Recently, I had the great opportunity to hear an emotionally inspiring and intellectually stimulating lecture by Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project. The Energy Project is a company that helps individuals and organizations fuel energy, engagement, focus, and productivity by harnessing the science of high performance. Doesn’t everything about this sound like a Silver Lining?
He says that we are facing a new kind of energy crisis and that this one’s personal. Our attention is under siege and it is being divided all the time, thereby depleting our energy.
There is a false assumption, Schwartz suggests, that we operate best in the same linear way that our computers do: continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time, running multiple programs at the same time (i.e., multitasking!).
Schwartz says that this way of living is unsustainable. When demand exceeds our capacity, we default into what he calls a Survival Zone which consists of feeling anxiety, irritation, defensiveness, anger, frustration and fear. These negative emotions make us much less effective.
The Energy Project looks at and focuses on…yes, you guessed it: energy because it can be expanded and renewed. Energy is the capacity to do work. If we have more energy, then we have more capacity. Energy can be used more skillfully if we understand what it is all about.
We are not meant to operate the way computers do – at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time. We try to mimic technology. However, our rhythm is not continuous. Schwartz said that instead of multitasking, human beings are actually designed to pulse between spending and renewing energy. Ideally it looks like: Work-Rest-Work-Rest.
We’re most productive when we move between expending energy and intermittently renewing our four energy needs (mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual).
We’re at our best, he says, when we work at high intensity for limited periods of time, and then intentionally renew ourselves. He calls this the Performance Zone. Though this seems like common sense, how often do we really do this? (If you’re one of the people who do, then I think that you are really fabulous and already enlightened!)
Truthfully, prior to FBC, I would have thought that this notion of rest between activity was absolutely ridiculous. I used to pride myself on multitasking; however, FBC literally and figuratively slowed me down in such a way that the concept of pulsing (activity balanced with rest time in between) makes so much sense.
Schwartz discussed the value we derive during renewal: creative breakthroughs, broader perspective, the chance to think more reflectively and long term, and sufficient time to metabolize what we’ve learned (Silver Linings!).
He gave a great analogy. He said that we should see life as a series of short sprints rather than as a marathon. A sprinter looks down the track and asks herself if she can fully engage in this race. The answer is yes, because there is a stopping point. A sprinter can exhaust herself knowing that there is a period of recovery.
Schwartz recommends running as many of these sprints as possible in a day. It’s best to work in periods of high focus and then recover. When not working, we need to be recovering.
Work-Rest-Work-Rest. I think that this is one of the more brilliant things that I’ve heard about in a long, long time.
You can’t change what you don’t notice.
– Tony Schwartz