Q. I’ve heard you speak about the difference between “well” and “energy efficiently.” If you do it “well” won’t you do it “efficiently,” and why even try to figure it out?


A. I’ll begin with the first part of your question: having learned to do something well doesn’t necessarily mean that your brain does it energy efficiently. Typically, practice can help you complete a specific task efficiently than when you originally were developing the requisite skills, but there will be an accompanying energy requirement that reflects an individual brain’s own innate advantage. The energy expenditure can be efficient or intensive.

For example, I have learned how to balance my check book and can do it “well” (with a minimum of errors). This specific task, however, is not “energy efficient” for my brain to accomplish. Because it is energy intensive I tended to procrastinate. Now I trade out hair cutting for balancing my checkbook with someone whose brain does it very energy efficiently—and we’re both happy because I love to cut hair and my brain uses small amounts of energy.

As to the second part of your question, figuring out your brain’s energy advantage give you the opportunity to manage your brain’s energy expenditures more effectively so that your brain energy lasts as long as possible (studies indicate levels of brain energy tend to decrease as the brain ages).

Become aware of the way in which your brain expends energy and identify tasks that are energy intensive versus those that are energy efficient. Here are several categories to consider:

  • Tasks your brain does well (minimum errors) but that require large amounts of energy to accomplish and that you might procrastinate if you could so without major consequences
  • Tasks your brain has difficulty doing well and that are also energy intensive 
  • Tasks your brain does well (or could do well with learning and practice) and that are also energy efficient based on your own innate preferences

Tasks that fall within this third category are typically less energy-exhausting for your brain.