Life is not a Marathon

Photo courtesy of Robert Jinks

Photo courtesy of Robert Jinks

Tony Schwartz is an expert on human performance who has set himself apart from other productivity experts with his unique approach on “energy management.”  For Schwartz, who is the founder of “The Energy Project,” productivity and performance are determined by how well we use (and conserve) our energy to maximize engagement and focus in the areas where we most want to see results.

In 2004, Schwartz wrote, “The Power of Full Engagement,” encouraging people to look at their professional productivity through the lens of a competitive athlete.  For an athlete, performance is all about generating the right amount of energy at the right time, which means understanding the right balance between intense sessions of deliberate and focused practice and opportunities for rest and recovery, all fueled by proper nutrition.

According to Schwartz, this is a model that does not only apply to professional athletes.  Anyone who wants to perform well in their life—as a professional, as a family member, as an athlete or as a contributor to society has to consider how they manage their energy to accomplish their goals.

Schwartz says most of us approach life with a marathon mentality.  From the moment we wake up in the morning, until the time we go to bed, we are pushing ourselves to go, go, go–non-stop action.  We have a limited amount of time, and so much to get done, we are always overwhelmed and feel we have no time to “stop and smell the roses.”  We can see the consequences of this kind of lifestyle in high levels of stress and exhaustion, unhealthy habits, and at the end of it all, we are still not accomplishing as much as we wish we were.

He advises people to think of life not as a marathon, but as a series of sprints, each punctuated by periods of rest and recovery.  This is not only how top athletes train, but top musicians as well, who typically practice for bouts of 90 minutes with a high level of intensity, followed by a break which could include rest and relaxation, something pleasurable or enjoyable, and/or a healthy snack to fuel the next bout of practice.

Schwartz encourages this kind of rhythm in the workplace as well, which goes directly against the typical business culture where people wear their “busyness” as a badge of honor, often grabbing lunch at their desk and slogging away in the office for 10-12 hours a day.

In his latest book, “Be Excellent at Anything,” Schwartz talks about the importance of getting the right “pulse” between effort and recovery.  “Intermittent renewal” is a strategy for being productive by pulsating between periods of intense effort and periods of renewal.  Renewal can be passive (such as a nap, rest or meditation) or can be active (such as a walk, a jog, a yoga class or a trip to the gym.)

According to Schwartz, letting go of the notion that we are “too busy” to take a much needed rest, whether it’s an afternoon nap, or an annual vacation, will actually improve our productivity (and our health) rather than reduce it.

How does taking a break improve your productivity?  The marathon runner, who can never see the finish line has to go slowly.  They have to conserve their energy for the long haul.  But a sprinter, who knows that rest is just around the corner, can go full speed ahead, covering a lot more ground in less time.

Try giving up the marathon . . . and let me know how it works.

References and recommended reading:

Loehr, J. & Schwartz, T., (2004). The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. Free Press.

Schwartz, T. (2010). Be Excellent at Anything:  Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live.  Free Press.

Photo Credit: RobertJinks via Compfight cc


by Jeremy McCarthy

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One Response to Life is not a Marathon

  1. Dan Bowling October 29, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    Great to hear your voice again, Jeremy. I know Tony, and his ideas around energy management have a big influence on my crazy life – as it should for your readers, who all have “crazy” lives as well. Smart, well-written blog. Say Hi to Hong Kong for us!

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