deepest thinking—that is, their mental energy—for considering their reactions to events in their control and of matters where they have some but not complete control (as in work, mostly).

Practice not deploying willpower ‘fighting’ things wholly outside of your control. This helps conserve energy and enables you to be ultra-productive by redirecting energy at things that are within your control, like your health, and deep work, for example.

Discipline

If I told you I know about a secret, low cost investment that has a guaranteed payoff, would you be interested? The good news is; that investment is in yourself. It’s discipline. It costs next to nothing and returns ten-fold. Make that 20-fold for those of you that work from home. So, if you’re wondering what is holding you back, or find yourself in a constant battle against time, consider investing in developing the discipline to manage your energy.

It is no accident that, historically, the best all-round performers at Arbtech are those people who manage their energy, can work deeply, and exercise their willpower with discretion. These people appear to be highly disciplined, because they are. It requires discipline to work deeply. It requires discipline to exercise control over your emotions and reactions and perceptions. It requires discipline to deploy your willpower intelligently. Above all, it requires discipline to manage your energy.

Routines

Related to discipline (and the next section; productivity), is the power of habit. Habits are extremely controlling, and if you break down your day, you’ll find they dominate most of it. When we think about habits, we tend to stir up negative associations: smoking, the “tough day” excuse for the large glass of wine (instead of just enjoying the wine for its own sake), the Friday-night takeaway, etc.

However, overlooked by most, are the incredible positives that come with what I call “value-habits”. Like all habits, value-habits are hard to form. And, like all habits, once formed they are even harder to break, because the behaviour becomes automatic. Crucially, though, value-habits benefit us, so it is worth investing the time to create them. A technique I use to compress several value-habits into a short space of time, is a morning routine (which, after a while, itself becomes the value-habit). By bundling several important tasks into a morning routine, I leave less to chance later in the day, and can attack those tasks when nothing has yet depleted my energy.

My routine is so ingrained that it is almost entirely automatic (if anything, it’s too ingrained, as I feel discomfort if I miss something out). It generally consists of: lighting a fire (if winter), taking care of hygiene, making coffee and getting some quality nutrition into my body while using Duolingo to brush up on my Spanish, stretching or doing mobility work, reading 50-100 pages, and then leaving the house for the gym or work, via the utility room, where I will deal with any laundry/bins/other house admin on the way out. This entire process takes me about 90 minutes. I generally get to bed quite early, around 9-10PM on ‘school nights’, and wake between 6-7:00AM. Thus, by 8:30AM at the latest, I am out of the door, and have made that crucial “1 degree of change” in several dimensions of my life that are important to me: reading, mobility, nutrition, and language. My evening routine serves a similar purpose.

Firstly, I am not suggesting that what is important to me is likewise to you. Secondly, I am not suggesting that your routine needs to be a morning one—I have several routines and empirically have discovered that my mental acuity peaks between 2-7PM, so I save a lot of my hardest tasks for then. What I am suggesting, is that you list out all the things you wished you didn’t compromise on and find a way of incorporating those into a routine. Then, concentrate for a time on managing your energy carefully, using the concepts above, so that you have enough left over at whatever time of day you need to call on it, and execute that routine daily, without fail. Before you know it, it’ll be automatic behaviour, require zero willpower (in my case, for example with the gym, or fighting, it requires willpower to break the routine), and you will have formed a value-habit (or several) that could well last you a lifetime.

Likewise, it may benefit you to do this at work. I do it with my deep work. Maybe you could use a routine to nail your admin, or systemise your approach to writing multiple reports from a week of being out surveying, or staying on top of several priority tasks that always seem to pull you in different directions? Whatever. The important take home is that routines are another tool you can employ to help you stay on top of key tasks, manage your energy, and ultimately, enjoy your day that bit more.

What we can learn from this?

Well, assuming you buy my various premises, is that whether you’re an employer or employee, maximising your energy is the low hanging fruit you should be grabbing.

Here’s some new ways we’re helping people do this at Arbtech

At Arbtech, regardless of job title you broadly fall into one of two categories: consultant or administrator. In both cases, you spend a good portion of your day sitting down (desk, car, meeting room) and craned over a device. This is bad news, because it’s not what you’re designed to do. I could go into the trivia about shortened hip flexors, tight hamstrings, weak core, anterior pelvic tilt, kyphosis, internal rotation dominance (I am a well-qualified personal trainer and nutritionist, after all), but pretty much everyone knows the truth, even if they aren’t familiar with the terminology. Posture aside, sitting down all day is also pants for your immune system, cardiovascular system, bone density and tends to lead to the deposition of adipose tissue over time (i.e., you get fat). I don’t need to be a doctor to tell you that this is not at all good for your health, and thus, your total potential energy and or ability to manage it.

