We are driving along, going, and going all day long. There comes a point when we are going to need to stop for gas – to refuel our energy source. Whether we pull over to the gas station ourselves or our car simply stops itself to manage our energy level is up to us. Bottom line: we need to schedule in time to refuel. We are only as productive as our commitment to not push our engines past the limit without a refuel or an oil change.
At home, we listen to health professionals who tell us how important 7 hours of sleep is for our health. At the gym, we abide by the latest in exercise physiology, which tells us that interval training, or taking short rests in between intense bursts of activity, is highly effective. At work, we know that the five-hour workday is widely hailed as a better way to manage our energy and get more done at work. But, unfortunately, most of us work at least 8 hours a day, often working straight through lunch.
When it comes to work, we respond to rising demands in the workplace by putting in longer hours. We wear badges of exhaustion with pride, only to come home with little left to give to our loved ones, leaving us feeling guilty and unsatisfied.
This cultural habit of chronic overworking is detrimental to our health because we are asking our bodies to run counter to our physiology, which is grounded in ultradian rhythms, the 90- to 120-minute cycles during which our bodies slowly move from a high-energy state into a physiological trough where our bodies demand recovery.
Without intermittent breaks for renewal, we blatantly disregard what science tells us about how our bodies function, on rhythms of peaks and valleys, which is compromising not only our health, but also the quality of what we get done. Our companies suffer, too: when we are overspent mentally, physically, and emotionally, we are less engaged, more distracted, more likely to leave our jobs or spend more on health care costs.
Our best output comes when we are fueled by taking productive breaks.
Instead of looking to manage our time, which is a finite resource, how can we manage our energy? Defined as the capacity to work, energy is a renewable resource that can be systematically expanded to get more work done each day and be able to come home to our families still fueled enough to be fully engaged.
The energy management solution: renew yourself regularly along the way.
Cycles of Productivity
A recent study by the Draugiem Group used a computer application to track employee work habits. Specifically, the app DeskTime tracked the habits of the most productive people and pinpointed the working flow that leads to the ability to get the most done.
Turns out, what the most productive 10% of users of this app share is their discipline to take effective breaks. In particular, the most productive work for 52 minutes at a time, followed by a 17 minute break. (Similar to the Pomodoro Technique). This 52 on – 17 off rule of thumb refreshes our attention span and invigorates our bodies. As much as we want to be on 100% of the time, it’s just not humanly possible.
The key is to not to work harder, but to work smarter – by fueling your day with intentional time to recharge.
How to best recover
When it comes to recharging, what kind of play works best for you? Do you prefer to be quiet and be left to your own devices? To socialize with others about the latest episode of a TV show? To move your body and exercise? Knowing how you and the people you work with are wired and the environment each needs to best renew is crucial to managing energy at the office to achieve top performance.
The first step is to begin to value time to recharge and use scheduled time in between productivity bursts to take the most effective break for you. The next step is to find out how you best play, and then to commit to taking breaks in the types of ways you identified on a regular basis.
Ziksana is driven to spread the word that when we take time to play, we are more productive at work. Science tells us that play does wonders for our brains. Play motivates, enables emotional intelligence, improves our decision-making ability, and catalyzes learning. The science of play is the foundation of our work – to make you and your company more productive at getting your work done.
So, it’s time we think twice about working at all hours of the day and night. It’s time to listen to our bodies and what the research is telling us. We need to spend the time to renew, to manage our energy effectively and work smarter, and to be more productive.
By using capsules of time to designate towards specific tasks, we can manage our energy to stay focused on working hard for brief sprints of time and then spend intentional time recovering directly after. However you choose to sync up to a schedule with dedicated time built-in for rejuvenation is fine, whether it be through Google Calendar, your phone timer, or your coworker’s designated morning snack break, as long as you have the time management skills and discipline to stick by the commitment you make to take Playbreaks(™) to refuel your energy.
One of our favorite tools to monitor our productivity to play ratio are these sand timers:
Remember, it is our energy we are managing here, not our time. These tools are only as good as the fuel you put in, as what you do to refuel.
As for a schedule, here’s a simple example of a productivity & play cycle you can try (and repeat throughout the day):
20 minutes Check email, delete junk, respond to most important emails first.
30 minutes Get work done by yourself / attend or lead a meeting.
15 minutes Take a PlayBreak(™)
- Social play develops bonds with your team members to improve levels of trust and communication.
- Imaginative play develops a vision for the future and takes your brain into the ‘big picture’
- Creative play helps connect disparate concepts together so that they become relevant to the current context.
- Physical play catalyzes your full body to be energized and actively engaged, ready for whatever is next.
Watch this video to learn about the different types of play and why it’s valuable to incorporate them into the workplace!