The Productivity Paradox

In the June 2010 issue of Harvard Business Review, author Tony Schwartz explains how those in leadership positions have many opportunities to help their teams replenish their energy. Schwartz says, “It’s all about providing examples for others and creating a safe environment.”

Today, I listened to the corresponding, The HBR IdeaCast (iTunes podcast) and it certainly reaffirmed my position that we all need to ‘recharge our batteries’ in order to operate at our peak performance. According to Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project, the magic number happens to be, 90 minutes. That is, one hour and a half of focused work; then we need a re-energizing break. While he made it clear that the break shouldn’t necessarily equal the time spent on focused work, replenishing our energy is the critical part. The key, according to Schwartz, is how well you recover; not how long. He compared it to how some people work for a long period of time, but may not be as productive as someone working in a more focused manner. Similarly, breaks are dependent on the person, whereas some need more or less than others.

He went on to emphasize that humans are not made to operate like computers; we need to renew to succeed.

As an example on the extreme end of the spectrum, I feel it’s very much akin to the way I saw them do it in Italy, with their daily siestas. When I returned to the U.S., I did try incorporating the concept into my entrepreneurial life, but maintaining it was a challenge because of our societal norms. Let’s face it: our work culture and what’s acceptable is so very different. While I do still see a spike in my productivity after these awesome 20-minute power naps, it’s difficult to schedule it daily. This concept of ‘replenishing my energy’ in quick spurts seems more realistic and doable. What this article/podcast did was give me empirical statistics to back up my already held intuitive beliefs.

Check out the following excerpt in which Schwartz puts forth several dos and don’ts.

Here are four (4) DOs:

• Take back your lunch. Get away from your desk, and preferably out of the office altogether, so that you come back to work more focused and fueled to face the rest of the day.”

• Communicate your values. “Feeling valued is our core emotional need. Once a week, write a note of appreciation to someone who works for you. Be very specific about what it is you value.”

• Cultivate creativity. “Set aside an informal, relaxing space at work that is devoted to creative thinking and brainstorming…Schedule a regular time – at least once every two weeks – to gather with colleagues to brainstorm new ideas, discuss new initiatives under way, discuss longer-term projects, or set strategy.”

• Share your passion. “Communicate to all associates what you stand for and what your larger mission is, beyond profit. If that isn’t clear to you now, set aside time to reflect on it.”

Here are three (3) DON’Ts:

• Avoid conflict. “Ignoring a difficult situation typically does more harm than communicating directly and honestly about it. The key to a successful conversation is not to assume you’re right but to enter into it in a spirit of openness and curiosity.”

• Try to do multiple things at the same time. “Make an effort to give people your full focus and try to listen without interrupting. You’ll know you’ve succeeded if you’re capable of repeating back what you just heard.”

• Be self-absorbed. “It’s easy to make it all about you. Try to step beyond your own immediate needs to better serve the needs of those you lead.”

If you would like to read the complete article, you’ll need to purchase a copy of this issue or take advantage of a significantly reduced subscription rate. Once subscribed, you can access all HBR articles and a whole lot of other resources. To get complete information, please visit


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