We all want to perform at our best – engaged, focused, and “in the zone” –  but there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. So we try harder, dig deeper, push through. Somehow, we manage to squeeze even more into the hours of each day.

But what about the quality of energy we bring to those hours?

Isn’t that even more important?

If you’ve got a 3 hour zoom meeting but can barely concentrate or stay awake after the first hour, that’s not going to help you perform at your best.

If you’re juggling working at home with caring for your kids and are dead tired and agitated, then that’s not helping you perform at your best.

If you’re working 5 hours straight on a work project, but already lose concentration and focus after 2 hours, then that’s not going to help you perform at your best.

Optimizing our performance, health, or happiness is not about the quantity of time we spend in an activity, but about the quality of energy in it.

Several years ago, I worked with Dr Jim Loehr at the Human Performance Institute – now owned by Johnson & Johnson . My partner and I co-authored the Full Engagement Inventory that he used to assess participants at the Institute, based on his insights as a renowned Sports Psychologist to world class tennis players. What I learned helped me understand the power of REST – that is, what we do IN BETWEEN the points.

Because we simply don’t function at our best when we to run at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time.

Ours is an oscillating universe, characterized by rhythmic, wavelike movement between activity and rest. We are guided by rhythms – as are all things in nature – with a pulse, a rhythmic, wavelike movement between activity and rest. Like the ebb and flow of the tides, the movement between seasons, and the daily rising and setting of the sun, all organisms follow life-sustaining rhythms. We perform at our best when we move between expending energy and intermittently renewing energy through deliberate, purposeful, strategic recovery.

Most of us do not live this way. Instead we go go go go until we collapse and burn out. It’s almost a sign of weakness to do otherwise. Even if we’re tired and can barely concentrate anymore, we just keep going and going… Do you ever fully disengage from what you’re doing during the day? Do you take frequent breaks?

We need to rethink the entire macho notion that non-performance time is wasted time. Instead, we need to see that recovery is a key component of sustained high performance. It allows us to reset, renew and jump back in again with focus, strength, positivity, and connection.

This all sounds great but here’s where people get stuck. They decide recovery is a great idea, They schedule a 30 minute break in the morning and a 30 minute break in the afternoon. But after 15 minutes, they are thinking about the things they should be doing and are not. All hope of recovery is gone. Now there is simply less time and more anxiety.

Instead, take shorter but more frequent breaks. Every 60 – 90 minutes, take 10 minutes – 5 minutes – 2 minutes to recover if that’s all you can manage. As long as it is deliberate and dedicated to recovery, you will see results. Gradually increase the time in between working full out. 20 minutes is ideal but not always necessary.

High performing athletes know this – watch tennis players in between points. They will bounce the ball, spin the racket, perform some ritual that literally lets them release the last point and get ready for the next. It is indeed the period in between the points that accounts for much of the difference between the top 1% performers – those can let go of a losing point or a distraction and refocus, versus those that get stuck in the moment gone by. The winner is invariably the former. Oscillation matters. Recovery is key, even if it only for a moment.

So what exactly should we do during that time to replenish our energy?

Whatever you decide, do it with purpose. Some ideas to get you started:

  • Meditate or do breathing exercises
  • Do a quick workout
  • Go for a walk
  • Call a friend
  • Listen to music or make music
  • Paint a picture
  • Work on a puzzle
  • YOU decide

Look – we are able to override these natural oscillating cycles by summoning the fight-or-flight response and flooding our bodies with stress hormones that are designed to help us handle emergencies. Over the long-run, however, that’s a terrible idea. Toxins and stress hormones will build up in our system and over time take a toll on our bodies. Not to mention how it negatively impacts the people around us.

It might look like you are working less – you will actually be allowing yourself to get more done in less time with full engagement and satisfaction.

You can read more about The Power of Full Engagement in the book by Dr Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.