Relax. You'll be more productive.

It seems that running from task to task only makes us feel more productive.

Not long ago, the New York Times featured a fascinating article by Tony Swartz titled “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive”.  I often feel like I have more to do than my time and energy allow, so I was drawn to the idea.  There is mounting evidence in studies done at prestigious institutions that our habit of working at all hours, skipping lunch and not using vacation days is making us less, not more productive. Here are some main points from the article.

1.       To accomplish work we use time and energy. While both assets are finite, only energy is renewable. If we’re careful to consistently renew our energy, we’re able to accomplish more in the same amount of time. A study done in the 1950’s established that we sleep in cycles of roughly 90 minutes, shifting between light and deep sleep cycles. A decade later, one of the authors, Professor Nathaniel Kleitman found that our waking lives work the same way. We move from alertness progressively into physiological fatigue every 90 minutes.

2.       Professor K. Anders Ericsson and colleagues at the University of Florida followed performers in the fields of music, athletics, acting and chess. In all these fields the best performers practice in sessions of no more than 90 minutes. The most efficient and effective performers start in the morning, rest between work sessions and rarely work for more than 4 of these 90 minute intervals each day. Dr. Ericcson notes, “To maximize gains from long-term practice individuals must avoid exhaustion and must limit practice to an amount from which they can completely recover on a daily or weekly basis.

3.        One of the most damaging results of our penchant for working as many hours of the day as we can is a lack of sufficient sleep.   A recent study found that sleeping too little, defined as less than six hours per night was one of the best predictors of job burnout. A Harvard study estimated the cost to US companies of lost productivity because of insufficient sleep could be as much as $63.2 billion a year.
This sounds counter intuitive but it’s worth exploring.  Using more hours for work doesn’t mean we’re accomplishing more. Our bodies are not meant to go full steam until we fall exhausted into bed.  The quality and quantity of our production will increase if we allow ourselves time, even in the middle of a work day, to renew our physical, mental and emotional selves. But how do we use this information while fitting into our office/corporate environment? What do you think? How do you manage your time and energy stores? Share some of your thoughts and methods.

Tony Swartz is the CEO of The Energy Project. You can find them on the web.

Read the entire article: Relax! You'll Be More Productive