Lately I’ve had the impression that I was both smarter and more productive when I was a teenager. I went to an all-girls high school where we wore uniforms most of the time and studied hard all of the time. At one point,I was attending Driver’s Ed before school, starting academic classes at 8:33 AM, staying late for extra AP classes, then heading off to ballet before going home to start homework. I’m not viewing this with rose-colored glasses, because I remember being exhausted, but I accomplished a lot during that time.
In an effort to see if I can recover some of my lost productivity, I picked up Tony Schwartz’s book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance. Schwartz argues that in the search for ever-greater productivity, we’re cutting out the basic practices that allow us to be creative, resilient, and productive. Schwartz champions nutrition, sleep, exercise, and focused blocks of work time, followed by recovery periods.
If Schwartz’s premise is correct, it might actually be that I was more productive in high school. I started with some very good productivity habits thanks to my mom and the nuns. My mom is a firm believer in the nurturing properties of food and sleep, regularly enforcing both quantity and quality. The nuns divided the school day into “block” classes – four classes of ninety minutes each that met on alternate days. Our social lives fit into the four-minute breaks in between classes – but we took breaks. Along the way to my current creative professional status, I’ve learned to skip meals, function on less sleep, and alternate between days that are fragmented by too many meetings and days where I focus on a single problem for hours on end.
I love a good theory, so I’m doing an experiment. So far, I think that Schwartz has it right. But of course, my mom and the nuns could have told me that.