These days most employees are living the "DO MORE WITH LESS" business approach. This generally translates into MORE work with LESS staff and expectations of higher productivity and strategic creative solutions. This often results in sleep depravation, which equals poor quality and lower productivity. We all know this, yet the prospect of working fewer hours is often culturally unrealistic. This cycle results in a state of over-work paralysis with assembly line production. There's little time for creativity, strategy and partnership. Burn-out is rampant. It's unsustainable to maintain this pace.
We should work shorter hours; this is true. But did you know that working fewer hours isn't the only factor? It's what we do with the off hours and when we take time off that makes the difference.
Let's call this business approach "DO MORE quality work WITH LESS time in your cubicle."
In his NYTimes.com article "Relax! You'll be More Productive," Tony Schwartz says, "Human beings aren't designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we're meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy."
He proposes that to truly recover energy, we must commit to renewing ourselves physically and emotionally: "I've systematically built these principles into the way I write. For my first three books, I sat at my desk for up 10 hours a day. Each of the books took me at least a year to write. For my two most recent books, I wrote in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions -- beginning first thing in the morning, when my energy was highest -- and took a break after each one.
I learned that it's not how long, but how well, you renew that matters most in terms of performance. Even renewal requires practice. The more rapidly and deeply I learned to quiet my mind and relax my body, the more restored I felt afterward. For one of the breaks, I ran. This generated mental and emotional renewal, but also turned out to be a time in which some of my best ideas came to me, unbidden. Writing just four and half hours a day, I completed both books in less than six months and spent my afternoons on less demanding work."
Instead of demanding endless hours of get-it-done, set expectations of 90 minutes of intense focus with breaks in-between. Allow the team to breathe, renew, and recharge. Get a foosball table, go for a department hike, or share a brownie.
Mr. Schwartz quotes some compelling studies. In reading the article, I was stunned at my reaction to some of the statements. Maybe my reactions below the quotes will resonate for you.
"A recent Harvard study estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity."
Ouch. This quote stung. How many times have we gone down the path of demanding longer hours of our team only to find that the ROI was disastrous? $63.2 billion worth of disaster.
"The Stanford researcher Cheri D. Mah found that when she got male basketball players to sleep 10 hours a night, their performances in practice dramatically improved: free-throw and three-point shooting each increased by an average of 9 percent."
10 hours a night? Are you kidding? We didn't leave until 10pm. Taking into account the commute and brushing teeth that left 7 hours of sleep max.
"Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes."
But there's so much work to be done! They can't just go chill on the couch when there are emails waiting and meetings to be had. Everyone will think they're prima donnas, spoiled creatives who get whatever they want.
It can be a challenge to consider applying the concept of 90-minute sessions with intervals of renewal. Imagine each company you've worked for and the likely reaction from management. That's not a pretty picture.
Now imagine if you went for it. Don't you feel jazzed at the thought? You took a leap of faith and jumped. Maybe you got your boss's approval to do a trial with an evaluation at the three-month mark. Maybe you'll start a trend; invite other departments to your foosball table then giggle as management sees better results across the board. At the very least, think about your own schedule. If you can schedule 90-minute chunks to do work and meetings around those 90-minute chunks, it's a small step toward embracing this methodology.
We get bogged down in the doing, and so used to way things are, that we often don't step back to see the whole picture. Here's the whole picture in a nutshell: The world is shifting from the Industrial Age assembly line to a more Human Approach. Assembly line is unsustainable and the numbers are evidence. It may be a quiet revolution, but it's happening and you can climb aboard the Energy Renewal Train with the rest of us rebels.
"By managing energy more skillfully, it's possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably."
Thanks Tony. Now that this is written, I'm going to meditate.