You might stop working if you don’t pause on purpose. The stopping could be procrastination, early retirement, stress leave, burnout, exhaustion, or chronic disengagement. Purposeful pauses offer you rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation to sustain performance over the long run.
Rest, relax, rejuvenate
In education, the three R’s are reading, writing, and arithmetic. Just as essential as the three R’s of schooling are the three R’s of work: rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. If we aspire to have fully engaged employees and high performance, we must give attention, energy and effort to replenishing ourselves.
We want employees to fully engage but we must recognize that being fully engaged is not infinitely sustainable. We want more from employees at work, but the endless pursuit of more is a pathway to less done in more time, anemic effort, or burnout as employees become exhausted, cynical, and lack the belief they can achieve results.
Overall, we focus far too much on improving performance management with ratings, assessments, feedback and conversations. And we don’t focus enough on the subtle factors surrounding performance that help us be our best. What if we acted on the realization that we can enhance performance with healthy cycles between performance and recovery?
Go slower to go faster
Let’s take an example from marathons. I’ve been following the heroic, seemingly impossible quest to break the 2-hour barrier for a marathon. There are many elements required to achieve this performance and these include rest, recovery and going slow at times. Ed Caesar wrote a series of intriguing Wired articles about the marathon mission and his own attempt to run under 90 minutes for a half marathon. In one piece, “The Secret to Running a Faster Marathon? Slow Down,” Ed outlined the importance of rest, recovery, and going slower to go faster.
We need to work hard, but not all day and not every day. Many amateur marathoners are surprised to discover that some of their best times occur when they took short and strategic walking breaks during the race. To go fast, also go slow. This applies to work performance, too.
Work researchers, Zijlstra, Cropley and Rydstedt stated in their 2014 paper on recovery from work:
Internal recovery refers to the shorter periods of relaxation that take place within the frames of the workday or the work setting in the form of short scheduled or unscheduled breaks, by shifting attention or changing to other work tasks when the mental or physical resources required for the initial task are temporarily depleted or exhausted. External recovery refers to actions that take place outside of work – e.g. in the free time between the workdays, and during weekends, holidays or vacations.
Here are 3 keys to help you unlock the 3R’s and improve your overall approach to performance:
1. Be mindful.
Don’t work with blinders on. Monitor your performance by giving attention to your energy and productivity. When your efficiency begins to decline, use that as a trigger to recharge through some form of rest, relaxation, or rejuvenation. This could range from a 10-minute nap or walk to engaging in non-work conversation. Whatever you choose to do, ensure it contributes to your energy for future work rather than deplete you even further.
2. Rejuvenation is not a solo voyage.
Involve others at work in shared recovery periods. Go for a walk and talk or have one team member monitor your team’s performance and call a time out whenever it seems to be waning because of low energy or exhaustion. This time out may not be the time to pull out your smart phone and have the screen absorb the little energy you have left. Work gets broken when we fail to take real breaks.
3. Sometimes a switch is as good as a rest.
I’m not advocating multi-tasking here, as multi-tasking is not effective. But I am encouraging you to switch tasks completely and take time away by engaging with another task – you may be more refreshed when you return to the previous task. By the way, don’t make this your only method at the expense of others times of rest and rejuvenation.
Turn your own keys to improve performance by ensuring you have the vigor, energy and vitality to be at your best. What works for one person may not work for another person. And what works for you today may not work in the future. Pay attention to ensure that what you do to relax and recover is having the benefit intended and doesn’t become another demand you’ve created for yourself that depletes a dwindling supply of energy.
In The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz declared that energy, not time, is the new currency of work. Ensure you are using time during the day and after work to build your performance currency reserves. “Doing nothing” means a great deal when it’s embedded in full engagement and high performance.