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How to Stop Grinding, or Why Finding Your Rhythm Matters

Is it because I’m the eldest son?

One of the first Great Work Interviews I did – and it was a coup, because he is a Big Name – was with
Guy Kawasaki . His is the only interview in which I asked this question: “So, what’s the secret to your success?”
I have only asked this question once because …
1. it’s an inane question and
2. there’s never really a quick-fix secret, which was kind of what I was hoping.
Here’s what Guy did. He laughed. And then said, “There is no secret. But … I’m a grinder. I work hard, I get things done.”

That answer certainly played to my biases.

Things like Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art said as much:
A Professional shows up and does the work, an Amateur flaps around waiting for “inspiration” to strike.
And quite frankly, I’m a grinder myself. I work hard, often. I’m Responsible. And Industrious.

And so far this year’s been particularly intense it seems, what with the launch of Do More Great Work and then delivering our Coaching for Great Work program all over the place.

In Vino Veritas

But three things happened in the last week that have me reflecting on why Grinding might be overrated.

First, at the pub watching the Stanley Cup playoffs last night with Marcella, she mentioned how nice it was that I was slightly more animated and playful lately, That’s as opposed to the Grim, Grey, Getting-Through-Things mode I’d been in for the last, oh, six months. Nice.

Second, I watched this video from Gary Vee on how he’s feeling stretched and read this post from Chris Brogan about how he can’t keep up. These are two prolific, hard-working, Seem-To-Have-It-All kind of guys. And they’re feeling the grind as well.

And finally, I just picked up Tony Schwartz’s new and truly excellent book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working. It’s the expanded, deeper version of the book he co-authored with Jim Loehr called The Power of Full Engagement. And he’s got some insights and tactics for me.

You don’t have an On switch

Here’s the key insight I’ve taken from @TonySchwartz

We’re not designed to work like machines, where you hit the on-switch and then just produce a constant output of work. Rather our operating system is Human 1.0.  And as humans, we work best when we oscillate and when we pulse. When we’ve got rhythm. When we’re on and off. When we balance intensity with recovery.

Here then are three ways to play to your own rhythm:

  • 1.  Sprint for 90 minutes

Imagine your work day was a running race. What sort of race do you think it is?

Up until now, I’d most likely have said it’s like a 10km run. (That’s 6 miles for you non-metric folk). When I was running 10km races – ah, the glories of my youth – I’d run at a pretty fast pace for the whole race, maybe speeding up towards the end. This wasn’t a jog and nor was it a sprint. It was speed-running and I raced through the whole thing.

Schwartz has got upside my head with work, and now I’m starting to think of it as a series of 90 minute sprints – three or maybe four in the day – with period of downtime in between.

It’s a radical shift. We’re not doing one long shift. We’re doing four short ones. And why? Because you can do more, be more focused and create better stuff if you focus intensely and then stop.

(This newsletter is taking me about 90 minutes to write. Then I’m off for a quick workout in the gym.)

  • 2. Get enough sleep v1

Here are the brutal facts. We’re nearly all sleep-deprived and it’s costing us.

Sure, you say… but I get along just fine on 6 hours sleep a night (or less).

Wrong, I say in reply. Not only do lab tests show that people who are getting less than the 7 plus hours of sleep a night they need under-perform, there are studies that indicate the different between very good and excellent corresponds with getting more sleep. Here’s how Schwartz puts it: “Great performers … work more intensely than most of us do but also recover more deeply.”

Yes, if you want to excel, sleep.

  • 2.5.  Get more sleep v2

The best news so far from Schwartz’s book? Day-time napping is encouraged. A 20 minute nap in the afternoon significantly increase your ability to deliver for the rest of the day. Love that.

  • 3. Keep moving

Not just like a shark or a relationship. But use your environment to help keep you changing your focus and your energy.

I’ve already spoken about this quite a lot in previous newsletters, but I’m a big believer in this.
You shape your space so you can behave the way you want to behave. And because there are different ways you want to behave, you need a range of different spaces in which to do your work.

Bottom line: don’t spend every moment at the same desk in front of the same computer, pausing only to go into the same meeting rooms.

(Here’s how I do it in my office.)

Don’t take my word for it

Smart people thinking out loud about going with the flow.

“Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change – this is the rhythm of living.”
-Bruce Barton, American author

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
-Lao Tzu, Chinese philospher

“Surrender to the flow.”
-Mike Gordon, American musician

“I catnap now and then, but I think while I nap, so it’s not a waste of time.”
-Martha Stewart, American entrepreneur

“There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.”
-Ovid, Roman poet

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9 Responses to How to Stop Grinding, or Why Finding Your Rhythm Matters

  • Nancy

    I have enjoyed your recent revisting of this concept, not working like a dog, and being better for it – better in your work life and better in your personal life. It has given me tons of permission. Sad that I needed it!

  • Michael Van Osch

    Like this post a lot. In never fails that when I sprint for a couple of days straight, I end up paying for it with a day or two of less than productive time. Which could be okay, however, it’s important to have gas in the tank for great, unexpected opportunities.
    cheers.

    • Michael

      Hey – thanks Michael. Exactly – I’m becoming more aware of the price I pay when I’m going flat out without recovery

  • Kerli

    I like the saying about the difference of an amateur and a professional: you just have to go and do it in order to succeed (or make yourself do it):)

  • Michael Van Osch

    Like your comment Kerli. In my ‘other life’ I’m a professional actor and remember hearing De Niro say that at some point you just have to dive in and do it. Prepare yes, but then you just gotta do it.
    cheers.

  • Stacey Hylen

    Hi Michael,

    Love Steven Pressfield’s War of Art and Tony Schwartz, I will have to get Tony’s new book.

    As an entrepreneur we run full out until we crash and then start the cycle all over again. There was a great interview that Yanik Silver did with Cameron Herold on the rollercoaster cycle of entrepreneurship and how to work with the stage you are in.

    I guess this fits with the theme I needed to hear today! I just heard Dan Kennedy say on an old CD I was listening to today on Time Management said , don’t look up to those making 6 or 7 figures , look up to those who are making 6-7 figures who have a life.

    Thanks for a great post not sure if I can swing sleep V2 but some days I think about it!

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