I learned this lesson recently following a prolonged “I have so much to do – let me sleep less so that I can have more hours available to do more,” period. The result was: bronchitis. Rest and recovery are not optional if you want to run a successful business and live a fulfilling life.
Somewhere in today’s competitive world, we look down upon taking a break as laziness. We have likened ourselves to the mechanical gadgets that make our lives so much easier, forgetting that we are all biological organisms needing rest to recover from peak performance.
We love unwieldy ‘to-do’ lists. Makes us feel important. Whenever I talk to friends, self employed individuals or employed professionals about slowing down they often look at me sympathetically and they all basically offer some combination of “I wish I could slow down but there’s not enough time in the day. You don’t have children so you have no idea what’s it’s like. I am in meetings all day so that the only time I get to do my work is at the end of the day. People are interrupting my work all day at the office because they have urgent questions that need answers now and so my work often gets pushed back.”
Are these legitimate answers? Sure – every single one. Is the solution to beg God to review the hours in our days and make them longer given our twenty-first century demands? No. Here’s the assumption: Our time needs to be managed more effectively. We also assume that every hour in our day is created equally and that is not so only because our energy levels cycle up and down depending on our own unique rhythm.
When your energy is on an upswing you’re capable of focusing more deeply and getting a lot accomplished. When your energy is on a downswing, all your mind and body want to do is rest, relax and recover. This is normal but of course whenever we experience a downswing – we label it as bad, problematic and needs to be fixed immediately!
Now follow me back to the unwieldy to-do list. In an effort to get everything done we ultimately find ourselves rushing about from one thing to the next. Rushing means running on more cylinders than you’ve got and it is extremely toxic. In her book ‘Positive Energy,’ Dr Judith Orloff says “On perpetual overload, your physiology responds: cortisol, the “stress hormone,” surges; serotonin, a chemical protector against depression and anxiety, plummets.”
In addition to some of us just feeling important given the more things we have to do Dr. Orloff suggests that we rush around to dull emotional pain, to flee from anxiety, depression or feeling we’re not enough; to respond to unrealistic expectations of what we can accomplish in a finite period; to dull our fear of stillness and silence.
You will know when you’re rushing versus operating quickly and efficiently when your rhythm is in sync with a busy yet harmonious life when:
- Your energy feels scattered
- You have little or no awareness of your body
- You experience a subliminal or overt sense of panic
- Your ability to listen is impaired, as is your memory for details.
We all need to discover how to work with our bodies instead of against it.
Josh Kaufman in his book ‘The Personal MBA’ suggests the following:
- Learn your patterns – use a notebook or calendar to track how much energy you have during different parts of the day, as well as what you’re eating and drinking. If you do this for a few days, you’ll notice patterns in how your energy waxes and wanes, allowing you to plan your work accordingly
- Maximize your peak cycles – when you’re in an up cycle, you’re capable of getting a lot accomplished so plan your day to take advantage of that energy. If you’re doing creative work, carve out a three to four hour block of time during and up cycle to get it done. If your work consists of attending lots of meetings, plan the most important meetings during the up cycle.
- Take a break – when you’re in a down cycle, it’s better to rest than attempt to power through it. During a down cycle, go for a walk, meditate, or take a twenty minute nap. Relaxing on the down cycle can restore your energy, allowing you to take full advantage of the next up cycle.
- Get enough sleep – sleep deprivation results in a prolonged down cycle, which gets in the way of getting things done.
If you don’t rest now your body will force you to rest later, by either taking longer to ‘comeback’ after a prolonged run or, as was in my case, get sick. Paying attention to your unique energy cycle will help you get the most out of any time you have available. Make the most of your up cycles, rest on your down cycles and watch your productivity soar!