For a world class performance, take a break
In a culture where we strongly identify with our work, we professionals take pride in working for long hours. We just work and when we are done working, we work some more.
When I started my career 17 years ago, I was told that I just had to work longer to be more productive. “You can just sleep less and that would free up some time,” an experienced colleague told me. I did just that. The advice to just work longer hours did not hold up. I found myself making mistakes that someone well rested would not commit. I was also unpleasant to be around.
If you are a manager, a leader or a professional then you have thought about productivity. You have probably applied a few tools and techniques to increase productivity as well. I did too, once I realized that I need to work on multiple goals and lead multiple initiatives. Over the years, I have utilized various time management techniques, with varying degree of success. Some of those methods have served me well including ABCDE prioritization (Tracy, 2007), the important urgent matrix (Covey, 2009), and the GTD method (Allen, 2001).
Do longer hours result in better output and more value? Yes, to an extent. After a while though, the diminishing returns kick in.
And when you are in a state of diminishing returns, you are better off resting, recovering and replenishing your precious energy. You can use that renewed energy later to perform like a world class athlete. As Schwartz and Loehr (2005) point out succinctly in their book, The Power of Full Engagement, word class performers manage their energy not time.
To illustrate, let’s look at a recent example. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA basketball championship. Experts and commentators praised LeBron James, the most valuable performer of the final championship game. Chris Herring, a sports reporter at The Wall Street Journal, provided an insightful view of James’ performance . LeBron James conserved his energy by resting during the early stages of games to be able to perform during the final moments when his expertise was badly needed. As Herring explains, “During the grueling seven-game series, the Cavaliers relied on James much less than during last year’s Finals—allowing him to have more energy in the key late stages of games”. This insight is very pertinent to apply in our day to day professional life.
When all the hoopla regarding the 2016 NBA dies down, this insight will remain. Learn it and carry it with you whenever you need to perform in high stakes situations. You can be amazingly productive if you plan your rest and recovery rightfully. Do you have an important meeting that will take an emotional toll on you and that requires performance like LeBron James’? Take a break before the meeting. Decide when to ask a team mate to jump in if you are not going solo. Conserve your energy to give the lifetime performance your team and your customers deserve during key moments. In a meeting that you will sell and persuade your client to buy that software or implement an expensive project proposal, you need energy. Be strategic about your energy reserves. Conserve and expend energy with foresight and you might just break all your previous performance records.
Here are the simple steps I recommend:
1. First, Master old fashioned time management. While some experts say manage your time, others say you manage yourself in relation to your time. Keep it simple. Prioritize your tasks and then get started on the task that provides you the highest return. Don’t start the next task on the ranking until you are done with the first one. Simple to say, difficult to do. Do it and you will achieve more with the time you put in.
2. Rest and Recover like a world class professional athlete does. Do this only after you have completed step 1 above, and have started hitting the zone of diminishing returns.
The key is to give your mind a break. Taking a break serves two purposes – you conserve energy and you enable your brain and body to recover from the stress the high intensity work creates. Get additional rest before the day of the performance (An example of a day of performance is a career make or break meeting, like sales meeting with a new prospective client). Here are a few ways to give your mind a break:
b. Exercise (my favorite)
c. Get away from your office or work area
d. Watch a sunset
e. Walk your dog
f. Call your family and friends. Tell them you were thinking of them
g. Tell your significant other that you love him or her
h. Take a nap (my second favorite)
Outperform your earlier self and tell me about it. Take a longer break this summer to recharge and rejuvenate. Spend time with friends and family. This will give you the break you need with an added benefit of cherished memory and human relationships.
Wish you success. Wish you rest. And above all, wish you leadership!
Allen, D. (2001). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Penguin Books, Inc.
Covey, S. R. (2009). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: RosettaBooks LLC.
Tracy, B. (2007). Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. San Fransisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.