As a chronically overcommitted, over-scheduled multi-tasker, I regularly push myself to max capacity. Working long hours, offering up my time for others’ projects, sacrificing sleep for productivity, and running home only to leave again five minutes later have become common practice. I can see the flaws in this system, but it’s helpful to have a reminder, which makes a recent piece by Tony Schwartz in 99% extremely valuable.

The big takeaway is that doing more doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting more done. He uses the example of two people who both work 10 hour days: one barely leaves his desk all day and one works 90 minutes at a time, taking brief breaks to renew his energy. By the afternoon, the constant worker’s capacity to get anything done has so diminished that he is actually LESS productive than his colleague who works less time. The more productive of the two works in pulses rather than constantly, maintaining his capacity and focus throughout the day.

Research backs this up and so does Schwartz, with lots of examples, including star violinists who purposefully limit their practice time to avoid burnout.

The key is energy renewal. I do a lot of work in the nonprofit service world, and we call this ‘self care’. The idea is that if we don’t take the time to be kind to ourselves—to rejuvenate our own bodies and spirits—we won’t be serving others to the best of our abilities. The same holds for any kind of job: productivity isn’t about putting in the hours, it’s about the quality of the work done in those hours. And quality comes from having the energy—physical, emotional, and otherwise—to do the work in the first place.

If you want to explore the idea more deeply Schwartz expands on the idea in this video. It’s long, but he’s a good speaker, and his ideas are worth considering.

—Sarah M

Related posts: why not?: d-i-y treadmill desk
slowing down and counting blessings
‘what’s not wrong?’ and other ways to start your day
4 ways to step outside of your comfort zone + conquer the ‘ok plateau’

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3 replies on “how to do more in less time: pulse and rest

  1. thank you for the reminder! i read the book “full engagement”, and it’s excellent. let’s take breaks, exercise, and relax between work times. joy and blessings to you.

  2. Have you ever heard of the “Pomodoro” method? It works great for writing. A kitchen timer is set for 25 minutes. Your task for 25 minutes is to do nothing but write. For me, hearing the tick-tick-tick is a great low-key reminder that I’m to be “on task.” When the timer goes off, you take a 5-minute break, get up and walk or lie down. Then you do another 25-minute burst. There are websites devoted to the method, and even software if you don’t own a kitchen timer or have one in your workspace. Google for “Pomodoro Method” and you’ll see.

    I’ve known for years that “frequent short breaks” is the key to sustained output, but this Pomodoro thing really clicks for me: surely, I tell myself, I can write for just 25 minutes!

    Happy New Year!
    Jim Dillon

  3. Thanks so much for this. We’re going to check out the Pomodoro method and see about doing a post. This, and less caffeine, might be just the thing to make the day flow in an energetic way.

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