Jeanine Cogan
Executive coach

Jeanine Cogan

Heads Cogan Coaching and is on the faculty of the Center for Continuing and Professional Education at Georgetown University.

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Take it easy!

Q: As we approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season, we often look back at the people and experiences that helped us get where we are. Who (and what) were your "game-changers," and how did they change the way you look at your life and career?

Great question! Who and what changed or influenced how I look at my life and career? There are so many possible answers. My most recent essay, Work Less and Focus on What Matters to You, draws attention to one of the people who changed my paradigm towards work.

So for this question, I will answer "what" influenced my life and career by focusing on one key experience: living in Germany.

My dad was in the Army. We moved every few years and ended up having multiple tours in Germany. I was born and lived there for about half of my life before I was 18, learning the language, customs and culture. My mom is an American citizen yet was born and raised in Germany. What does this family history have to do with my career and life now? I learned some interesting lessons that shape how I approach work and family today.

In my observation, the typical German had both a strong work ethic and a strong leisure ethic. People worked hard (and efficiently) and they also valued and needed leisure time. There were festivals for every season, Volks Marches (a cross between a hike and a nature walk), invitations to people's homes, parties, events, etc. My mom was a loyal and tireless worker and she also had a lively social calendar for her and us.

What this means for me today is that I want both -- a good day's work and time for family, leisure, enjoying the small things in life. In fact, consistently taking time to rejuvenate both mentally and physically allows me to be more productive. That is a key take-home message from a "must read" book for anyone interested in having more quality time.

In their book "The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal," Jim Loehr And Tony Schwartz work with top athletes on how to optimize their performance. Rather than urging them to work out more or offering specific advice on technique, they examined the athletes' ratio of strenuous workouts to resting periods and urged them to adapt this as needed.

Some athletes were under-exercising and some were over-exercising and not allowing enough rest period for their bodies to rejuvenate. Once they balanced their energy expenditure with their energy renewal, performance peaked.

In applying this to the business world, Loehr and Schwartz observed how most professionals are working as if they were doing a full-time sprint! Running, running and running. With no rest period! This describes most of my current coaching clients, whether federal employees or corporate consultants.

What impact does this have on performance? Loehr and Schwartz have found that professionals need periods of rejuvenation if they want to perform optimally. So many of us no longer take the natural breaks that were part of the work day, such as coffee breaks, smoke breaks (certainly giving up smoking is a good thing) and lunch with colleagues. Instead we eat lunch at our computers and push through sluggishness. Yet the best thing we can choose for the sake of our work performance is to take a break.

Take a walk around the block and breathe in the fresh air. Get up from your desk and get a cup of coffee or tea. Make lunch dates with colleagues or friends. The breaks do not need to be long, but they need to be regular.

By Jeanine Cogan  |  November 30, 2010; 8:56 PM ET  | Category:  Mentors Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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