23 Jan 2013
By Aaron Broverman
As a freelance journalist, I still think that if I work more hours, I’ll get more done; I still think that one less hour of sleep means one hour more of productivity and I still think the more tasks I can juggle at the same time, the more productive I am. There are countless creative entrepreneurs out there who think the same way, but I think we’ve all been lying to ourselves for years.
Tony Schwartz, pictured above, will tell you that all three of those seemingly logical maxims are nothing but lies that creative people tell themselves to justify redlining their bodies and minds into a stupor.
As the CEO of The Energy Project, Schwartz teaches company personnel to work at their optimum capacity in a sustainable way by helping them manage their energy in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual ways, combining all four areas to help increase productivity.
“We take capacity for granted,” says Schwartz. “We make an assumption that whatever the demand on us is, we’ll have the capacity to meet it because for hundreds of years that’s the way it has worked.”
In his popular presentation The Myths of the Overworked Creative, Schwatz outlines the most popular strategic myths for getting things done and what we should all do instead.
Myth #1: The Best Way to Get More Work Done, is to Work More Hours
“That seems logical – more, bigger, faster has been a message that has been around since the industrial revolution,” says Schwartz. “But, here’s the reality: We are not meant to work continuously and we are not at our most effective when we do. The better way to work is to build in intermittent renewal along the way.”
Schwartz will tell you we’re not meant to work the same way our digital devices do. Instead, we’re designed to pulse, moving between spending energy and renewing it. Every system in the body works this way and by working continuously, he contends we’re violating the internal rhythms of our body at our own peril.
He recommends ennobling renewal in society, instead of thinking of it as“slacking” and says that we should be working according to our ultradian rhythm. These are the 90 minute intervals when we move from a state of high arousal before descending into a state of low energy, so working for 90 minutes before resting and then starting again for another 90 is the best plan. He points out that the more we practice renewal, the faster and the sooner we can recover and start the cycle again.
Myth #2: One Hour Less of Sleep Means One Hour More of Productivity
We all practice this, but the truth is, even small amounts of sleep deprivation have a negative impact on our health, cognitive capacity and effectiveness.
“Sleep is the most important behavior in our life to get right and it’s the first one we get wrong,” says Schwartz. “A study by Dr. Alan Rechtschaffen from the University of Chicago revealed that sleep is more important than eating.”
It turns out 97.5 per cent of people need a minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep to feel fully rested and without it we have significant cognitive deficits.
Actually, if you went four nights in a row with five or fewer hours of sleep, you have the same cognitive capacity as someone who is intoxicated.
Myth #3: It’s the Number of Tasks that We Juggle Simultaneously that Determines How Productive We Are
“We call it multi-tasking, it isn’t multi-tasking, it’s just task shifting because the brain can’t do two things at the same time. It moves quickly from one activity to another activity and we think that’s the way we need to pay attention in order to get all these things done in our lives,” says Schwartz.
Even with all the distractions in today’s society, the reality is, we’re still most effIcient when we do one thing at a time, fully absorbed, sequentially. Schwartz says the problem is, our technology has gotten way ahead of our ability to skillfully manage it. The only question is, how do we adjust to make better use of it?
In fact, we increase the time it takes to finish our primary task by 25 per cent every time we switch from that primary task to another one. Instead, Schwartz contends we should treat each task as a sprint and not a marathon.
“A sprinter looks down the track and asks himself, ‘Can I fully engage in this activity in its entirety?’ and the sprinter answers, ‘Yes I can,’ Why? because the sprinter recognizes a stopping point. The sprinter has a finish line. We need to take our finish lines back. We need to find a balance between expending energy and recovering energy, so when we’re engaged, we’re fully engaged and when we’re recovering and renewing, we are truly renewing and we stop living in the grey zone in between.”