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The Rhythm of Great Performance

28 February 2015

From The New York Times:

For nearly 15 years, I’ve been making the case — in my writing and with corporate clients — that employees can be more productive by working fewer hours and taking more time for rest and renewal during the work day.

At my company, the Energy Project, we’ve tested this assumption over the years by progressively reducing the number of hours we ask employees to work.

Our hours are truly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and we encourage all employees to take an hour off for lunch, away from their desks.

. . . .

So how do we get anything done?

Each time we’ve opted to give our employees more time for rest and renewal, I’ve wondered anxiously if we’ve finally gone too far. But every year since 2009, our revenue and profitability have significantly increased. So, too, I believe, has the quality of the work we do and the value we provide to our clients.

I believe our approach is effective for the same reason that interval training is an efficient way to work out. You get more accomplished by working intensely for short periods and then refueling than you do by working continuously over a long period of time. None of us can operate continuously at peak levels for very long.

. . . .

[Psychologist Daniel] Kahneman set out to study “diurnal rhythms” — those that occur at predictable times every day — among 909 working women. The goal was to assess whether the way people felt was correlated with the time of day.

The most compelling evidence turned out to be around fatigue. Among a dozen feelings including “happy,” “competent,” “hassled” and “worried,” “fatigued” was far and away the one most strongly correlated to specific times of day.

Interestingly, most respondents in the study experienced the highest level of negative emotions in the mornings, but also the most energy and the greatest feelings of competence. Energy and competence peaked around noon, and then both declined steadily until bedtime.

In short, the longer subjects were awake, the more fatigued they became and the more incompetent they felt.

. . . .

[T]op violinists practice in intense, relatively short intervals, first thing in the morning, for no longer than 90 minutes, followed by a break. They almost never practice more than 4½ hours a day. They also report that practicing is the least enjoyable part of their day.

In short, the best violinists do all of their hardest work in the mornings when they have the most energy and the fewest distractions. In the afternoons, the best violinists regularly take a nap, averaging 20 to 30 minutes. They also report that naps — and sleep — are among the most important things they do to improve as violinists.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Lee for the tip.


7 Comments to “The Rhythm of Great Performance”

  1. So, I should stop binge writing? Sorry, schedule heavily influenced by day job.


    • You may be one of those ‘outliers’ that has a ‘clock’ off from the rest. Do what ‘feels’ good to you (heck, maybe you’re better at it if you are a ‘little’ off your rhythm — a little tired/upset/p*ssed off. 😉


      Absurdity: A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion. — Ambrose Bierce

  2. Al the Great and Powerful

    Wow, they have reduced their sched to 40 hours/week. What luxury…

    • Indeed. When I saw the line “how do we get anything done”, I’d assumed they were using a four-hour work-day or similar. But 9-5 with an hour off for lunch, and the ability to take a nap or work out? That leaves about 32 hours at their desk. This… this is not revolutionary.

      They don’t expect employees to answer emails after hours. Wow. Okay, the fact that he thinks this is so progressive and risking “taking it too far”, that he’s amazed they get things done, when it’s what working hours were roughly thirty years ago before computers streamlined things? Yeah, that’s horrifying.

    • 9-5 with an hour off for lunch is considered 7 hours/day by most companies.

  3. 9-5 with an hour off for lunch and the author was worried about “finally going too far”? Wonder how long the lunch break was before they started going too far.

  4. I’m curious about Russell Blake’s take on this concept. If I recall he’s blogged about 10-hour writing days. What kind of rhythm does he set for himself? Does he take naps?

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