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The Surprisingly Relaxed Lives of High Achievers

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Business improvement and personal improvement both require hard work. So why does one study indicate that the most successful people are actually less stressed?

Author Cal Newport describes this in an excellent blog post:

In the early 1990s, a trio of psychologists descended on the Universität der Künste, a historic arts academy in the heart of West Berlin. They came to study the violinists.

Flush with data, the researchers went to work trying to answer a fundamental question: Why are the elite players better than the average players?

[One key discovery:] The researchers asked the players to estimate how much time they dedicated each week to leisure activities — an important indicator of their subjective feeling of relaxation. By this metric, the elite players were significantly more relaxed than the average players, and the best of the best were the most relaxed of all.

Business improvement: Violinist

© Flickr user Elvert Barnes

In other words, if you want to be more productive at work, figure out how to be less busy.

Part of this is about having a great workplace culture. But in many respects, increased workplace productivity is really about self-discipline and employee engagement. (Click that link for marshmallows. Seriously.)

Anyway, back to the blog post. Newport summarizes the study as follows:

This analysis leads to an important conclusion. Whether you’re a student or well along in your career, if your goal is to build a remarkable life, then busyness and exhaustion should be your enemy. If you’re chronically stressed and up late working, you’re doing something wrong. You’re the average players from the Universität der Künste — not the elite. You’ve built a life around hard to do work, not hard work.

How is your working life? Are you constantly busy and exhausted? Or are you figuring out how to do hard work on a schedule rather than just work that’s hard to do?

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