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.