Work Smarter, Not Harder

Let me admit something – I frequently struggle with wearing myself out.  I’ll wake up one morning with plans of all that I’ll get accomplished and it falls flat.  I’ve exhausted myself in prior days and my body and mind demand a reprieve.  Often I blame this on having a chronic disease and how it can be unpredictable.  The truth is that although this might be part of the picture, I also have a tendency to overdo things.  As a professional organizer, I feel like I should be better about this not happening, yet I’m human as well as I recognize it and am working on it.

Somehow, many of us strive to just work harder.  As if that’s the answer – “If only I could work harder and faster, then I could manage…”  This is not the answer.  We only have a limited supply of energy, whether you have health issues or not.  We all need a certain amount of sleep to re-energize ourselves.  The truth is that we need to work smarter.

I was fortunate enough to get into the expo of ASTD (The American Society for Training and Development) last year and was intrigued with a booth there: The Energy Project.  Although I found the people manning the booth to be rude, I was captivated by the ideas presented.  Since a year ago on coming across them, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a few webinars they’ve put on.  Eventually I buy his latest book and read that to get more in depth information.

One of the things Tony Schwartz, the CEO of The Energy Project, says is that we have 90 minutes maximum of focused attention before we lose that energy.  After that, we need to take a break for renewal.  He recommends doing this throughout the day, after 90 minutes of focused work to build in intermittent renewal breaks, as we have cycles like our sleep cycle.  He says how long those breaks are depends on you and what will help you renew your energy although it can be as little as 5 minutes – it’s about the quality of the renewal, not how much time we spend.  If we can implement those renewal breaks throughout our day, he says that we’ll be even more productive.

This makes sense to me.  I also know that I’m notorious for getting so absorbed into something that before I know it hours have passed.  This is not healthy – I want to be conscious about what I’m doing and how I’m spending my time.  I found a Mac program that helps me address this issue for when I’m on the computer for long stretches, Dejal Time Out Free.  It fades the screen for me at the intervals I’ve set – for resting my eyes and reminding me that 90 minutes have passed with the option of postponing the break or even skipping it altogether.

I’m still practicing applying this when I’m not at the computer.  I know what I need to do; I just forget to set the timer!  I’ve talked before about how using a timer (Time I & Time II) can help us get control of our time, and now we can use it for our energy too.  I’ve my timer handy so that I can use it both for the focused attention as well as to track my breaks.  It’s been amazing how refreshed I’ve felt at the end of the day when I’ve applied this process during the day.

As an entrepreneur, I could always be doing more work.  That’s not including my other roles as wife, friend, daughter, or the various values I hold in my life and I want to spend time on.  This is not any different from anyone else as we all have many roles and values that we need to attend to in order to feel we’re handling things well.  If we can use this 90 minutes cycle to focus on those various aspects, we’ll find more balance without the exhaustion from overextending ourselves.  It’s a process and we can train ourselves to stay focused and then enjoy the break before digging back in.

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