“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
– Mohandas Gandhi
The mantra of our working culture is to always give 100%. It feels good to rally around such a statement–it unites us to feel like we’re "all giving our all."
But is it true? Is it realistic? Can we work 12 hour days, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year?
I suppose we can. But should we?The Japanese have an expression concerning healthy eating habits: Hara hachi bu. Hara hachi bu means eat until 80% full (literally, stomach 80%). Okinawans in Japan, through practicing hara hachi bu, are the only human population to have a self-imposed habit of calorie restriction. Consequently, Okinawa has the world’s highest proportion of centenarians, at approximately 50 per 100,000 people.
In a 1965 book Three Pillars of Zen, the author states, “eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man; the other two sustain the doctor.” The same principle can be applied to our work/life balance.
Energy and Inspiration are Perishable
While hara hachi bu is one simple principle that can help you have a much healthier life, it’s also a principle that can be applied to the length of your work day.
Consider if a builder in your area was creating a new master planned community and offered you $5,000,000 to work for her 24 hours a day for 10 years and then retire—would you do it? Of course not–you couldn’t, it’s not physically possible or sustainable.
But don’t most people do something similar? They often work in excess of 8 hours a day, doing the same mind-numbing motions, over and over, for 30 or 40 years–until someday they hope they have enough saved to retire (or until they have a mental or physical breakdown–which is sadly often the case).
Markets Will Shift, Life Will Happen
The problem with being maxed out is you cannot deal with anything new. Running full out inhibits your adaptability when “life happens" and markets change. You simply can’t fit anything else in.
It’s not within our biological rhythm to have sustained energy and interest (or inspiration) for long periods of time. We need alternating periods of rest, adventure, and other activities to keep our brains and bodies fueled and inspired.
More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace.
Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of research shows that strategic renewal—including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations—boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.
“More, bigger, faster.” This, the ethos of the market economies since the Industrial Revolution, is grounded in a mythical and misguided assumption—that our resources are infinite.
As mentioned earlier, vacations hold tremendous benefits for workers in any industry. In 2006, Ernst & Young performed an internal study of its employees, finding that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of one to five) improved by eight percent. Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.
The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology. Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy, whether with mental activities like our careers, or physical activities like our fitness.
Passion is fueled by loving your career, which is best done by adopting a positive attitude. We don’t mean tweeting lame inspirational quotes all day or wishing for a genie to give you three wishes. No, we mean developing the habits to allow yourself to be mentally sharp, healthy, and happy.
Successful agents with this type of mentality typically take “mini-retirements” throughout their career instead of mortgaging recovery time for later in life (when there are no guarantees to get there). By working when you are most energetic and inspired, you will get more done, connect with more people at deeper levels, and deliver more value to your portfolio of connections.
The energy you’re able to bring to your craft is far more important in terms of the value of your work and what you create, than is the number of hours you work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can truly work.