Professionals live today in a world of relentless demand. To meet their obligations, their default instinct - including mine, if the pressure gets high enough - is simply to push harder.
The problem is human beings aren’t meant to operate the way computers do: at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time. To the contrary, people perform best when they pulse rhythmically between spending and renewing energy - not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.
Unfortunately, rest and renewal get no respect in the organizational world. Most managers view the need for downtime as weakness. The problem is that when their employees work without pause, they very quickly get decreasing incremental returns on each hour invested.
Just as I did, you stop thinking as clearly, creatively, and strategically, and you take more time to get less accomplished.
Though you may not realize it, you’re physiologically designed to operate in cycles of approximately 90 minutes, during which you move from higher to lower alertness. These phases are called “ultradian rhythms.”
The counterintuitive secret to great, sustainable performance is to live like a sprinter. In practice, that means working with the high intensity, uninterrupted, for periods no longer than 90 minutes, and then taking a break to renew and refuel.