A repost from 2016 on the benefits of recovery
As athletes, we are familiar with the notion that appropriate rest and recovery is a key factor in achieving our performance goals, and we structure our training accordingly. That said, we are not particularly good at striking that same balance in our professional lives. Our reading this week reminded us that our brains – just like our bodies – require rest. For instance, Harvard Business Review, summarizing the work of Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, noted:
“[I]f you have too much time in the performance zone, you need more time in the recovery zone, otherwise you risk burnout. Mustering your resources to ‘try hard’ requires burning energy in order to overcome your currently low arousal level. This is called upregulation. It also exacerbates exhaustion. Thus the more imbalanced we become due to overworking, the more value there is in activities that allow us to return to a state of balance. The value of a recovery period rises in proportion to the amount of work required of us.”
HBR expands on this concept, highlighting that when we don’t allow for adequate rest, our attempts to work harder require ever more energy, much of which is wasted or used inefficiently. Conversely, we can achieve resilience – the ability to productively work hard over the long term – by focusing not necessarily on how much we can endure, but rather on how well we recharge. “The key to resilience,” HBR notes “is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again.”
Just as in athletics, recovery can take different forms depending on the individual. Structurally, recovery can be achieved in two ways: internal recovery (i.e., short breaks within the regular workday) and external recovery (i.e., longer breaks during weekends and vacations). From a content standpoint, each person will find different activities provide different effects (i.e., some people recover by taking a walk while others recover by spending time with friends).
This research resonates with our team as we often discuss the emotional necessity of having mental downtime to allow us to recharge for the day ahead. In fact, we’ve noticed that these more frequent, daily breaks are much more important to our long-term well-being than the benefits we receive from more traditional multi-day vacations. While this insight does not make for a particularly vibrant social life, it is what we need to stay mentally engaged and productive.