That’s the prototypical busy executive’s schedule these days. And it’s virtually all wrong.
Up at 6 a.m., they drag themselves out of bed to hit the road for an hour of jogging. That’s followed with a rushed breakfast, often full of caffeine, sugar, and other processed foods, and then it’s rush, rush, rush off to a traffic filled commute. Then it’s a full day of back-to-back email sessions, marathon meetings, and of course, more email.
These “warriors” are in for a rude awakening.
Research shows the non-stop action, no-rest-for-the-wicked lifestyle is going to be their undoing.
Start early. Work late. Go home. Drop dead… literally.
The Japanese have a term for this phenomenon called “karoshi,” which means death caused by overwork.
All in the name of getting more done, I suppose. But as mentioned, research shows this approach is not the optimal path to success.
In fact, it may be one of the worst ways to tackle work, fitness, and almost all other aspects of living.
In health and fitness, the marathon approach to exercise has set back weight loss research and program design by decades, keeping many doctors and trainers stuck in the 1970s with their ineffective long, slow cardio approaches.
Today you’ll see “all night hack-a-thon” business building weekends popping up, which rarely leads to good ideas, but has become a badge of honor for wannabe entrepreneurs. This too is the wrong approach to optimal performance.
Finally, there’s the “no vacation” culture that is infecting America, and other countries around the world. Creating an oversupply of burnt out, frustrated employees that have no chance to recharge, rejuvenate and regenerate.
Short-term results may be achieved this way, but it’s certainly at a cost of long-term progress.
Fortunately, there is a better way.
I first read about this better approach to successful living over a decade ago in the book, “The Power of Full Engagement,” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. The authors proposed something radical (back then), insisting that our workday should be a series of sprints, not a marathon. Within your day there should be recovery periods. These should also occur within your weeks, months, and calendar year. There must be built-in time for rejuvenation, much like an athlete takes rests and has a pre-ordained off-season schedule.
But this book and the several similar theories that have come from other experts have failed to make a dramatic impact on the American culture of work. We’re still a continent of nose-to-the-grindstone and don’t stop until you’re dead employees.
But something’s gotta give. And it will.
Schwartz recently published an excellent article in the “NY Times” about his concept of energy management being more important than the ubiquitous idea of time management. It’s a concept that I’ve followed since 2003, when I first contacted his co-author, Jim Loehr, to review one of my earliest books, “The Executive Lifestyle Manual.”
In his research of corporate employee performance, Schwartz has uncovered startling facts about the common ways companies sabotage their results. In one study, employees sleeping less than six hours per night were found to have the greatest on-the-job burn-out. A Harvard study suggested that this on-going sleep deprivation accumulated by American companies costs the economy over $63 billion in lost productivity each year.
Furthermore, the anti-vacation culture that has seeped into corporate America is also hurting our economy. We mistakenly believe that less vacation time will help us keep our jobs, but Schwartz quotes a 2006 study that found, “for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of one to five) improved by 8 percent.” Yet our actions in regard to this knowledge border on depressing. Schwartz writes, “a recent survey by Harris Interactive found that Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012 — up from 6.2 days in 2011.”
All of this might be killing our performance, if not literally killing us at the same time.
“Relax! You’ll be more productive,” Schwartz wrote in the NY Times article. Amongst the techniques Schwartz recommends for improving employee performance and health are “daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office, and longer, more frequent vacations.”
As I mentioned earlier, my workday is only eight hours long, yet to be frank, it feels longer. That’s because it’s interrupted several times by dog walks, a visit to the gym, meals away from the desk, and even short bursts of watching comedy videos from Netflix. These strategically scheduled breaks foster my creativity and enhance my energy, allowing me to get more done while feeling like I’ve done less.
I have been – albeit unwittingly – following the advice from K. Anders Ericsson at Florida State University who suggests that working in 90-minute focused increments is best for enhancing performance. This helps avoid exhaustion while supporting quality work.
While I’ve yet to include an afternoon nap in my schedule (although I do meditate for approximately 20 minutes each day), Schwartz has uncovered research that supports the performance enhancing benefits of a simple 19 minute nap on mental activities. Alas, instead of harnessing the powers of a healthy nap, corporate America employees instead choose to over-caffeinate and prop themselves up throughout the day with other artificial means.
Like taking on too much financial debt, this energy debt becomes a ticking time bomb. At the minimum it likely leaves you sick with bed rest a couple of times each year, while at worst it culminates in a heart attack in your late 40s or 50s. But it doesn’t have to be this way if you’re willing to insert a few research proven, healthy renewal habits in your life that support energy management.
As Schwartz concludes with his secret to success: “When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.”
You might not be in a position of strength (yet) to implement these suggestions. But you must change what is in your control. Start with better nutrition – eliminating excessive caffeine and processed foods – and adding short, burst bouts of bodyweight exercise to your day. With the Home Workout Revolution System that I’ve designed, you now have access to 4-minute no-equipment workouts that you can do anytime, anywhere – perfect for an energetic quick-start to the day or mid-day break to enhance your performance.
As you begin to reap the benefits from these healthy habits, work on improving your sleeping schedule, and experiment with the 90-minute blocks of focused work. Slowly yet surely you’ll become more productive – and you might even feel confident enough to start using up more of your vacation time.
Craig Ballantyne is the Editor of EarlytoRise.com and Financial Independence Monthly. He also coaches executives of companies with sales over $1 million. ETR Publisher Matt Smith and Craig now offer a new virtual private mentoring program for Financial Independence Monthly subscribers. Get your FREE Financial Independence Kit here.
* Originally published as Issue #224 on October 23, 2013