Achieving sustainable optimal energy@work

by Dr Barbara Tey

ClockIn “Four Destructive Myths Most Companies Still Live By”, Tony Schwartz reminds us to be wary of mistaken beliefs that plague and cripple many corporations. However, the most destructive myth out of the four, Schwartz warns, is this: “The best way to get more work done is to work longer hours”.

Unfortunately, many bosses you and I know still cling on to that myth. They may not be so naïve as to declare it explicitly, but their body language screams it out loud even if they do so unconsciously.

For instance, the boss calls you in for a “brief” meeting just before you are supposed to be off work at 5 pm. The so-called brief meeting easily turns into one or two hours of discussion – you miss dinner with your spouse and kids, and have to cancel that bicycle ride with them in the park.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying there is never any place for emergency or urgent meetings now and then or during a really challenging period. But if such expectations from your boss arise on a regular basis, then the boss is either inefficient or ineffective, if not plain ignorant.

An article in The Star newspaper on 5 January 2012 highlighted Malaysia as one of the top ten countries in the world with the most public holidays. Being a multiethnic society, Malaysia observes public holidays for a number of diverse festivals, which allow Malaysians to travel back to their hometowns to celebrate with their families.

At the same time, the article reported how employers lamented about the loss in productivity in their respective industries whenever many employees took prolonged breaks from work at the same time. The following day, the same newspaper quoted a psychologist who defended the need for employees to take such breaks for their well-being. After all, a global survey by Regus across 85 countries had found Malaysians to be “too hardworking”.

The results of the survey, which was conducted on 12,000 business people and published in The Star on 9 November 2011, revealed that 15 percent of Malaysians regularly chalked up 11 hours of work a day, compared to 10 percent globally. In addition, 32 percent of Malaysians worked between nine and 11 hours daily. About 47 percent of Malaysians take their work home more than three times per week, compared to 43 percent globally.

Intense focus + Intermittent renewal = Sustainable optimized energy@work
Unlike computers, we cannot operate at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time without suffering dire consequences. And yet even machines need to be serviced and batteries recharged – think about your car, laptop or mobile phone – how much more important it is for humans to be renewed!

To borrow Schwartz’s words, we are designed to “pulse intermittently” between expending and renewing energy. Great achievers as well as enlightened leaders know that it is not the number of hours of work that determines the value people create, but rather the energy they bring into whatever hours they work.

For many of us, our reservoir of energy systematically diminishes as the day progresses. However, intermittent renewal makes it possible to maintain our energy throughout the day. Schwartz recommends that we alternate periods of intense focus with periods of renewal every 90 minutes. In this way, we can get more done in less time and in a more sustainable manner.

Give yourself a boost in productivity today!
Don’t believe that renewal time can really boost productivity? Schwartz challenges you to try out the following:

(1)   Select the most challenging task you have on your agenda before going to bed every night over the coming week.
(2)   Set aside 60 to 90 minutes at the start of the following day to focus on the selected activity.
(3)   Choose a fixed start and stop time, with no interruptions wherever possible.
(4)  Once you’re able to set the above in motion, it will almost certainly turn out to be your most productive period of the day.

Leaders, if you wish to be more effective, start encouraging intermittent renewal periods for yourself and your people.