The Point of Diminishing Return
Seldom do we read about the person who nailed the presentation after getting a little more sleep or the leader who was calmer because he/she took a lengthy break.
The Civil War was raging, cities were being captured, and the fate of the country was at stake.
But each night in 1862, Abraham Lincoln would go to the theatre for a couple of hours to unwind.
The president faced intense backlash from a public who essentially thought he should be strategizing every waking hour, but Lincoln knew he needed these breaks to be a more effective decision maker.
“With all the fearful strain that is on me day and night, if I did not laugh, I should die,” he said.
We may not currently be guiding our country through the most tumultuous period in its history, but the dilemma of whether to take a break or not is one we still routinely face.
Do we do another dry run before the big presentation or give it a rest? Should we trade a few hours of sleep to further study the opponent? Will more prep make us more confident?
Too often, we hear success stories of someone sleeping in his/her office, pulling repeated all-nighters, reaching some epiphany at 4 a.m.
But seldom do we read about the person who nailed the presentation after getting a little more sleep or the leader who was calmer because he/she took a lengthy break.
Lincoln went to the theatre. Teddy Roosevelt exercised for two hours each day. FDR routinely held cocktail parties during World War II.
What united them was that they were keenly aware of their points of diminishing return — when further work on a subject would simply burn them out.
The lesson for us isn’t to close the book or hit the pillow the second we become fatigued.
But leading others always begins with leading ourselves — and that means knowing when we need a break.