Editor’s Note: We are delighted to welcome Marie-Josée as a monthly writer. This is her first article for PPND.
On the outside, busy seems to rhyme with happy. Busy people seem successful, needed and important. Busyness is, after all, serious business. Yet on the inside, busy is often a cousin of misery. We make it through the day, run to soccer practice, shorten our night’s sleep, survive through the week, and finish off what is left on our to-do list over the weekend. It is customary to describe our workload with words like crazy and expressions like “no time to breathe.” Before we realize it, we race through our lives and forget to verify whether what we are doing helps make us into the person we want to be.
We also discuss time in very financial terms. As Ilona Boniwell describes in Positive Psychology in a Nutshell, “We save it, spend it, waste it, we never have enough of it.” Time is now seen as a non-renewable resource, and as such, it is precious.
But is time really our most precious resource? When facing increasing demand, the best response is to augment capacity, not time on task. The authors of The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, explain: “Energy, not time, is our most precious resource… Performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy.”
They suggest a new paradigm, which I believe to be much more interesting than its predecessor. Rather than go through life as if it were a marathon, they recommend we approach it as a series of sprints. The focus shifts from managing our time more efficiently with fancy blackberries and ever-shorter email strategies to managing our energy more effectively, avoiding both over and underuse. In an economy driven by the innovative capacity of its workers, rather than making our mind the sole contributor to work and performance, their model recognizes that energy comes from four separate but related sources: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Neglecting one source will have repercussions on the others. Mind and body are one – as they are in real life.
To build capacity, they recommend we strive to push beyond our known limits, thus setting them further back, which is the exact technique athletes of many disciplines have used for years and years. Following the effort, rest is necessary, not only for our subjective benefit, but also for our body and brain to process and register the information that a new boundary was established. Downtime is no longer an unproductive indulgence, but a necessary procedure that prepares us for the next effort. While this equilibrium seems very much intuitive, it uncovers the less obvious conclusion that constant busyness impedes greatness.
I believe this new approach deserves consideration. If there is a small voice inside that is begging you for a rest, pay attention. You will engage and perform better after recovery. If you score high on the strengths of perseverance and achievement, learn to celebrate downtime – it’s your best ally!
For me, Mother Nature is most spectacular when the imposing structure of mountains meets the stillness of a water source. Likewise, peaks and valleys are equally necessary to make life optimally beautiful.
Boniwell, I. (2006). Positive Psychology in a Nutshell (2nd Edition). London: PWBC. Quotation used above: p. 56.
Loehr, J. & Schwartz, T. (2003). The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press.
Quote used above: pp. 3-5.
Images: Clock Ticking.
Welcome to positivepsychologynews.com! I find motivation and its cousin energy management absolutely fascinating. Why do people behave as they do?
I’ve often thought the phrase “I don’t have enough time” was a major excuse for so many things that people just don’t want to do. Yet what causes interest or desire? Why does one person choose to play baseball and another read a book? Values are important, but where do the values come from exactly? Can values change and what facilitates value change?
I know that a big part of medicine is getting patients to comply with treatment regimens. Some of these prescriptions patients find aversive. What makes one person stick with it while another abandons the treatment?
Anyway, that’s one area of my curiosity on the subject. I found your writing an appetizer for a second motivation-related piece. I hope to see more.
I loved your article, especially your insight that we draw strength from our “water source,” to face the challenges of our “mountains.” That may mean different things to different people, but it certainly resonated with me.
I look forward to your future writings.
Thank you both for your comments. I’m glad to have peaked your interest! Jeff – I might address your question about motivation/treatment compliance in a following article. Having broken 2 fingers earlier this year, I have been at times very compliant with my hand therapy and at other times somewhat delinquant – despite the fact that perseverance is my top strength! I did feel I was missing time to sit and play with my broken fingers even thought I knew it was essential. I still progressed very well, but I haven’t been quite as consistent as I thought I was going to be. Food for thought for me! Suzan – I am honored that my article has given you a new image to interpret and handle life events! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
Thanks Marie! Really love your articles, many of your words have struck the right note: cant agree with you more on ‘constant busyness impedes greatness’, and unfortunately I spent my last weekend on ‘finishing off what is left on our to-do list over the weekend’.. I am very much looking forward to your other writings and again, welcome to PPND 🙂
Ps, I am very interested in what you mentioned on striving to push beyond our known limits, do you have any clues or further suggestions on that?
I really like the way you put this together, and like you, I’m a great fan of the message from Loehr and Schwartz: “Manage energy, not time.”
You allude to one element of busyness that makes people hold on to it for dear life — it is connected to social status. Often people who complain about being busy go on to talk about all the email, meetings, phone calls, and instant messages they have to deal with. The unspoken message is “I’m in demand: I’m important.”
