Humans aren’t made to work that way. Things run in cycles, and our minds and bodies need that in order to function.
The most basic of those cycles is daily. Sleep and wake. Day and night. Add to that the months, the seasons, the years, and stages of life. But even at a smaller scale, we need variety during parts of the day – eat, work and rejuvenation.
But a lot of what we try to do is to even out the load to make it bearable. Rather than trying to burnout at 200% of personal capacity for a time, instead we “smooth it out” and try to run at 120% for ten hours straight. But our minds don’t work that way.
The truth is that we were built to focus, then reflect. Work, then relax. Prepare, then perform. Think, then act.
If you want your team to be high performance, give your people the freedom to work this way. Let them get in the zone for awhile and do awesome things, but then compensate by having fun and decompressing. Not only will you get higher performance overall – productivity variations of 10× during the course of a day would not be surprising – but you’ll be able to sustain this pattern indefinitely.
Notice, too, that I said that individuals need to have some control over what pattern works for them. We’re not all wired the same, and the degree of control will help your people to sustain their enthusiasm and engagement.
I worked with a gentleman some years ago who had an interesting work pattern: He would work extremely hard for a 6- or 12- month project, no vacation time whatsoever. But at the end of the project, he would take off 3 months (including unpaid time) to go teach school in Mexico. Completely immersed in that vocation, he was out of touch and disconnected from the previous project.
I’ve reflected on this a number of times over the years. I couldn’t do it myself, I couldn’t sustain that level of intensity for so long. But I have found that my summertime is vitally important for rejuvenating myself for the upcoming year, as is my Christmas break. It’s necessary for my psyche and for my spirit.
I also have rituals that I do during the course of the day – not only mornings, lunch and evenings, but also around key events such as presentations and even ordinary meetings. I go through a cycle of prepare, do, and reflect – and when one of those pieces is missing, my stress is noticeably higher. I’m more productive because I use these cycles of variation.
How do you know what kind of variety will energize your people? Let them have the freedom to design it.
- Telecommuting and flextime on the rise
- Impending turnover
- Leadership principle #7: Value
- Leadership principle #5: Trust
- Leadership principle #4: Clarity