In our professional lives we are often facing one urgent matter after another. Opportunities for rest and recovery are few and far between. Professional athletes are similarly faced with intense moments. However, professional athletes often have much more time built in for rest and recovery. Games and competitions are intermittently spaced with practices and off-seasons.
If you’re watching the Tour de France, you’ll appreciate that one of the things making it such a gruelling competition is the lack of recovery time between each stage. The business world can be a lot like the Tour de France. Each day brings a new mountain to climb in terms of tight deadlines, increased competitive pressures and new stresses. Rest and recovery periods (such as vacation days) are few and far between.
A Harvard Business Review article title The Making of a Corporate Athlete (2001; Loehr & Schwartz) highlighted the importance of rest and recovery for both professional athletes and corporate executives. The article argues that executives need to learn what world-class athletes already know: “recovering energy is as important as expending it.”
Extensive sports research tells us that to build a muscle we need to stress it to the point that the fibers begin to break down. This needs to be followed by an equally important recovery phase during which the muscle not only heals, but grows stronger. Loehr and Schwartz remind us that “chronic stress without recovery depletes energy reserves, leads to burnout/breakdown, and ultimately undermines performance.”
Physical activity, appropriate nutrition and adequate sleep are all critical to maintaining peak form. We all know that we need to make exercise a part of our everyday life. We also know that frequent, small nutritious snacks throughout the day are better than heavy large meals and high doses of caffeine. And finally, we know that it is important to get a full night’s sleep.
Loehr and Schwartz recommend that executives “train in the same systematic, multilevel way that world class athletes do” and they validated this theory with research on thousands of executives. Executives who are performing at their best describe feeling “more relaxed, less resentful about relentless work demands, and able to work fewer hours while getting more done.” Now doesn’t that sound productive!
One of the executives Loehr and Schwartz worked with began incorporating a 1pm workout into her day. Consequently, this executive reported feeling “reenergized and better able to focus” during the afternoons when she would have otherwise been sluggish. She also reported that she was in a better mood and a better boss.
Another executive shifted his eating habits from heavy meals late in the day (resulting in poor sleep and feeling sluggish in the morning) to multiple lighter, more nutritious meals throughout the day. He also integrated a more consistent exercise routine into his week. He reported: “At the age of 59, I have more energy than ever, and I can sustain it for a longer period of time.” He also reported to be better able to deal with complex issues at work and people management.
So there you have it – nature’s way of boosting your productivity. As the summer months invite us into the great outdoors, I challenge you to find ways to use fitness, nutrition and sleep to optimize your productivity. Do you have specific time allocated for exercise each week? Are you surrounding yourself with healthy food options? Can you commit to finishing work at a specific time each day? (Note: many people who do this are surprised to realize how ingenious they can be in order to get their work done during the day).
Good luck and I’ll see you at the gym.
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