What does it take to live a happy, meaningful life? Journalist Tony Schwartz set out to answer that question in his groundbreaking 1995 book, What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America. “The core recognition had was that, in order to thrive, people need to have four sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual,” says the Life@Work columnist for the New York Times, while packing for his annual month- long sabbatical to Wainscott, Long Island. “If you are missing any one of those, your life falls short of happiness.”

I really believe I am a more effective performer and leader because I take a deep and extended time of renewal during which I'm in repair from having worked hard during the year. Also, my mind is working in a less narrowly-focused, short-term way and I can allow myself to think more reflectively long term.

Tony Schwartz ,The Energy Project Founder, President and CEO

Three years later, he turned that revelation into The Energy Project, a business that helps organizations better meet employees’ needs rather than squeeze every ounce of productivity out of them through sheer force and terror. He quit his job at Newsweek and slowly picked up clients. “There was no marketplace for these ideas,” he says. “As career moves go, it was beyond risky. It was almost crazy.”

He worked with sports psychologist Jim Loehr, with whom he co-authored the 2003 book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy Not Time, and created a curriculum for businesses to train and retain “corporate athletes” — who are fueled by sustainable high performance. The Energy Project ideal can be distilled into one clear thought: The ultimate workplace is an environment that makes you feel energized, excited to do what you do, able to express yourself in your own unique way, and offers opportunities to make a difference beyond your own self-interests. “It’s a place in which you feel safe and trusted to become what you’re capable of being,” says Schwartz. 

That attitude, says Schwartz, must come from the CEO. “We call the CEO the Chief Energy Officer, and he or she has to buy into the notion that the people who work at the company are not fungible objects but rather full-blooded human beings with complex needs,” he explains. “My job as CEO, for example — just as it would be as a father or mother — is to help the people I’m with to prosper. And the more they prosper, the more they will function to help the organization. “They feel connected, proud, and invested in the company’s success when a leader takes care of his or her people.”

One thing every high-performing athlete understands is the work-rest ratio. That's why they 'periodize' their training — and when they're off, they are off. They understand they are serving performance even when they are not performing.
Tony Schwartz ,The Energy Project Founder, President and CEO

Vacations, he insists, are indisputably critical to anyone’s success. “One thing every high- performing athlete understands is the work-rest ratio,” he says. “That’s why they ‘periodize’ their training – and when they are off, they are off. They understand they are serving performance even when they are not performing.” Schwartz has a simpler way to explain the work-rest ratio to mere mortals: “The most fundamental human trait is to spend and acquire energy. That’s called breathing. You don’t gain credit for inhaling if you’re not equally good at exhaling. And exhaling is recovery.”

Writ larger, taking time off is akin to exhaling. It is intermittent renewal that ranges from a one-minute break between 90-minute work sessions, to one week off every quarter, to one month off every few years. “Stress is not the problem. Stress is good. Stress is how you grow,” he says. “It’s the absence of intermittent renewal that lowers energy levels and productivity.”

Schwartz himself has been taking a month off for the past five years. “I really believe that am a more effective performer and leader because I take a deep and extended time of renewal during which I’m in repair from having worked hard during the year,” he says. “Also my mind is working in a less narrowly-focused, short- term way and can allow myself to think more reflectively long term.” While he’s “recovering,” he frequently has his best ideas. “A leader’s job is to think about where the business should go and the bigger picture,” he says. “I don’t think that’s possible when you’ve got your nose pressed up against one deadline after another.”

You May Also Find Interesting