Knowing when to quit is often just as important as knowing when to begin. In a day and age where the news is always running, information is always streaming, and people are always working, knowing when to quit is more important now than ever. Knowing when to throw in the towel is a new virtue.
A line in the movie Eat, Pray, Love has stuck with me the last few years. This line talks about Americans and how we wear ourselves out. It makes me question myself and the corporate world in which we exist time and time again. If Derek Jeter injures his calf and is only 70%, is he still more valuable to his team as a healthy 100% Ramiro Pena?
Are you hurting your team by working too hard? Is such a thing possible? Lets think about muscles for a moment. The world’s biggest men lift heavy weights for 8 – 12 reps, then rest for several minutes before attempting it again. Why is this? Why not just lift until you can’t lift anymore? One word, burnout! This is what happens to a muscle when it is used too much. The result, overwork.
We all know that, in order to grow, a muscle must be stimulated. But did you know it can actually be over stimulated to the point where the damage being done to the muscle is actually counter productive? This phenomenon is called burnout.
So what is happening to your brain when you work too hard? The truth, burnout. As authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz explain in The Power Of Full Engagement, we have a definitive reserve of self control. Read this interesting post on Tim Ferriss’ blog. Just as we can only turn down a donut so many times without hitting the reset, we can only tax our brains so much before we’re operating at a less than optimal level. So is a 70% you better for your organization than a 100% someone else?
We all have a certain threshold our brains can withstand. Some are higher than other so you must figure out your optimal level through trial and error. This is how Jay Cutler is able to lift 21 sets per muscle group and still grow. For someone like me (who is evidently built for distance, not speed) that threshold is much lower. For my muscles to grow, I must perform no more than 12 sets per muscle group. Anything over that and I have found that I actually lose muscle.
So what can we do to avoid burnout and make sure we’re operating at as high a level for as long as we can? Rest and recover. This will vary for different individuals. Below is what I have found works best for me.
Every Hour or 50/10 – We’ve all heard of Pareto’s Law. This is similar. I have found that my brain can give out full effort for about a maximum of 50 minutes. It then needs a break. For every hour of focused work I perform, I allow 10 minutes of mindless nothingness. Often, this is some form of meditation.
Every Day – Take time every day for you. If you continuously give of your time to others without replenishing yourself, you’ll soon be a 70% Jeter. Taking 30 minutes a day seems to work well for me. This is often after my son goes to bed. Usually I’ll prop my feet up and watch some baseball. For 30 minutes I do nothing but enjoy the game. Afterwards, I am able to again fully engage and enjoy time talking with my wife and doing household chores. Another great daily ritual is a nap. Here are some resources.
Every Week – “Ya, Peter, I’m going to need you to go ahead and come on in on Sunday too.” – Lumberg. The Office Space example is a little extreme but you catch my drift. All work and no play…. Finding time once a week to escape your mind and do something just for the fun of it is key. Spend at least 2 hours a week doing something you enjoy. A good example would be a weekly golf game or catching a movie.
Every Month – As the time between these breaks gets bigger, so should the break. Jay Cutler may only rest 3 minutes between sets, but after his 1 hour in the gym, he takes one week off between sessions that include the same muscle groups. Taking a day a month is a good rule of thumb for rest and rejuvenation. I usually just make this a Saturday or Sunday where we do no work at all. We simply hang around the house and do things we enjoy.
Every Quarter – Taking one week off per quarter is what I have found to be perfect reconnection opportunity. Plan these out long ahead of time. Try not to do too much activity during your week off. Just relax and do things you enjoy.
Following this process you’ll be amazed at your growth and overall ability to maintain a high level of energy. Making the decision to avoid rest and continue to push forward only results in lower output and lower productivity.
How do you know that you have reached your threshold and need a rest?