1. Like elite athletes, too much work without sufficient rest leads to decreased energy, compromised health, and impaired performance (otherwise known as a "burnout").
2. “Work Cycling” is a structured approach to living and working that embeds sufficient recovery into your schedule.
3. If you give yourself enough rest in between hard working bouts, and if you take care of your physical and mental health through proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise, you can consistently perform at a higher level.
The prevailing mindset in high performance training in the 70s, 80s, and 90s was for athletes to do as much training as possible, as hard as possible, for as long as possible. The survivors would end up champions and everyone else was training fodder.
Where this approach failed was that it led athletes to consistently train at about 75-85% of their capacity. There is no way to hit 100% or real race-pace in practice if you are always pushing. You just can’t sustain or attain that level of performance. As a result, many athletes never truly prepared their bodies and minds for competition-level performance.
The overall effect of not getting enough rest and recovery is a slow downward trajectory of energy, performance and health. It can happen over a day, a week, a month, a year or a lifetime. In sports, it’s called “downward spiral over-training.” Outside sports, it is often called burnout. And it’s a huge issue.
Then, in the early 2000s, a new training philosophy emerged that was based on creating world-class performances as often as possible. The key focus was on training intensely (85-100% of capacity) followed by a period of training at 50-60% of capacity to ensure proper rest and recovery. The result has been better, faster performances and, interestingly, healthier and happier athletes.
When I was translating my experiences with Olympians into a model for succeeding in life, I developed something called “Work Cycling” – a structured approach to living and working that embeds sufficient recovery into your schedule.
Borrowed from the best thinking in high-performance athletic training, the premise of Work Cycling is that by laying out how you spend your time at work and being deliberate about taking breaks, you can consistently perform at a higher level.
Research shows that performance declines over time as tasks, meetings, reports, exams or workouts drain your resources and tax your system. In particular, it’s important to have enough time between bouts of stress to bounce back. For example, your performance will suffer if you don’t have time to eat well, take mental breaks and get enough sleep so you can regenerate and integrate what you have learned.
Techniques like Work Cycling and single tasking are designed to ensure that you optimize your performance. Go hard – at peak capacity – when you need to and take it easy when you can. And always make sure you mix it up. That’s the key to a consistent world-class performance.
Make the decision that taking care of yourself is an essential part of fulfilling your various responsibilities and you will never look back. It’s how every high-performing person I know attacks their life. And once you try it, you will see why it is so effective.
Recovery is an integral part of a high-performance life. Take it seriously and you will be on your way to your dreams. Taking time to rejuvenate isn’t about slacking off from your goals. It’s about doing what is needed to achieve them.
Today's POWER-UP: Try these Work Cycling techniques to optimize your performance.
Move regularly: Your brain uses glucose for fuel but it has very little stored energy to call on, so you have to make sure that you are creating sufficient blood flow for a steady stream of energy to the areas of your brain that do the thinking. How? Get up and move at regular intervals. I recommend 15 minutes of walking or stretching three times a day and 20 seconds of stretching for every 20 minutes of sitting.
Chunk your day: I try to set up my day like this: a 90-minute block of intense work followed by 15 minutes of movement and a 15-minute break to re-energize and eat something healthy. Repeat. This gives me 4 or 5 blocks of great work over 8-10 hours. I finish the day with enough energy to go home and play with my kids for a while before we settle down for the night, and I haven’t been grinding through a sugar and caffeine haze that has left me tired and unproductive.
The 1:3:2 Rule: To ensure proper recovery and regeneration, disconnect from your life – including unplugging from all forms of technology – for an hour a day, three days each month, and two complete weeks each year. Do things that make you happy and give you energy like yoga, exercise or time with your family – entirely without screens. Take a monthly weekend ‘retreat’ from email, work, and chores. Set up a yearly vacation of two consecutive weeks doing whatever version of ‘nothing’ fills you up.