Rhythm of Work: Successful People Know When to Push and Pause

Most people don't have a rhythm of work. After all, a rhythm consists of beats and pauses. There's some variety there, otherwise we lose interest.

Contrast that with the push-push-push of the working world. We often tend to think of work and productivity as something that's steady. Our conditioning tells us that work is a relentless drill, not a skillful dance.

There's no rhythm there, no art, no variety. It's rather dull. Let's explore how to do this better:

Our normal rhythm of work

When wondering if I should be taking a break, my wickedly-smart friend Stephen Cull shared something with me that made my jaw drop. Since I knew that it could also be helpful for other people, I got his permission to include it in a blog post.

Here's what he shared with me:

"one of the intriguing attributes of exceptionally skillful entrepreneurs I've observed is a distinct disconnect from the rhythm most people are indoctrinated into. Consider that most Western education brainwashes people to compulsively work harder the more fatigued they become, which causes very predictable fluctuations in the markets during stressful periods as increasingly tired, strung out individuals push more and more, making increasingly poor decisions as a result."

He went on to explain:

"Intriguingly very successful business people tend to do the opposite, taking a break during the chaos and resting up while keeping an ear to the ground, then when the herd burns out and the market corrects the savvy set bursts out of the gate free to act in an artificially empty playing field. If you're tired and it isn't from glaringly obvious personal circumstances the odds are you're not the only one, so if you push now with a new product, service, etc. your odds of releasing a half shod product into a market peopled by tired, strung out customers is fairly high, so if you're riding a wave of success that can sustain a rest why not take it, use the time for some R&R and good books..."

That's a lot of useful information in a few paragraphs. Let's unpack these lessons:

  • Humans have a collective rhythm of work and rest. (For instance, Sleep.org writes that "as many as 90 percent of people’s moods and energy levels are affected by changes in the seasons.")
  • However, we're conditioned to go against this rhythm and push harder and take on even more when we're tired.
  • This is counter-productive because tired people make more mistakes.
  • Instead of following this unhelpful conditioning and pushing harder the more tired we are, we're better off taking a break and returning once the collective rhythm picks up again. I call this "the art of aligned productivity."


What I took away from my friend's wise words is that it's ineffective to go against our natural, collective rhythm of work.

We're living, breathing organisms with natural fluctuations in our levels of productivity. When we go against those rhythms, we expend more energy. If you don't believe me, just try doing something complex at a time when your body is used to sleeping.... or get people to show up to a webinar just before the holidays.

Other animals know about their rhythms. Some hibernate. Others are only active during certain times of the day or night.  And it's not just animals: Many plants are seasonal. Tides ebb and flow.

In other words, life on earth seems to have a rhythm, a rhythm we have lost. By beginning to follow that rhythm once again, we can improve our lives and our productivity.

As Michael Jackson put it (I didn't think I'd be quoting him but this one is spot on):

“To live is to be musical, starting with the blood dancing in your veins. Everything living has a rhythm. Do you feel your music?”

That's a long-winded way of saying that I'll be taking my friend's advice... and taking a break!

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View posts by Louise
Louise is the founder of Leader for Good. She's a former lawyer and academic who moved from Germany to the United States where she started her own business. Today, Louise loves helping her coaching clients and students connect with their passion and purpose. You can find out more about her coaching business at www.workyoulovecoach.com.
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