We work best in bursts of energy

In the effort to be as productive as possible, businesses are looking to keep their employees busy.

I have seen a lot of companies restructuring lately, making roles redundant and allowing remaining employees to simply absorb the extra workload. Our diaries are often choc-a-block full of back-to-back meetings from one day to the next and our workloads just seem to be getting bigger and bigger.

In theory, the faster we are at doing our jobs, the more profitable the business overall. Much like a production line, or using machinery that you can switch on and switch off. But we are much more complex. 

We are designed to be most effective in shorter pulses of energy output

As human beings we are designed to do things in waves. We pulse. We breathe in, we breathe out. We sleep, we wake up. We consume energy, we expend it. The way we work is no different. We operate in pulses; with bursts of high intensity, followed by rest. We simply can’t be expected to operate at the same level all day long. 

If we want to be more productive, we need to slow things down. We need to give people more time to do things, so they can do them well, so they have time to learn new skills, to become better at their jobs. We need to shake off the ideology of being busy as a badge of honour.

Ingrained in our corporate culture is the idea that to keep up, to keep ahead of the game, we need to do more. But in fact, we need to do less. And we need to do it well. We need time and space to focus on the things we need to master, the skills we need to develop. 

This concept is echoed in the studies on deliberate practice dating back to 1993, by psychologist Anders Ericsson, who was internationally recognized as a researcher in the psychological nature of expertise and human performance. He examined the habits of 40 violinists in Germany over the span of a decade.

Dividing them into distinct groups, each embracing varied approaches to practice, Ericsson keenly sought the distinguishing factors among the top performers. His research found that simply repeating a mastered skill is not enough to help people get better at it.

In order to really improve, we must push ourselves. What he found was that those violinists who committed to ‘deliberate practice’ rose to the top. Central to this method is an unwavering intensity of focus, a capacity to immerse oneself wholly in the task at hand, and an ability to cultivate undistracted concentration. Achieving such a state demands a deliberate slowing of the mind’s pace, fostering complete immersion in the task at hand.

Moreover, to optimise this process, one must conscientiously structure their day, allowing for periods of rest and the inclusion of other essential facets of a balanced existence.

According to Ericsson, commitment over a long period of time is required and it’s the quality of time rather than the quantity of time spent on the practice. A practice session needs to follow these criteria in order to be considered “deliberate”:

  1. The task should be well defined, with a clear goal, and should be completely understood by the individual.
  2. The individual should be able to do the task by himself.
  3. The individual should be able to access immediate feedback about his/her performance, so he/she can make the changes needed to improve.
  4. The individual should be able to replicate the tasks or similar tasks repeatedly.
  5. The task must be designed by a teacher and must be performed following a clear instruction by the teacher.

The ideal situation is to allow ourselves to get into a state of flow which is all about being in the zone and is defined by Wikipedia as “the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity”.

The best way to achieve this is to give ourselves enough time and space to get lost in our tasks without the pressure of performing to unrealistic deadlines or to jump into the next meeting. 

What do you think? Would it be beneficial to you and your team to create more time and space to get fully immersed and focussed on tasks in shorter bursts of energy? I’d love to hear your thoughts! If your leadership team could do with my help in 2024, please get in touch today, I’d love to hear from you.

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