The Way I Am Working Isn’t Working

SprinterAt least that is what I found out at my favorite SXSW session, “The 90 Minute Solution: Live Like a Sprinter,” with Tony Schwartz, bestselling author of “Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live.”  If you are like me, always tired, always working too long but not getting enough accomplished and being distracted by too many things, then this is for you.

Most people would consider me a workaholic – I work hard, I’m not afraid of long hours and I thrive on pressure and on getting things done.  But here is what I found out. I am living by the myth that the best way to get more done is to work more hours.

I am operating like a marathon runner. In my life, I am working and living in a long distance race with no end. And as a marathoner, I am reserving energy – always holding some back, because I don’t know when I will need it. The result is I am never fully engaged in a task, and since there is no end, I am never fully engaged in rest. According to Tony, we are not meant to be “always on” like a computer – our bodies are meant to pulse rhythmically between working and re-energizing. He says, “the sad truth is that most of us don’t do either one very well.”

What I need to do is work and live like a sprinter. A sprinter is fully engaged for the entire race. A sprinter knows there is an end and can see it, so they can put everything they have into that race and then they rest at the end.

According to Tony, the best way to live like a sprinter is to build in a rhythmic workflow with intermittent renewal.   Tony explained in detail how sleep and rejuvenation are more important than food, and why our bodies demand recovery during the day every 90 minutes. His advice boiled down to this:

  1. Go to sleep earlier, because you can’t get up later – most of us are already getting up at the very last minute possible, but aren’t getting to sleep when we can. He said to prepare for sleep and make it ritualistic so that you ensure that you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
  2. Spend your energy more skillfully. Work in 90 minute bursts like you are sprinting in a race. Pick an activity and completely focus on that activity for a full 90 minutes. At the end of the 90 minutes, take a break. This could be taking a walk, breathing deeply, stretching, a 10 minute nap – but something that will allow you to rejuvenate and be ready for the next sprint.
  3. Do the most important task you have first. Chose this task the night before so that you can sleep knowing you have a plan. Give that task your full attention for the first 90 minutes of your day and you will see yourself getting more done.

What resonated with me most about his talk was when he said – we’ve lost our finish lines and we need to reinsert them in our lives. When we are engaged we need to be fully engaged. When we are resting we need to be fully engaged in rest.

I once asked my dad when I was a kid, “at work, how do you know when you are done for the day?” He told me, “I’m never done.” Like him, I have no finish lines. So I am going to give this a try, I am hoping it will make me be more productive, less distracted, better rested, and probably a much more enjoyable person to be around.

I’m interested – do you work like a marathoner or a sprinter?  Do you see any value to this advice and do you think it could make you better at your job and your personal life?

Note: I wrote this in 90 minutes. Time for a break.

Photo credit: Sheffield Tiger

  • http://www.enterdialogue.com Tyson Goodridge

    Trying to do the same thing today and tomorrow!

  • http://janetfouts.com Janet Fouts

    Yep, I’m always working and I’m always tired. I’ve heard this information before about chunking time being more effective and that multi-tasking actually takes more time to get both tasks done. This time I’m going to give it a try too!