Key Concept ~ Most entrepreneurs share a common attribute; a burning sense of urgency. While intrinsic motivation is critical for someone striking out on their own or stepping up to launch and lead a startup business, some balance is required as well. Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint, and how we regulate our own energy, focus and activities has a bearing on long-term success.
If you’re an entrepreneur you’re probably fairly familiar with eighty to one hundred hour work weeks, juggling multiple priorities concurrently, and literally living your business at times. If our own fire in the belly isn’t enough motivation, the constrained resources, limited bandwidth, competing priorities, and competitive pressures of leading a startup quickly remind us…there’s always work to be done. The question is, what happens to our productivity, our ability to creatively leverage our vision, business acumen and experience for the benefit of the business, when we simply find ourselves running too hard?
We all do it at times. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a habitual offender. It started in college. I launch my first company my junior year at business school and would commonly work sixty hours a week while going to college full time. By my second semester I scheduled all of my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which in my mind, left a complete five day work week for the business! I was the classic young man in a hurry. I did the same thing in corporate, working eighty to hundred hour weeks, flying 100,000 miles a year, and not taking a real vacation during a five year stretch.
My wife kindly forwarded an article to me last week that referenced a host of research studies, some going as far back as 1914 (Henry Ford conducted internal research on productivity, costs, and labor hours), all demonstrating how rapidly human productivity declines after working for eight hours a day or more than forty hours a week. Winston Churchill recognized this during the war and devised a clever work schedule to maximize his productivity and meet the demands of the Prime Minister fighting the Axis powers on a global front. He would rise early and work until mid-day, at which time he would go home, take a bath (while giving dictation to his secretary sitting just outside the ajar door), and then a long nap. He would then go back to work until late into the night. He was also known to have commented there’s never a good time to take a vacation. Take one anyways. And he practiced this even during the darkest years of the war.
The research referenced in the article made a pretty strong argument, and I’m not one to argue with Mr. Churchill, but there was still a part of me that was thinking, yea, well how do you explain my success…it was directly associated with my effort, right? My wife kindly reminded me that all of our company professional development programs and workshops are based upon peer-reviewed research. She then added, “Ignoring research on productivity wouldn’t be very authentic, would it?”
So I took the weekend off.
Let’s face it, sometimes a forty hour work week is impossible for us. But at what cost to our productivity? One thing is for certain, entrepreneurs would be well served to cultivate emotional resiliency in order to maintain our own optimal level of productivity. This is a core focus of our programs and workshops; the cultivation of competencies in emotional intelligence. Building our self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management skills places us onto the path to self-mastery. There are actual, biological underpinnings that we can positively influence, for ourselves and those around us, that directly effect our productivity as well as our health (another critical factor, entrepreneurs can rarely afford the time to be sick).
Those capable of self-mastery, of mindfully engaging their emotional landscape (internally and externally), experience multi-dimensional benefits. First, they experience the physiological and psychological benefit called coherence.1 Coherence occurs when the oscillatory systems of the body (i.e. heart beat, respiratory rate, blood pressure, brain waves) synchronize and become entrained together in frequency.2 Coherence improves physiological function on a biochemical and metabolic level. We all know that unhealthy levels of stress have a negative impact on our immune system and the health of our heart. Being in a state of coherence is believed to have the opposite effect.
Still another benefit of coherence is its effect on our ability to positively engage and motivate those around us. When we express empathy for another being, entrainment of each person’s physiological rhythms ensues. Research conducted by Drs. Levenson and Gottman at UC Berkeley observed this phenomena between spouses.3 Research conducted by Carl Marci at Harvard University documented similar results of coherence and physiological entrainment between patients and psychotherapists during expressed moments of empathy by the therapist.4 When people connect emotionally we actually connect physiologically as well.
All of these things profoundly effect our productivity as entrepreneurs and leaders. We’re all different, but cultivating the self-awareness to see when we’re pushing ourselves past optimal flow can help us self-regulate and maintain our productivity by taking our foot off the gas, even if for a moment.
1.) R. McCraty, M. Atkinson, “Psychophysiological Coherence”, D, McCraty R, Wilson BC, eds. Emotional Sovereignty. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, forthcoming.
2.) R. McCraty, “The Energetic Heart – Bioelectromagnetic Interactions Within and Between People”. Institute of HeartMath, Boulder Creek, CA., 2003.
3.) R. Levenson, A. Ruef, “Physiological Aspects of Emotional Knowledge and Rapport”, In: W. Ickes, ed. Empathic Accuracy, Guilford Press, New York, New York 1997.
4.) C. Marci, “Psychophysiology and Psychotherapy: The Neurobiology of Human Relatedness”, Practical Reviews of Psychiatry, 2002; 25(3).
5.) M. Iacoboni, “Imitation, Empathy, and Mirror Neurons”, Annual Review of Psychology, 2009.
© 2012, Terry Murray.