Waves of Activity and Renewal

by Stephen Mills on June 9, 2010


The way we work and live is not conducive to maximal effectiveness.  In our rush-around modern lives we try to live by one long pulse during the day and then rest at night.  We are working too long and too continuously.  We are burning up our mental and emotional reserves without giving them a chance to renew.

The sleep cycle is critical to our health and most people need more than they get – 7 to 9 hours.  During the day we need to adopt a more pulsing rhythm; one that can be likened to waves.  The crest of the wave represents your burst of focus and activity and the trough your renewal time.   Instead of pulsing like waves we are paddling continuously on a flat ocean.  As a result we are less effective.  In the push for more-better-faster, we are actually doing less-worse-slower.

We are much more effective if we work in bursts of intense and focused energy and then take time to rest and renew.  Given the chance many people naturally take a nap in the afternoon.  Research indicates that after an afternoon nap you can continue to produce at a high level the rest of the day.  Without a nap, output falls dramatically.  The culture in many organizations will prevent napping, but it is a highly recommended way to renew.

Here are some tips you might want to consider.  Even though you are not working as many total hours you will likely produce a lot more.

Work in 40 to 90 minute pulses

You need to work long enough to really get absorbed and into the flow, but not too long.

Renew in 10 to 60 minute breaks

The length of the break depends on the length and intensity of the pulse.  There are no rules here.  Find a rhythm that works for you.  The key is to ride your waves and then take time to renew.

Renewal breaks must be real

Switching from an intensely creative effort to processing a batch of email may seem like a break, but it is pseudo-renewal.  It may be better than nothing, but you need real renewal.  Some suggestions:

  • Take a 20 to 30 minute power nap
  • Go for a walk, preferably in nature – don’t think about work
  • Talk a casual stroll around the office
  • Focused breathing
  • Meditation
  • Work Out
  • Yoga
  • Eat lunch away from your desk, preferably with friends
  • Get up and go chat with a colleague or friend
  • Read something light and cheerful
  • Close your eyes and listen to some music

Some day organizations will wake up and pay for output and not time.  In the meantime, if you work for someone who doesn’t get it then you might have to get creative:

  • Take your laptop or paper materials and go hide in a conference room – look like you are going to meet with someone.
  • Put on some headphones with music and pretend you are looking through some papers – you don’t actually have to be doing anything other than resting.
  • Walk around the office like you are going to the printer room or break room, etc.  Take your time.
  • If you are on a leash and collar go sit in the bathroom.  It may sound silly, but desperate circumstances call for desperate measures.

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Edward June 10, 2010 at 12:07 am

There’s a book by Jim Loehr on this exact point – it goes into great detail about the waves of activity and renewal. http://www.amazon.com/Power-Full-Engagement-Managing-Performance/dp/0743226747

I agree.. too much constant work without renew grinds people down.. but people don’t renew themselves b/c they don’t want to be seen as slackers..


Positively Present June 10, 2010 at 6:39 am

Great ideas here, Stephen! Thank you!!


Zengirl @ Heart and Mind June 13, 2010 at 5:30 am


I think small naps in afternoon is wonderful idea. Sleep is so important for not only recharging but also for mind. I am lately unable to sleep well for 2 reasons, teething 1 year old and some stress in life.

Oh I wish I was sleeping more but if I am up, I might as well read some good blogs 🙂
Zengirl @ Heart and Mind´s last blog post ..Are we honest with family and friends?


Earl June 14, 2010 at 10:30 am

Hey Stephen – I use the walking around method for my breaks. However, I also think it is more beneficial, if possible, to change your surroundings completely for those periods of rest from work. Even a five minute walk outside does more for me than if I got up and walked around the building where I am working for 10-15 minutes. New air, new sounds, new sights…it all seems to make quite a difference in helping me renew my energy more efficiently.
Earl´s last blog post ..Spending Some Time in a Place Called Old Lyme


aDeeb June 14, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Power naps.
Amazing things.
aDeeb´s last blog post ..Germany vs Australia


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