Riding Oscillation: How to Build Stress and Recovery into your Work Schedule

“Il dolce far niente”  (Italian for "the sweetness of doing nothing")

Who conditioned us to believe that working longer and more continuously is the best route to high productivity?

As explained in Managing Energy, not Time, is the Key to High Performance, we are oscillatory beings and therefore need to work stress and recovery into our work schedules.  Energy spent in a linear fashion – though admired in our workaholic culture – is supremely ineffective.

One of the best parts of being an entrepreneur is not having a 9 to 5 work schedule.  On the other hand, this also means work never ends either.  Saturdays could be Tuesdays.

But 9 to 5, Fridays, and limited vacation days all create deadlines that signal stress and recovery.   Entrepreneurs must create similar finishing lines for peak productivity.

In order to maintain peak performance, we must take our time off seriously.  Yes, read it again.  Our time off – and what we do during it – is just as important as our working time. The more limits we set on our work time, the more focused and productive we are. 

Many famous authors have stressed this point in different ways.  Tim Ferriss, in The 4 Hour Work Week, invokes Parkinson’s law as proof that limiting your work time results in more productivity.  Neil Fiore, in the Now Habit, calls this “guilt-free play” and “the unschedule” -  scheduling your play-time before your work time to avoid procrastination.  Leonardo da Vinci, defending his frequent daily naps and daydreaming said, “The greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they work less.”

When do you get your best ideas?  Michael Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, asked thousands of people this question, and most people responded “in the shower,” “resting in bed,” “walking to nature,” or “listening to music” – leisurely activities.  Almost no one replied, “at work.”

I allocate one day during the week – usually Sunday – to not doing any work. Nothing!  I’ve found that I return on Monday mornings eager to work.

The principle of building stress and recovery into your work schedule also applies for longer time frames as well.  Let's face it: as entrepreneurs, there will be times where we have to work weeks or months on end with little recovery time.  If that's the case, then we need to give ourselves additional time off - more than normal - when that key project is over.  Think of your energy like a wave - if there's an up cycle (and it's higher and/or prolonged), then we need a relatively lower and/or prolonged down cycle.  Training allows us to perform at our peaks with less recovery time.

For now, schedule recovery and fun time into your work week.  Relaxation and play are sacred to peak performance.  Most people are overstressed mentally and emotionally.  Explore ideas and life outside of work.  Take vacations.  Reconnect with friends and family.  Your best ideas – and work – deserve it.

We’ll talk more about scheduling recovery into your work day in the Achieving Flow.