In a recent article, Tony Schwartz, the chief executive officer of
The Energy Project and the author, most recently, of “Be Excellent
at Anything”, wrote an article titled “Relax! You’ll Be More
Productive”. (You can read his full article here.)
Here’s the basic premise of his article – which, by the way, is
based on years of research, observation and practice:
“More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming
demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically,
the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing
less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows
that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short
afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the
office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity,
job performance and, of course, health.”
I’ve followed Tony Schwartz and his partner, Jim Loehr, for years.
They developed their expertise in coaching high level, professional
athletes in how to compete effectively and maintain excellence
over a sustained period of time. Then they took their learnings
and experience to the business world. They have spent the past
15 or so years working with organizations and individuals,
helping them perform better while achieving better balance in
Their message and approach is attractive to me because I
realized, some time ago, that simply trying to “fit more” into
each day was a recipe for failure. Here’s what I mean.
I was (and still am, to an extent) a time management junkie.
I’ve read or studied or listened to a lot of the programs out
there. I’ve alway been pretty good at managing my time,
starting way back when I was in high school at good ol’
Hell, I had to be, given my schedule. I was at the top of
my class (#3 actually) while taking all advanced placement
and honors courses. I played sports (basketball and softball).
I participated in other extra-curricular activities at school.
I studied martial arts – kenpo, at the time. I was active in
my youth group at church. My junior and senior year, I
worked a part-time job (not by choice, my Dad made me).
So…to say that I could manage my time and fit in a lot
is an understatement!
However, even into adulthood, I always felt like I should do
more. There were always other things I wanted to be able to
focus on and fit into my life. I figured, if I could get
even better at time management, I could fit in those other
interests or projects.
My goal was to gain one more idea, one more distinction, to
help me do more. Over time, I found that a handful of key
principles made the most difference. When I put these into
practice, I got more done and felt more in control.
But…I also felt like I was jammed in every day.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to stay busy. I like having projects
to work on.
What I don’t like is feeling that I have to script every
minute of every day just to get my shit done. There’s a lot to
be said for a few minutes here and there to relax, to
contemplate, to just sit and think about things.
I realized that, even if I wasn’t the hamster in the wheel
running nowhere….it was only because my wheel was actually
moving somewhere. I was still running harder and harder in my
wheel, and not necessarily feeling like I was getting any
better at it.
This frustration lead me to widen my focus. I soon realized
that completing a good, productive day, and ENJOYING that day,
meant more than scratching items off my to-do list. It meant
more than just managing my time.
It meant managing my ENERGY.
And, like so many times in my life, I received an invaluable
lesson from my practice of martial arts.
I went through a phase in my training when I really got into
kickboxing. Not “cardio kickboxing”, but the real thing, where
you actually get into the ring and fight full contact.
As you can imagine, the training and conditioning for this
type of fighting is way more involved than the training you
do for point sparring, in which each fight is only two minutes
long (although those two minutes can seem veeerry long if
you’re in a tough match).
My kickboxing instructor taught me quite a bit about ring
management and energy management. He said that the two were
In terms of energy management, he used to hate watching boxers
or kickboxers come out and “showboat” in the first round. These
guys would come out and throw every punch and kick in their
arsenal, trying to score early and perhaps impress the judges.
Trouble was, by the end of the second round, they were
exhausted. Not only had they wasted a lot of energy, but they
had not succeeded in analyzing their opponent, using feints,
fakes and different defenses or counters to see how their
Plus they ended up putting on a boring fight.
As my instructor taught me, a better approach is to fight
within yourself and follow your plan, your strategy.
Of course, you have to be prepared for the other fighter to
be aggressive, and you have to be able to alter your tactics
But, if you have conditioned well for the fight, and you
manage your own energy during the fight, you will have the
gas to do what you need to do, all the way to the end.
I actually had to experience this for myself, in the ring,
to fully appreciate it. But then the light bulb went off
over my head.
“That’s it! No longer will I focus on time management. I’ll
focus on energy management!”
There is so much to energy management, I could write a
book. (In fact, I think I will.) But here’s one of the most
helpful things I’ve learned about energy management: take
small breaks throughout the day.
More specifically, take a break every 90 minutes or so.
Your body and brain have a natural rhythm, and cycle through
energy peaks and troughs in approximately 90 minute intervals.
This daytime rhythm mimics the night time rhythm we are
all familiar with – that cycle between deep sleep, REM sleep
and light sleep.
The difference is that during the day we move from a state
of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue
approximately every 90 minutes.
Most of us have become oblivious to these natural cycles.
See if you can get in synch with yours.
For example, when working, take a five to fifteen minute
break every 90 minutes to do some deep breathing, walk
around, or stand up and stretch. Sometimes I will go out
back and play with the dogs for a few minutes. Other
times I may do a few chi kung exercises.
Remember, it’s not how long, but how well, you renew that
matters most in terms of performance. Even a two or three
minute break to move around and breathe deeply can make
a huge difference in your energy levels.
Here’s another insight from Tony Schwartz:
“Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription
for maximizing productivity. 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. They begin in the morning,
take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than
four and a half hours in any given day.
“‘To maximize gains from long-term practice,’ Dr. Ericsson
concluded, ‘individuals must avoid exhaustion and must limit
practice to an amount from which they can completely recover
on a daily or weekly basis.'”
So, here’s my take on the question of, “Can you really relax
your way to being more productive?” My answer is a
You Can Do It!
“Best Breathing Exercises: Transform Body Mind and Spirit with
Dynamic Energy Exercise!”
Copyright, Karen Van Ness, 2013