When I saw the traffic on the ramp to the highway, I knew I was doomed. I’d told a client that I would meet at 1 pm and it was already 1:10. It would take me at least twenty more minutes to reach his office. My mind fixated on the problem:
Ten minutes late. Twenty minutes away.
I had been pushing myself so hard to establish my career. For years, I had been working twelve hour days, skipping meals and replacing them with coffee. This day was no different. With nothing but coffee in my system, my heart was racing. I started having a panic attack and had to pull over and wait until the heart palpitations settled down. A few days later, my doctor told me what my body had already made clear. Eighty hour workweeks fueled by nothing but coffee would not be sustainable.
The changes that I made following that experience saved my health, with one side effect that I never could have expected. When I began to prioritize rest, my productivity at work actually accelerated.
This remains one of the biggest epiphanies of my career. We’ve invested some time over the last few posts discussing how it takes practice to learn what recharges us and how rest can really change our priorities. People who rest learn to value shared experiences more than objects that quickly become obsolete. Today, let’s talk about this strange side effect of rest: Efficiency.
Experts spend a lot of time discussing how our culture keeps developing tools that should help us get more done, and yet the indicators of productivity growth remain stagnant. The cloud and mobile devices empower us to work anytime, anywhere, and they drain us of the time and space we need to refill our wells.
When you ask a colleague how they’re doing, what’s their answer? Busy. We’re hyper-conscious that we’re hyper-busy. The frenzy validates us. We feel like we’re in demand. If our presence is scarce, it must be valuable. Isn’t that the way any economy works?
Since people are always available to work, they’re always running on fumes. They cram twenty hours of work into a sixty hour workweek. It looks like hustle and it’s really waste. It’s checking the inbox dozens of times a day. It’s answering every call and prioritizing everything and therefore nothing.
I had an economics professor who would end each sentence when he couldn’t push out any more air. By the end of a fifty minute class, he was hoarse. Voice therapists say that without breath, our vocal folds become slack, swollen, and tired. The overuse causes them to become useless. The same is true with us. Most of us approach rest from the wrong direction. We crash from being overworked when our body forces rest upon us. We rest from work due to sheer exhaustion. But, what if we have it backwards?
Ever had the Sunday blues? The dread of Monday morning manages to drown the last hours of the weekend. A friend of mine used to start his work week on Sundays, so he would call the night before Sadderday night. He couldn’t even enjoy the time off with his family because he knew he was about to get back on the hamster wheel at work. He never felt ready because he never really rested.
After years of working at rest, I have been experiencing something different. I spend my days off investing in experiences with the people I love. These teach me to unplug and to be present. I have developed a consistent pattern of rest each weekend. I go into Monday morning ready to focus at work because I’ve been able to attend to the things that matter most for me. I don’t have to slam into Monday, knowing it’s going to hurt. I can launch into work, knowing I’m restored and ready. I work from rest.
Our business closes at noon on Fridays. You could write this off as something we can do because we’ve become successful. I believe the opposite is true. We decided to set up our workweek this way from the beginning of the company. Before we had succeeded, we prioritized rest for our team. We decided that our employees would be much more efficient if they worked from rest. Looking back eleven years later, I think we were right about that, and it remains a top priority for us today.
I want to close this series on rest with a challenge. I dare you to test this theory with us. Experiment and discover what brings you back to life. Notice how your priorities shift. Build a consistent pattern of rest into each day and each week. Decide as a family when you will rest each week, and make sure it happens. Don’t allow yourself to work until you have to rest. Rest first, and see how much more work you get done as a result.
Then, let us know how it went this summer. We’d love to hear your story.
James Lenhoff is the president of Wealthquest – a Cincinnati-based financial planning and wealth management firm that offers a full range of financial services under one roof, for one simple fee.