Want to be more productive? Take time to relax

I enjoy working hard, but I also enjoy playing hard. I have always believed in taking time off to exercise, relax and renew.

An article by Tony Schwartz in Sunday’s New York Times says that working long hours without taking time to renew your energy makes you less productive. From taking naps to going on vacation, time away from the daily grind helps you accomplish more. That’s not new information.

But the article taught me something new about what a productive schedule looks like. Research has found that our bodies tend to work best in uninterrupted 90-minute sessions, followed by a break. Studies of elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players, found that the best performers follow this schedule. And they rarely work more than 4-1/2 hours a day.

Schwartz has applied these principles to his writing. He wrote his first three books by working 10-hour days, and it took him at least a year to finish. For his two most recent books, he started writing in the morning and worked in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions, with a break after each one. He ran during one of his daily breaks and found that his best ideas often came to him during a run. He wrote 4-1/2 hours a day and finished both books in less than six months. He spent the afternoons doing less demanding work.

Schwartz has applied these principles to his own company. He said, “By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. . . . Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.”