The Resilient Executive: A Better Way to Work
Work no more than 90 minutes and then take a break! Do this two more times in a day and you’ll accomplish more in 4.5 hours than those cranking hard for 8 to 12 hours straight. Throw in an occasional Vitamin C IV with glutathione and some deep breathing exercises and you’re good to go for the next decade.
I’m oversimplifying the message from executive performance icon Tony Schwartz, but not by much (NOTE: I added the Vitamin C IV recommendation!). As Schwartz exclaims, “energy management is more critical than time management, something today’s leaders must understand in (re)-structuring work.”
How many of you are exhausted by the demands of your business? And the demands are increasing as technology makes us accessible 24/7, rarely giving us a break, even in the car or over lunch, from the minute-to-minute grind of growing a company. Extreme burn-out and ever diminishing results are the after-effect.
So how does an executive get it all done and remain resilient to the pressures that come with building a successful business? I spent an hour with Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project and author of his latest bestseller entitled Be Excellent At Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live.
Though better time management can help, the problem with “time” is that it’s finite – limited by the same 168 hours per week everyone else has. And as you put in more time your mental capacity tends to diminish, leading to more mistakes, less creativity, and even less patience with other people.
We’re Not Computers
If we’re not computers, why do we work like them – always on, multi-tasking at high rates of speed? Instead, Schwartz, who has spent the last twelve years studying human performance, suggests we look to nature (think oscillation) for clues on how to structure our activities – and to research on how the brain functions best.
It starts with energy. Unlimited, it’s something you can regularly renew and refuel. And physics tells us that energy is simply the capacity to do work – so if you have more energy you have more capacity. Manage your energy better and you and your team will produce more work, period.
Four Types of Energy
Humans have complex energy needs – specifically four types that influence one another:
1) Physical energy which represents your quantity of energy. There are four components: nutrition, fitness, sleep (7 – 8 hours), and renewal.
2) Emotional energy which represents your quality of energy. When you feel engaged, excited, and optimistic, you perform your best.
3) Mental energy which represents the focus of your energy. We are a sequential being, more productive when we put our attention on one thing at a time without interruption (think email) vs. multi-tasking.
4) Spiritual Energy which is the energy of purpose. When you are truly passionate about what you’re doing, you bring more energy to it.
Schwartz’s has an Energy Audit at www.theEnergyProject.com. Take five minutes to see how you fare and receive specific recommendations on how to increase your energy.
Humans are meant to pulse. We’re best when we’re spending and renewing energy – like the waves of the brain and heart. Breathing is another wave.
One critical wave is called the ultradian rhythm. In essence, we work best in 90 minute intervals, so building more of this pattern into your day brings you in phase with how we function more naturally. And research has found that high performers in many fields – music, sports, writing – separate these 90 minute periods of intense work and focus with periods of energy recovery.
So make the time you’re working count by focusing your energy on just one main activity – and avoid interruptions like answering an email message. This one interruption will increase the time to complete something by 25 minutes because of the time it takes for your brain to reengage.
Take a Break
Then be proactive about taking a break. Get up and take a walk, since most of us are sitting all day. Go outside and take in some sunlight if available, a natural source of energy. Work out in the middle of the day. Call someone you love and check-in. Even take a 20 minute nap which has shown to make the next three hours of work much more effective.
And take back your lunch, something I’ve focused on while living in Barcelona. Food is a key source of recovery and best enjoyed with a colleague, client, or friend. And healthier food, made available throughout the day is critical. I love a handful of walnuts during my break times.
Experiment with what works for you, but build in periods of energy renewal throughout your work day, never working for more than 90 minutes without a break. And then get a good night’s sleep – 7 to 8 hours is found to be optimal among top performers (naps count!).