The 'Thrive' author reveals how to slow down to become more productive.
Arianna Huffington’s work-life wisdom has been hard-won. Back in 2007, too many 18-hour days led to a wake-up call, in the form of a collapse from fatigue.
Since then, Huffington has turned over a new leaf. She now takes a much different approach to getting things done: meditating more, sleeping longer and taking time for herself and her family to avoid business-related burnout.
But how can we pause to take care of ourselves and still keep up with the relenting pace and demands from the office, others and our own sense of duty and drive? Here are some answers from Huffington herself.
Overwork doesn’t equal success. Based on Huffington’s unequivocal success, you may wonder whether a workaholic approach – at least in the initial stages of building your career or business – might pay off. After all, it could be argued that Huffington’s work ethic and focus early on were part of what helped her become successful. Are such heights possible to reach without an initial period of burning the midnight oil, and a singular focus bordering on obsession to get everything done? Huffington says she believes it’s more than possible – in fact, it’s essential.
“I’m convinced I would have achieved all I have achieved with less stress, worry and anxiety,” she says. “In college, just before I embarked on a career as a writer, I wish I had known that there would be no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and my ability to do good work. I wish I could go back and tell myself, ‘Arianna, your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard, but also unplugging, recharging and renewing yourself.’ That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout and exhaustion.”
Unplug for more power. Though it seems counterintuitive, disconnecting from your work life for short periods (and sometimes longer ones) can actually help you do better and accomplish more. Huffington says that far from derailing you, such mini-breaks are invaluable in helping you stay on track and excel in your career over time. “For too long, we have been operating under a cultural delusion that getting by on less sleep and constant multi-tasking are an express elevator to the top,” she says. “This couldn’t be less true. Unplugging, recharging and renewing ourselves – whether through yoga, meditation, pauses to renew ourselves or getting more sleep – are performance-enhancement tools. So there is no trade-off between them and having big dreams and big aspirations.”
Re-evaluate your relationship with your smartphone. Does it sometimes feel like your tech toolshave taken on a life of their own? Social media obligations and email tasks leave many people overwhelmed, wishing for a full-time staff just to keep up with incoming tweets, chirps and email beeps. Whether or not you have a team to help you with email and social media management, Huffington suggests all of us need to re-evaluate our relationship with email and smartphones, and our overreliance on technology in general. “It’s a relationship that has become increasingly one-sided,” she says. “We try to empty our inboxes, bailing like people in a leaky lifeboat, but more and more of it keeps pouring in. How we deal with our email has become a big part of our techno-stress. And it’s not just the never-ending deluge of emails we never get to – the growing pile that just sits there, judging us all day – but even the ones we do get to, the replied-to emails that we think should be making us feel good.”
Schedule predictable time off. To help with this re-evaluation, Huffington shares that Leslie Perlow, a professor at Harvard Business School, introduced a strategy called predictable time off, or PTO, in which you take a planned night off – no email, no work, no smartphone. “At one company that tried it, the Boston Consulting Group, productivity went up, and it’s now a companywide program,” Huffington says, adding that The Huffington Post's team does a lot to prevent email-related burnout. “Since the news never stops, there is the temptation for editors, reporters and engineers to try to match the 24-hour news cycle,” she says. “We make it very clear that no one is expected to check work email and respond after hours or over the weekend (unless, of course, these are their working hours).”
Other forward-thinking companies are also sharing good ideas in this arena. Huffington notes that Volkswagen has a special policy for employees who aren't management but who are provided with a smartphone. “The phone is programmed to switch off work emails automatically from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. so that the employees can take care of themselves and their families without feeling they have to stay plugged in to work,” she says. “And a lot of other companies are beginning to innovate to make sure their employees have enough time to unplug, recharge and have enough time for themselves and their families.”
Lead the way. While a growing number of companies are getting on board with what Huffington has dubbed “The Third Metric” for defining success to live healthier and more balanced lives, it’s not always easy to be the one leaving at 5 p.m. if your corporate culture doesn’t support that value. So when it comes to creating a greater feeling of well-being for yourself and others at work, what can you do without giving your boss and colleagues the impression that you aren’t focused on your job, regardless of your industry?
“We have an enormous amount of data now, both from scientists and from elite athletes, that not only is there no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and high performance, performance is actually improved when our life becomes more balanced,” Huffington says. “When we incorporate tools and practices into our lives, everyone around us – our bosses, colleagues, families and friends – will take note, in a good way. They may even thank us, since there’s a desperate need to change our workplace culture so that working till all hours and walking around like zombies become stigmatized instead of lauded.”