The challenge is that the demand in our lives increasingly exceeds our capacity. Think of capacity as the fuel that makes it possible to bring your skill and talent fully to life. Most of us take our capacity for granted because for most of our lives we’ve had enough. What’s changed is that between digital technology and rising complexity, there’s more information and more requests coming at us, faster and more relentlessly than ever. Unlike computers, however, human beings aren’t meant to operate continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time. Rather, we’re designed to move rhythmically between spending and renewing our energy. Our brains wave between high and low electrical frequencies. Our hearts beat at varying intervals. Our lungs expand and contract depending on demand. It’s not sufficient to be good at inhaling. Indeed, the more deeply you exhale, the calmer and more capable you become. Instead, we live linear lives, progressively burning down our energy reservoirs throughout the day. It’s the equivalent of withdrawing funds from a bank account without ever making a deposit. At some point, you go bankrupt. The good news is that we can influence the way we manage our energy. By doing so skillfully, you can get more done in less time, at a higher level of quality, in a more sustainable way.
iPhone June 2020 Wallpaper
A couple of key scientific findings point the way. The first is that sleep is more important than food. You can go for a week without eating and the only thing you’ll lose is the weight. Give up sleep for even a couple of days and you’ll become completely dysfunctional. Even so, we’re all too willing to trade away an hour of sleep in the false belief that it will give us one more hour of productivity. In fact, even very small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our cognitive capacity. The notion that some of us can perform adequately with very little sleep is largely a myth.
Less than 2.5 percent of the population—that’s one in forty people—feels fully rested with less than seven to eight hours of sleep a night. The second key finding is that our bodies follow what are known as ultradian rhythms—ninety-minute periods at the end of which we reach the limits of our capacity to work at the highest level. It’s possible to push ourselves past ninety minutes by relying on coffee, or sugar, or by summoning our own stress hormones, but when we do so we’re overriding our physiological need for intermittent rest and renewal. Eventually, there’s a price to pay.
In addition, Zeke started scheduling thirty minutes in his calendar at lunchtime for a walk outside. He leaves his smartphone at his desk to avoid temptation. The walks give him a chance to recharge, but also provide precious time to reflect on the morning’s meetings and anything else on his mind. At first, Zeke worried that getting to work later and taking the time to walk at lunch would make him less productive. Instead, he found himself working more efficiently when he returned and getting more done over the course of the day. Over time, Zeke also began making better choices about what work to take on. So long as he arrived at work already feeling tired, he instinctively put his energy into executing simple tasks. Doing so allowed him to feel productive without having to expend too much energy. It was the equivalent, he came to recognize, of a sugar high. It was satisfying to accomplish a series of relatively simple tasks, but the pleasure didn’t last for long.
Zeke now begins his days by tackling his most important task first. He focuses for sixty to ninety minutes on the challenge he believes has the greatest likelihood of adding long-term value. “These are the things that I should be doing as a leader,” he says. “I just didn’t get around to them before.” It’s not that Zeke has it all figured out. When he travels, for example, he still sometimes abandons the rituals he’s established at home. Then he has to struggle to build them back into his routine. What he now understands is that when he builds renewal into his day—when he establishes the right rhythms—everything in his life works better.