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How to Reboot Your Energy: Don't Work So Hard

If you really want to be productive, take a nap, hike or vacation — starting now!

posted by John Stark, February 14, 2013 More by this author

More productive employees take naps, hikes and vacations.

John Stark has held top writing and editing positions at such magazines as Cooks' Illustrated, Body + Soul and People. For 14 years, he was a feature writer and movie critic at the San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle.  Follow John on Twitter @jrstark.


More productive employees take naps, hikes and vacations.
iStockPhoto/ThinkStock
Every week I write at least one blog for Next Avenue. I’ve been doing this for a year now as part of my job description. Well, not today, even though I’m on deadline. I’ve decided instead to recharge my creative energy.
 
My new attitude stems from an article I read in Sunday’s New York Times headlined “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive.” It’s about the power of renewal. According to its author, Tony Schwartz: “More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less.”

Like not writing my blog today.
 
Schwartz goes on to say, “A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

Yes, I’m feeling better already.

Work Less and Get Paid More
 
In the article, Schwartz cites a study by Professor K. Anders Ericcson and his colleagues at Florida State University that proves less is more.
 
Researchers at the school observed the productivity and work hours of elite performers, including musicians, actors, athletes and chess players. “In each of these fields,” Schwartz writes, “Dr. Ericcson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day.”
 
I can add my own results from a study I just did. Last year actress Katie Holmes reportedly earned $25 million. She made only one film, a box office dud called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. The lesson here is: Don’t be afraid not to work. Penelope Cruz had supporting roles in only two films last year and earned $55 million, while Demi Moore raked in $150 million — has anyone seen a Demi Moore film in the last 25 years?
 
I won’t even get into what some professional athletes get paid. No one can count that high.
 
As for chess players, Viswanathan Anand, five-time winner of the World Chess Championship, was awarded $1.4 million for his 2012 victory last May. No one’s ever called him lazy or unmotivated, yet isn’t chess all about sitting, contemplating and every so often moving your hand? Don’t most people who play the game do so to unwind? According to Anand’s Wikipedia biography, when not "working" he relaxes by reading, swimming and listening to music. And counting his money, I’m sure.

(MORE: The Work-at-Home Dress Code: What to Wear Now!)

Hmmm. What Can I Do to De-Stress?
 
Instead of writing my blog today, I’m considering my other productive options. I could go back to bed, work out at the health club or take an unscheduled vacation. More and more research shows that my company only stands to gain.
 
Naps, according to a recent Next Avenue article, spur creativity, improve memory and protect the heart. Better yet: “Longer naps have an even more profound impact than shorter ones,” Schwartz writes.
 
“More vacations are similarly beneficial,” he adds. He offers proof: In 2006 the accounting firm of Ernst & Young did an internal study of its employees. It found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation they took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors improved by 8 percent. Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm. 
 
There’s no shortage of studies showing how exercise helps rejuvenate the brain. Schwartz says he likes to interrupt his workday by going outside for a run. That’s when he gets his best ideas, he says. But then he’s chief executive of his own consulting firm, The Energy Project. No one would dare tell him, “You’re not leaving your desk until you finish your report.”

(MORE: The Easy Way to Find Time for Everything You Want to Do)

I've Given This Careful Thought
 
Don’t think my decision to not work today was an easy one. After all, I live in America, where work comes before everything else, even family. According to Schwartz, our society’s need for maximizing productivity by working our collective ass off goes back to the Industrial Revolution. “'More, bigger, faster,'” he writes, “is the ethos of market economies.”
 
The idea of taking time off from work is counterintuitive for most people, Schwarz observes. Downtime is typically viewed as time wasted. Most companies reward employees who push the hardest. In today’s workplace, more than one-third of employees eat their lunches at their desk, he says. I just saw a report on Benefitspro.com that says 75 percent of U.S. workers had not used all of their vacation time as of the end of November.
 
Humans, Schwartz emphasizes, aren’t designed to be Energizer Bunnies. “We’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy,” he says, citing a scientific study that shows this pulsing occurs in 90-minute cycles throughout the day. Working harder doesn’t mean working better. Being sleep-deprived and anxious only results in job burnout, where neither employee nor employer benefit.  
 
I can only thank Schwartz for giving me permission to take it easy. Meaningful, creative productivity requires stepping away from one's computer.
 
Therefore, not writing my blog today is a win-win for everyone: Me, my boss, Next Avenue and also my dog, who I plan to take on a long walk this afternoon, right after my even longer nap.
 
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