Now that my kids are grown and I’ve retired from one career to build the next, I own my time in a way I never did before. I often have time to do things — like stay closely connected to PPND — that others do not. Most of the time, I love the freedom. But sometimes I feel a little lost without the driving busyness — as if I have somehow lost importance in the world. I see in myself why people hold on to busyness.
I’ve just finished Robert Wright’s book, The Moral Animal, where he explores the Darwinian underpinnings of morality. Humans come with mental equipment for detecting, maintaining, and improving social status. It may take a special awareness for people to back away from that aspect of busyness. Your argument is a big help.
Glad to have you join us!
Too much time is just as good/bad as too little. I am in the process of changing careers. I spent the last year obtaining a Master’s in Special Education but I’ve been living kind of like a retiree or a full-time college student might. Aside from a few in-person classes, I haven’t had a real schedule. I have at times felt lost without the constant drumbeat of busy work.
It could be that people want to stay busy because they ruminate when they are not occupied.
Aristotle’s expert mean.
That sweet spot between so busy you can’t reflect on what’s really important and so much free time that you reflect on things that don’t need to be reflected on (aka ruminating).
I guess we’re lucky that you have more time than you usually do — since that has led you to be an active member of the PPND community. That’s me contributing a smidgen to your “social status” meter.
Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad my article resonated with you! About your question, here are a few examples of how I suggest we can push beyond our limits – provided sufficient before and after rest time!
– In a workout routine: increase the intensity, speed, or duration of the exercise. The idea is to build stronger muscles as well as a stonger cardio capacity. The benefit is better health and higher overall energy (as well as decreased helath risks).
– At work: tackle a situation we may normally avoid – participate in a special committee, set higher sales goals for ourselves, volunteer to train a new team member in addition of normal responsibilities, figure out new ways of handling old tasks, expressing and defending an unpopular point of view, handling a difficult client, etc. The idea is to get out of our comfort zone and expand the range of situations we can handle. The resulting benefit is that we are not easily thrown off our game by life’s unexpected events.
– At home: learn to read faster, cook more often, integrate meditation in our week (that’s a great capacity-expansion method and it’s hard work for most of us!), avoid overuse of our TV, learn about new parenting strategies, be adventurous in courting our loved one. The idea is to keep learning and progressing in a healthy fashion so we are not always returning to the same old – often not so desirable – solutions. The benefit is a wider range of options that can be uplifting and stimulating.
Does that help? Let me know!
Thank you for welcoming me to PPND!
I read a quote once that said something like “Rich people have money. Wealthy people have both time and money.”
Shame on me, I forget who it’s from…
Food for thought!
Rather than a series of sprints why not just walk and smell the roses – that is just as energising as the endless pursuit of goals
May I emphasize that my article was mainly promoting the need for downtime and rest? Far from supporting an endless pursuit of goals, I am suggesting a strategy where there is room for both peaks and valleys. I believe optimal living does not exist without time to smell the roses, nor does it happen without challenging ourselves to grow continuously. Makes sense?
5 years ago I would have agreed with you. Your approach is very wetsern as exemplified by “challenging ourselves to grow continuously”. What if not challenging ourselves but accepting ourselves was the essence of growing?
Welcome to PPND! We’re glad to have you on the team! Thanks for kicking off your writing with a thought-provoking article!
Best to you,
p.s. Senia, thanks for adding another great team member to the roster!
I think the superiority of a whole culture over another is a racist notion. There are many in the West who are practicing Buddhists, mellow, and have a take things as they come approach to living. There are hard-charging, ambitious Asians.
I’d like to see more about techniques on how to move from a 2 to an 8 on a happiness scale. I wouldn’t like to see techniques aimed at remaining -2. Going with the flow is impractical because many problems require a solution. As the the Dalai Lama himself has said, “if you have an arrow in your chest…pull it out”. Acceptance is a fine step in a solution focused process. Remaining overlong at acceptance is a recipe for missing out on important opportunities.
If there is no solution, as with terminal disease, then accepting your fate seems appropriate. Conserve your energy and use it in domains that you value. Spend your last days on Earth doing what you love. Luckily there aren’t a whole lot of these kinds of situations in daily life. Usually you can make a difference.
If you find a happy person you find a project. That’s why I support efforts toward the pursuit of happiness.
I have to say something here since I am a non-Western from head to toe and a secret lover of Marie-Josee’s writings.
I don’t think “challenging ourselves to grow continuously” is “Western” at all. I can guess where your impression came from, though- “challenge” sounds like an action of an outward vector, and “grow” a linear, both of which have a different connotation in a non-Western linguistic system.
But even without such a blab, doesn’t “challenging ourselves” start from “accepting ourselves”? After all, nothing happens unless you accept- and this is neither Western nor Eastern- it’s the truth of life.