Nature is full of rhythms: the rising and setting of the sun, the tides, the ebb and flow of the seasons. Animals hibernate, migrate, rest and renew. Not surprisingly, humans too are subject to rhythms. Also not surprisingly, we ignore them, since we believe we are unique and have risen above Nature.
Not surprisingly then, we are sick and inefficient a great deal of the time!
But rhythms are important, especially in the matter of rest and recovery. The USA is outstanding in being a totally linear society, pushing, relentless, frantic, with no real let up. Most other Western nations are not quite as bad but still suffer from the same ethic.
Women are as bad as men; often more so. What’s the problem here?
It’s even reflected in the language. “Downtime” suggests a negative thing. Yet it should be “uptime”. Better still downtime should be called “build up time” and work called “rundown time”. Then we would have a clearer physiological idea of what we are doing to ourselves.
We need our recovery time to achieve the performance levels we set for ourselves and then never really meet.
The idea of setting alternate productivity and rest cycles was first described by the Greek writer Flavius Philostratus (170- 245 AD?). He wrote Gymnasticus, a training manuals for successful athletes. [incidentally, the words of Philostratus emerge almost unchanged in the erotic love song Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes by Ben Johnson]
The Chinese have always known about ebb and flow; it’s inherent in the Yin and Yang concept. Mornings are Yang, very high energy; evenings are Yin, somewhat slower. Yang is outgoing energy. Yin is inward directed.
Modern science finally got a grasp of this in the form of circadian and ultradian rhythms. We should be paying more attention.
Circadian, as everybody knows, means a daily cycle (circa dies: Latin for about a day). Ultradian means many times a day. There are countless ebb and flow cycles running naturally in our bodies. When we override these we damage ourselves. Relentless driving work means ultimately something will break down (heart attack, incapacity, cancer or some other disaster).
The smart thing to do is not what corporate America thinks, but what Nature thinks: that taking intermittent rests is a good idea! Excessive work without time to recover is ultimately destructive to productivity and therefore very stupid.
I’ve taught for decades what Georgi Lozanov discovered about study success: the ideal unit of time is about one hour, which includes 10 minutes recovery time at the end (50 minutes full engaged, 10 minutes rest and recovery).
The same thing applies in all our lives. You need to get hip and start incorporating it into everything.
Instead of teachers berating kids for being “inattentive”, they should let the child rest and say “take five, Johnny!”
To enhance your own success at whatever you do, divide your day into short bites. An hour is ideal and make sure you incorporate a recovery of 10 minutes, when you do NOTHING related to your current activity.
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz cite an interesting example in their book The Power Of Full Engagement. In 1998 the US Army carried out a study in productivity. They had two teams of soldiers firing shells. One team were told to keep firing, non-stop; the others were told to take regular naps. The measure of success was how many shells landed on target.
On the first day, the group firing continuously scored more hits; not surprisingly, since they fired more shells overall. But on the second day, the group which had short naps went into the lead and stayed there for the rest of the experiment. The continuous shooters simply began to tire and made more and more mistakes because of their fatigue.
The lesson is simple: there are short-term gains by working intensely. But these gains always evaporate in the longer haul. Recovery time is NOT time wasted. It’s valuable!
Remember our lives are a long haul; what matters is the long term, over a span of decades, not what we do today, this afternoon, now!