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Think for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings?

More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

“More, bigger, faster.” This, the ethos of the market economies since the Industrial Revolution, is grounded in a mythical and misguided assumption — that our resources are infinite. Time is the resource on which we’ve relied to get more accomplished. When there’s more to do, we invest more hours. But time is finite, and many of us feel we’re running out, that we’re investing as many hours as we can while trying to retain some semblance of a life outside work.

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The way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep.

Increasingly, this experience is common not just to middle managers, but also to top executives. Our company, The Energy Project, works with organizations and their leaders to improve employee engagement and more sustainable performance. A little over a year ago, Luke Kissam, the chief executive of Albemarle, a multibillion-dollar chemical company, sought out one of us, Tony, as a coach to help him deal with the sense that his life was increasingly overwhelming. “I just felt that no matter what I was doing, I was always getting pulled somewhere else,” he explained. “It seemed like I was always cheating someone — my company, my family, myself. I couldn’t truly focus on anything.”

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One evening early this summer, I opened a book and found myself reading the same paragraph over and over, a half dozen times before concluding that it was hopeless to continue. I simply couldn’t marshal the necessary focus.

I was horrified. All my life, reading books has been a deep and consistent source of pleasure, learning and solace. Now the books I regularly purchased were piling up ever higher on my bedside table, staring at me in silent rebuke.

Instead of reading them, I was spending too many hours online, checking the traffic numbers for my company’s website, shopping for more colorful socks on Gilt and Rue La La, even though

I had more than I needed, and even guiltily clicking through pictures with irresistible headlines such as “Awkward Child Stars Who Grew Up to Be Attractive.”

During the workday, I checked my email more times than I cared to acknowledge, and spent far too much time hungrily searching for tidbits of new information about the presidential campaign, with the election then still more than a year away.

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Earlier this week, I found myself talking with the chief of staff to the chief executive at a large company. The two of them had been on the road together for four consecutive weeks. I asked how that felt. “It’s brutal,” he said. “But it’s typical. My boss essentially has no openings on his schedule for the next three months.”

Think about that for a moment:

This executive had no times at work when he could just breathe deep and relax for a half hour, nor could he step back after a key meeting and quietly metabolize what had just happened or look forward and muse about strategy. He could not simply wander through his office, talking to people about what they’re doing, in order to energize and enrich them, and himself.

It’s not possible to move from one activity to the next at blinding speed and be reflective at the same time. The more complex and demanding the work we do, the wider, deeper and longer the perspective we require to do it well. It’s almost impossible to do that when we create no white space in our lives.

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Over the 15 years I’ve been consulting in the corporate world, I’ve only met a handful of senior leaders who had as a primary goal for their companies making a positive difference in the world.

Surely, there are more such people, including a good number who are highly philanthropic outside their work. Still, as best as I can tell, higher purpose is not a common characteristic of the corporate world.

I don’t say this to bash business, nor to make a moral case for why leaders ought to focus more on serving the greater good. I fully understand that a primary obligation of any business is to earn a profit, and that without one, nothing else is possible. I also know that no amount of righteous haranguing is going to prompt leaders to fully embrace priorities beyond the bottom line.

But what if they believed that articulating and embracing a nobler purpose would help them to attract, inspire and retain better employees, and ultimately make their companies more profitable?

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The central dilemma of a modern leader is to balance apparently conflicting virtues and beliefs without choosing sides between them.

Decisiveness, for example, is widely and rightly perceived as crucial to effective leadership. It’s the opposite of uncertainty and insecurity, which are paralyzing. But decisiveness overused eventually congeals into certainty. The balancing opposite is openness.

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