Then, of course, if you’re an ecologist, between March and October you spend a lot of evenings and early mornings (and boy, are they early!) batting and newting. This is bad news, too. Asleep is the state you should be in about 1/of your life. Ask any ecologist whether they are getting their 7-9 hours during half or more of the year, and don’t be surprised if they spit their (sixth) coffee all over you with laughter. There’s obvious risks to be carefully managed here, such as driving—through a dialogue between employer and employee, with a clear responsibility on both parties to say “enough”, when it becomes apparent that enough is in fact enough. Oh, and that’s notwithstanding the fact that since 2007, the WHO has formally recognised shift working as a probable carcinogen due to a disruption in the circadian rhythm.

In response to the moral obligation I have as El Capitánat Arbtech, to lead by example and take the health and welfare of those in my charge seriously, I have decided to introduce several new benefits to the package that attracts and retains our talent, as follows:

  1. A subsidised gym or fitness class membership. This can be for anything from Crossfit to Pilates, yoga to powerlifting, boxing to Tai Chi. Anything. All our guys have to do is show Scott (finance manager) their contract or subscription and we’ll put £25 a month into their bank. This is the price of a Puregym membership, or the cost of a membership at Nuffield and Virgin Health Clubs (at which, because Arbtech employees have the best possible medical insurance from Vitality, they enjoy a 50% discount, just like they do on bicycles from Evans Cycles).
  2. An Audible membership. This is so our guys can use commuting from sites or downtime in the office (or just to make that cardio session be a bit more tolerable) to grow and expand. Unlike our “Paid as You Learn” scheme—where employees are paid overtime rates to read books that will benefit them professionally, the Audible account can be used for literally any reading (listening) interest. This means people who like to read, but might have a long day out on site don’t miss the opportunity to keep up what is arguably the best possible habit you can have, and thus can arrive home to use what otherwise might be “reading time” to spend with their friends and family, or head down to the gym!
  3. A Fitbit. This is a wearable device that syncs to a phone or iPad (both of which all Arbtech employees are given on day 1). It tracks things like steps, which are a reminder to take a break and stretch your legs a bit, and you can connect your friends or colleagues and ‘compete’ with each other. Most of us in head office already do this, with the “workweek hustle” and “weekend warrior” challenges normally won by Louise (runs a lot) or Emma (walks everywhere). The Fitbit also tracks and trends things that I find intensely interesting although I suspect for most it’s like watching paint dry; like bodyweight, calories burned, heart rate (resting average and while active) and more besides. Heart rate at rest is an important indicator not only of general fitness, but also systemic stress. A markedly elevated resting heart rate for several days is a sign to back off the gas and give yourself some TLC. But here’s the killer app (literally); it also tracks sleep.

Maximising your energy is in no small part a function of how much sleep you get, and the quality of that sleep. Like anything, there are confounding variables I can’t manage. In terms of sleep quality and duration, these are hygiene factors like room temperature, stimulant (caffeine) and sedative (alcohol) intake, how dark is the room, how sensitive a person is to blue light and what exposure have they had prior to going to bed, etc. What I can do though, is give our people the ability to monitor their sleep quality and duration and let them make changes to their routines using that data. I am also going to run a monthly competition during the summer for the ecologist with the most sleep, each month giving away something like an afternoon tea, a favourite bottle of plonk, a meal voucher… something like that.

In this way, I am doing all I can (that is ethical, practical and economic) to help our people manage their energy and deploy it strategically to maximise whatever decision-making they need to do, in order to continue to contribute positively to our culture, deliver for clients, and basically, lead a happier, healthier and more meaningful life.

Further, if we can get our people to lift weights, do some cardio and sleep more, then we have all of the boxes ticked for their actions being as potently inversely correlated with all-cause mortality as you can find (mental health aside).

I’ve a few more ideas up my sleeve, like a fruit allowance for people on days where they spend >4hrs in the car, and so may need to buy food on the go. We all know how cheap junk food is, and how comparatively expensive it is to make good diet choices when commuting e.g. the cost of buying a banana in a motorway service station is comparable with buying a whole bunch of bananas in the local supermarket.

But, for now, let’s see how this all pans out.

Internally, these three new initiatives have been really well received, but I’m super keen to get external feedback on this. So please, let me know what you think.

Until next time.

-R.