To get more done, work less. Really? By Michal Lev-Ram, contributor

FORTUNE -- It was barely 9 a.m. and I was already exhausted. I'd slept just five hours, skipped breakfast, and schlepped through traffic before arriving at my destination: a seminar on how to be a more energetic worker.

The two-day workshop in downtown San Francisco was hosted by the Energy Project, a New York City -- based group that promises a "detailed blueprint for fueling a fully engaged workforce." Its philosophy: Instead of working at full speed, we are at our best when we take breaks every 90 to 120 minutes, when our four basic needs (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual) are met, and when we tackle one task at a time. Sounds simplistic, but the Project says its work is rooted in the "multidisciplinary science of high performance." Its founder, Tony Schwartz, has written a book based on these findings, The Way We're Working Isn't Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance.

A better way of working
The score
Time required: Two days
Cost: $995
Expense/Efficiency: B+
Day-job relevance: A
Life-changing potential: C

First on the list of touchy-feely activities was an "energy audit." I soon found out that I have a "significant energy deficit" because I don't get at least seven hours of sleep, and e-mail distracts me. Luckily, some two hours in, our facilitator, Annie Perrin, called a break -- not just any break, but 20 minutes, enough time to go to Starbucks and buy and drink a latte. Perrin, a former psychotherapist, taught us to build "highly specific positive rituals" (like a weekly spinning class or expressing appreciation -- she had us write a thank-you note to a loved one).

The Energy Project eats its own dog food. Not only did we take short breaks throughout the workshop, we also enjoyed hour-long lunches and relaxation exercises. The idea: While you should be fully engaged when working, you should also be fully disengaged when resting. Yet most of the 10 attendees -- including a human resources exec from Disney (DIS, Fortune 500) and a former 49ers football player -- whisked out their CrackBerrys at each break.

And there's the rub. While most of us know we should be taking e-mail breaks and eating out of the office, few of us feel we can. The average office worker receives 50 to 100 e-mails a day and scarfs down a sandwich in front of the computer. That's the norm, not naps and long lunches.

Despite my doubts, I decided to take the Energy Project's teachings for a spin. After all, its productivity gurus have been hired at Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) and Sony Pictures (SNE). So I forced myself to take a (real) break every hour and a half while working on this article. It wasn't easy, but after a while I stopped feeling guilty and found plenty of nonwork things to do -- calling a friend or reading a magazine. Though I ended up spending less time in front of my computer, I was faster and more efficient.

One lesson I probably won't be learning is scheduling set times to check e-mail. Where I live, a prompt response is expected, even among friends. And telling my editors that I respond twice a day would be a career killer. So while the Energy Project's workshop left me inspired, it was a little short on everyday "action items," and the glow faded after a few days. Yet I have been able to take longer, more regular pauses while writing -- which reminds me: It's been nearly two hours since my last break.  To top of page

Just the hot list include
Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed3.80%3.88%
15 yr fixed3.20%3.23%
5/1 ARM3.84%3.88%
30 yr refi3.82%3.93%
15 yr refi3.20%3.23%
Rate data provided
View rates in your area
Find personalized rates:
Company Price Change % Change
Ford Motor Co 8.29 0.05 0.61%
Advanced Micro Devic... 54.59 0.70 1.30%
Cisco Systems Inc 47.49 -2.44 -4.89%
General Electric Co 13.00 -0.16 -1.22%
Kraft Heinz Co 27.84 -2.20 -7.32%
Data as of 2:44pm ET
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 32,627.97 -234.33 -0.71%
Nasdaq 13,215.24 99.07 0.76%
S&P 500 3,913.10 -2.36 -0.06%
Treasuries 1.73 0.00 0.12%
Data as of 6:29am ET


Bankrupt toy retailer tells bankruptcy court it is looking at possibly reviving the Toys 'R' Us and Babies 'R' Us brands. More

Land O'Lakes CEO Beth Ford charts her career path, from her first job to becoming the first openly gay CEO at a Fortune 500 company in an interview with CNN's Boss Files. More

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.