For Optimal Work, Alternate Between Stress and Rest

January 28, 2018

Categories: Work

I was listening to a podcast the other day on how to achieve peak performance in your work and personal life. The speaker said something simple but profound: for optimal work, alternate between stress and rest.

Stress and Rest in the Gym

The statement seemed simple, because we know this principle is true in many areas of our lives. For example, if you want to get stronger, you have to go to the gym and stress your muscles. You won’t be getting any stronger sitting on the couch.

However, you also don’t want to work out all day every day. If you want to get stronger, you have to be just as disciplined in getting the correct amount of rest. You have to give your muscles time to recover. To get stronger, you have to have your sleep, nutrition, and recovery dialed in. The rest is just as important as going to the gym.

Stress, No Rest?

In other areas of our lives, however, we forget this principle. We might work all day every day (even on the weekends), because we believe that more is better. Instead of being focused and engaged in the projects we are working on, we feel tired and burned out. Or we distract ourselves throughout the day with things like social media and talking with co-workers. We’re definitely not operating at our peak level of performance.

Apply the Stress-Rest Principle

Instead, apply the principle of stress and rest to other areas of your life. For example, use this principle to order your work day. Figure out how long you can work and be completely engaged and immersed in what you are doing. For many of us, this is about 45 minutes. Have a hard “session” of work, and then take a break for 15 minutes. Walk around the office. Alternate between stress and rest throughout your day.

You can also apply this principle to your work week. Many of us work 7 days per week because we feel like we have to. But we weren’t designed to work non-stop. The ancients knew this, which is why most religious traditions incorporated the idea of a Sabbath rest. Be purposeful and rest at least one day per week. You may not feel like you are “getting anything done” on your rest day, but taking your own Sabbath rest will actually do wonders for your productivity.

Discussion: Are you feeling overworked or burned out? What do you think of the idea of alternating between stress and rest to achieve optimal work? How could you implement this principle in your work life?


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  1. […] unplugged over the weekend, I was well-rested and ready to go when the week started. I think human beings do best when we alternate work and rest. Just like building muscle requires a balance of stress and rest, mental work is the same way. When […]

  2. […] Second, if you work out too often, and don’t give yourself rest days to recover, you could overtrain. Overtraining happens when your body is in a constant state of getting broken down. It doesn’t have a chance to recover and rebuild. Your body works best when you alternate times of stress (i.e., workout) with times of rest and recovery. […]

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