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Tony Schwartz

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'The Way We're Working Isn't Working' (POLL)

Posted: 05/13/10 07:00 AM ET

Like most writers I know, I spent an undue amount of time seeking the perfect title for my new book.

As my deadline approached, it dawned on me, after a decade of working in large organizations such as Sony, Ford, Google and the LAPD, that the story employees tell is always a variation on the same theme:

The way we're working isn't working.

That's it, I thought.

I began trying the phrase out on everyone, including strangers in the street. Without fail, it elicited an instant, visceral nod of recognition.

I took the title to the folks at my publishing house. They were skeptical. Titles need to make a "positive promise," they told me.

Test this one out on your friends over the weekend, I implored. If you don't get the same reactions I did, I'll keep looking. On Monday, I got an email from my publisher. "Let's go with it."

We all know instinctively that the way we're working isn't working, but why is that?

My book makes a very simple argument: We're in a new kind of energy crisis - and this one's personal.

Demand is overwhelming our capacity. We're running as fast as we can, but it's inexorably burning us down.

Consider this striking statistic: According a Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson) poll of some 90,000 employees across eighteen countries, conducted just before the recession, only 20 percent felt fully engaged at work. Fully forty percent were actively disengaged.

In all likelihood, those numbers are even worse today given the fierce pressure, on everyone who's still got a job, to do more with less.

To test whether that assumption is accurate, we've created the Energy Project poll to better assess how the way you're working is working.

We've posed a short series of questions about your experience in the workplace. I'll be blogging about the results over the next several weeks.

Here's what a boatload of research suggests about where we've gone wrong:

Human beings aren't meant to operate as if they're computers: at high speeds, for long periods of time, running multiple programs at the same time. But that's exactly what we're doing.

In fact, we're physiologically designed to pulse. We're hardwired to make waves.

Our most basic survival need is to spend and renew our energy - to inhale and to exhale. Watch this video to see how you can make this happen in just 30 seconds. Nearly every system in our body - brain, heart, blood pressure, body temperature, hormone levels -- pulses when it's healthy.

Life itself may feel like a marathon, but there's growing evidence that we're most productive and sustainable when we live like sprinters - working at high intensity for short periods of time, and then truly recovering.

Relying on time as a resource for increasing capacity has a fundamental limitation. It's finite and most of us don't have any of it left to invest. Our dance cards are already full.

Sleep, for example, is one of the first things we're willing to sacrifice in the name of getting more done. But consider this disturbing fact: sleeping even a single hour less than our bodies require reduces our cognitive capacity dramatically. Much as we may try, we can't override our Circadian rhythms.

In contrast to time, energy is something we can systematically renew. Energy is defined in physics simply as the capacity to work. More energy means more capacity - more fuel in your tank.

Unlike cars, human beings have four distinct energy needs: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. The better and more regularly we meet each of these needs, the healthier, happier, more focused and more effective we become.

Unfortunately, most of us don't begin to adequately take care of our own needs. Worse yet, the organizations we work for often make demands that systematically run down our energy without ever encouraging or even allowing us time to renew. It's not good for us, and it's not good for them.

In the weeks ahead, I'll be blogging regularly about how you can more intentionally meet each of your own energy needs, so you're not only more productive, but also more satisfied. I'll also be writing about what leaders and organizations can do to support their employees and fuel a better way of working.

Help get us started on this path by taking our poll above. And then let us know below how well the way your work is working for you.

 

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