Tony Schwartz took a year of 10-hour days to write each one of his first three books, but only six months of 4-hour days  to write his fourth and fifth. His secret? He took more time off!

In this New York Times piece, Schwartz collates the scientific evidence to confirm a pattern I’ve been increasingly recognizing in my own life.

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.

But try persuading your boss or even yourself of this. It’s so counter-intuitive and, as Schwarz points out, at odds with the work ethic in most work places:

  • More than one-third of employees eat lunch at their desks on a regular basis.
  • More than 50 percent work during their vacations.
  • Long hours are usually the key to raises and promotions, even though hours worked are no indicator of productivity
  • Excess working hours result in sleep deprivation that is costing American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.
  • Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012 — up from 6.2 days in 2011.

But the scientific evidence in favor of rest and renewal is mounting:

  • When male basketball players slept 10 hours a night, free-throw and three-point shooting each increased by an average of 9 percent.
  • When night shift air traffic controllers were given 40 minutes to nap, they performed much better on tests that measured vigilance and reaction time.
  • A 60- to 90-minute nap improved memory test results as fully as did eight hours of sleep.
  • For each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved by 8 percent.
  • Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.

Schwartz argues that if we follow our natural daily body cycle, we will end up with a daily routine of three 90-minute cycles of intense and uninterrupted work in the morning, each followed by a break to renew and refresh. The rest of the day can then be spent on less demanding tasks.

Read the rest of the article to find out how Schwartz’s own company puts renewal breaks at the centre of their daily work. He concludes:

Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company. Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.

You can read the whole article here, as long as you haven’t used up all your 20 NYT paywall credits this month!