The “Sprinter” Method of Increasing Productivity
Tony Schwartz notes:
Our most fundamental need as human beings is to spend and renew energy.
When I began to crash in the early afternoon following my red-eye flight, I took a 30-minute nap in the room we have set aside for that purpose in our office. The nap didn’t give me nearly enough rest to fully catch up, but it powerfully revived me for the next several hours.
At the other end of the spectrum, exercise … positively influences our cognitive functioning, and our mood.
The truth is that we ought to be exercising nearly every day, ideally for at least 45 minutes, including strength training at least twice a week.
The secret to optimal well-being and effectiveness is to make more rhythmic waves in your life.To build the highest level of fitness, for example, it’s critical to challenge the heart at high intensity for short periods of time, and then to recover deeply.
The bigger the amplitude of your wave — the higher your maximum heart rate, and the more deeply you recover — the more flexibly you can respond to varying demands and the healthier you likely are.
The same rhythmic movement serves us well all day long, but instead we live mostly linear, sedentary lives. We go from email to email, and meeting to meeting, almost never getting much movement, and rarely taking time to recover mentally and emotionally.
Even a little intentional recovery can go a long way. It’s possible, for example, to clear the bloodstream of cortisol just by breathing deeply — in to a count of three, out to a count of six — for as little as a minute. Try it right now. See if it changes the way you feel.
Paradoxically, the most effective way to operate at work is like a sprinter, working with single-minded focus for periods of no longer than 90 minutes, and then taking a break. That way when you’re working, you’re really working, and when you’re recovering, you’re truly refueling the tank.
Making rhythmic waves is the secret to getting more done, in less time, at a higher level of engagement, with a better and more sustainable quality of life.
Schwartz explained last year:
In the renowned 1993 study of young violinists, performance researcher Anders Ericsson found that the best ones all practiced the same way: in the morning, in three increments of no more than 90 minutes each, with a break between each one. Ericcson found the same pattern among other musicians, athletes, chess players and writers.
For the first several books I wrote, I typically sat at my desk for 10 or even 12 hours at a time. I never finished a book in less than a year. For my new book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, I wrote without interruptions for three 90 minute periods, and took a break between each one. I had breakfast after the first session, went for a run after the second, and had lunch after the third. I wrote no more than 4 1/2 hours a day, and finished the book in less than six months. By limiting each writing cycle to 90 minutes and building in periods of renewal, I was able to focus far more intensely and get more done in far less time.
The counterintuitive secret to sustainable great performance is to live like a sprinter. In practice, that means working at your highest intensity in the mornings, for no more than 90 minutes at a time before taking a true break. And getting those who work for you to do the same.
Obviously, it’s not possible for every employee to work in multiple uninterrupted 90-minute sprints, given the range of demands they face. It is possible for you as a leader and managers to make a shift in the way you manage your energy, and to better model this new way of working yourself. Make it a high priority to find at least one time a day–preferably in the morning–to focus single-mindedly on your most challenging and important task for 60 to 90 minutes. Encourage those who work for you to do the same.
In addition, encourage your employees to take true renewal breaks intermittently through the day. It’s possible to get a great deal of renewal in a very short time. Try this technique, for example:
Build a more rhythmic pulse into your workdays and you’ll increase your own effectiveness and your satisfaction. Support this way of working among those you manage and you’ll fuel both loyalty and huge competitive advantage.
Sleeping On the Job Increases Productivity
Inc. magazine provided details of the benefits of short naps … even at work:
[S]everal recent studies reveal medical explanations for why naps increase productivity, too. In 2010, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley confirmed that napping can improve the brain’s ability to retain information, noting that a middle-of-the-day reprieve “not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before.” Two years earlier, at the University of Haifa in Israel, researchers found that naps help “speed up the process of long term memory consolidation,” while the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in Atlanta concluded in 2007 that a short catnap during the day “may be a useful strategy to improve not only mood but also job satisfaction”.
James Maas, a sleep expert and Cornell social psychologist who coined the term “power nap” 36 years ago, recommends employees nap for 15-minutes when they feel sluggish to restore a sense of vitality to the workday.
“If we operated machinery like we operate the human body, we’d be accused of reckless endangerment. Just like machinery gets oiled, the human body needs to be nurtured and fed,” Maas says.
Maas says there’s a neurological reason power naps work. Though an EEG pattern—which measures the flow of electricity in the head—shows wakefulness while a person is excessively tired, the neurons involved in memory can be turned off, he says. So although a person is technically “awake” in this state of sleepiness, his or her memory neurons can go offline. Simply put, even though you’re awake, your brain isn’t. (A longer 30-minute or 60-minute nap, on the other hand, puts a person in Delta—or deep—sleep, he explains, which leaves the person groggy upon waking up.)
Maas, who also consults on workplace sleeping and productivity at Harvard, IBM, Goldman Sachs, and Blackrock, points out longterm benefits of napping, too. If regular, naps can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. Studies have also shown that chronic drowsiness during the workday can cause slower reaction times, an inability to concentrate, and difficulty remembering information over longer periods of time.
Exercise Boosts Productivity
Meditation – Whether Religious or Atheist In Content – Increases Productivity
Some studies seem to indicate that meditation is more effective than napping in increasing productivity. However, it may be a question of preference or situation. For example, there are many times where someone at work can’t close their eyes to nap, but can meditation by focusing on a tree outside their window, for example.
Meditation need not include religious or even spiritual content to be useful. It can be simply a physical or mental practice utilizing sounds, breathing, mental exercises or concentration.
Meditation may also help us:
- Get smarter
- Be healthier
- Reduce damage from radiation
*For further evidence of the benefits of meditation on productivity, see D. Orme-Johnson, Pschosomatic Medicine 49 (1987) 493-507; Michael Murphy and Steven Donovan, The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation (Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1997); R. Davidson, J. Kabat-Zinn, et al, “Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation,” Psychosomatic Medicine 65 (2003) 564-570; The Boston Globe, November 23, 2005; H. Benson, M. Wilcher, et al, (2000). “Academic performance among middle school students after exposure to a relaxation response curriculum,” Journal of Research and Development in Education 33 (3) (2000) 156-165; Jones, Journal of Applied Psychology 73 (4) (1988).
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