Cherry Trees Are Blooming: Anyone Notice?

cherry blossom special for those who need a re...

Image by emdot via Flickr

People want to be successful, which is usually a combination of being effective (doing the right thing) and efficient (doing things well), putting folks down a path to achieving favorable results.

Sometimes – as counterintuitive as it seems – that means doing less, not more.

Optimal performance (think weight training, writing a dissertation, running a business) is a combination of intense work and intermittent breaks. Work. Rest. Work. Rest. Work. Rest. Sleep fits right in there as well.

And not just any work; deliberate practice, as performance wonk Anders Ericsson has shown, requires a focus and attention that is singular – a focus that degrades over time unless freshened by a period of rest.

And rest, by the way, means rest. Justin Wright, author of Life After the Cubicle, lists 4 reasons why simply taking a break is important.

The trick though, to rest is – well, rest. That means getting away from your day to day work life. Unplugging, to crib a phrase. Doing something different from what you normally do. For some that might mean a long run or taking a “Screenless Sunday with no smartphones, TVs, or computers on as my family does. It might also mean for some taking extended time off; a week or so, or alternately a few months off. All in the name of getting refreshed, and getting your mojo back into fighting form.

The problem is that many think they can’t, they shouldn’t; people brag about being connected 24/7, as Sunday’s New York Times piece – “Who’s the Boss – You or Your Gadget” points out. While electronics are an easy thing to call out (and a harder thing to turn off), the fact of the matter, as the saying goes, is that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Because of the performance optimization cycle (work, rest, work, rest), it also makes Jack sub-optimally effective. Similar to the dangers of multi-tasking (doing multiple things at once can be the equivalent of a 10 point drop in IQ), not taking periodic breaks lessens your effectiveness.

I recently had a coaching client, an EVP of a large Silicon Valley tech company, tell me that two small suggestions made in the course of my exec coaching work with him were alone worth the price of the entire coaching engagement.

What was it?

His simple change was scheduling in a couple of short 10-15 breaks into his day to walk outside, clear his head, look at the trees, do some focused thinking about what he needed to be doing, and going back in and getting it done. Two small breaks in a day that otherwise ran a hard 10-14 hours non-stop.

In the San Francisco Bay area cherry trees are in full bloom (I know – those of you who are in 15 degree weather and snow will have to trust me on this one).

I wonder how many people have noticed?

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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