To be more productive, we need to do less. That’s the conclusion of lots of new research on “strategic renewal,” which is the term scientists use for getting more sleep, taking more vacations, and basically learning how to relax! Because, although it sounds counter-productive, studies show that making more time for doing nothing can actually boost our productivity, performance, and health! Here’s how strategic renewal works, according to the book Be Excellent At Anything:

  • Get more sleep. Experts say a lot of us think we need more time to get stuff done – so, we work longer, and sleep less. But the reality is that our performance boils down to our energy. And the easiest way to increase energy is to get more sleep! In fact, a study from Stanford University found that when basketball players slept 10 hours a night, their endurance and shooting accuracy jumped 9 percent, compared to players who slept 8 hours or less.

  • Take more vacations. A new survey shows that more than half of us view downtime as “wasted time,” which is why many of us say we plan to work during our vacations. But get this: When researchers studied employees at a large accounting firm, they found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their performance ratings jumped 8 percent. And employees who took the most vacations were the least likely to quit!

Surprised? Experts say strategic renewal goes against the way most of us have operated since the Industrial Revolution – which is to react to increased pressure by pushing ourselves harder, faster, and longer! But scientists say that goes against the way our bodies are wired.

Studies have shown that we sleep in cycles of roughly 90 minutes – moving from light to deep sleep, and then back out again. And the same thing happens when we’re awake, too. About every 90 minutes, we move from a state of “peak alertness” to feeling fatigued. The problem is that instead of listening to our body tell us to “take a break,” most of us try to renew ourselves with caffeine or sugar. And when we don’t get the rest we need, our stress hormones kick in, triggering all kinds of health problems. But according to a study from Florida State University, most elite performers schedule regular downtime into their day – about every 90 minutes.

In fact, whether you’re an athlete, musician, doctor, or accountant, this study found that the best performers rarely work longer than 90 minutes without taking a break. And they never work more than five hours in any given day! The bottom line? To be at your best, and get more done, we need to relax and do less!