I love those days when my hustle just can’t be stopped. Unfortunately, today is not one of those days. Is productivity a mystery to you too? No matter how well you eat, exercise, stick to a sleep schedule, and take breaks… some days just don’t go down the way you think they should. That’s OK though, because you keep showing up, hustling, getting the essentials done, and moving forward. I’ve learned that when things are working, take full advantage of it and knock things out like the a rock star. When the down days happen (and they will) it’s OK to regroup, do only the absolutely necessary and let the mind wander a bit. Sometimes I even find my best new innovations on those days because I’ve slowed down.
We live in a world where people work twice as much as the average worker did in 1969. The work that this average person could get done in a 40 hour week, we get done in 20 hours, meaning that overall we are more productive. Nowadays people work an average of 9.2 hours per day. 1 of 3 people say that they take a lunch break. 2 of 3 eat at their desks or don’t eat at all. Even though we are more efficient overall, productivity is pushed to the limits, increasing stress, weakening immune systems, and decreasing time with the family.
In the 1920s, Henry Ford realized that his factory workers were less efficient when they worked more hours. He lowered the workday to 8 hours and workweek to 5 days. Because of this, he saw greater productivity in his workers, resulting in a increasingly profitable company.
Despite what society tells you, it’s okay to take breaks, regroup, and sometimes do only the absolutely necessary, and to let the mind wander. Studies show that occasional breaks “improve productivity and mental activity, reduce fatigue, relieve joint or muscle pain, and increase overall alertness.”
Breaks are most useful when taken before they are needed.
“Take a break before reaching the absolute bottom of your mental barrel.” Professor John P. Trougakos, University of Toronto
If you are on a roll with your work, don’t stop, but don’t force yourself to go on when you’re mental capacity is winding down. Trougakos describes the human brain is as a muscle.“[Your brain] becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover… just as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.”
The brain is not meant to constantly focus and be alert. The more hours one works does not mean more productivity. Brief interruptions can get your mind back on track and help it to stay focused and interested. Breaks not only help you stay sane, but daydream mode can help us retain information and make connections. Many great breakthroughs came from the daydreaming mode. Newton is thought to have been sitting under a tree, not in a lab, when he came up with the Law of Gravity. It is believed that Einstein thought up the Theory of Relativity while on a bicycle. While you personally might not make scientific breakthroughs in daydreaming mode, you may come up other great breakthroughs.
These incredible statistics show the benefits of taking breaks:
- Micro-breaks of 30 seconds to 5 minutes can improve “mental acuity by an average of 13%.”
- “And when you’re staring at a computer screen for hours, a 15-second break taken every 10 minutes reduces fatigue by 50%.”
- Wrist pain, that many feel, can be eliminated by resting for 5 minutes every hour.
- A 40 minute nap improves alertness 34%
- Those that take breaks to surf the web a little are 9% more productive than those that fight the urge.
So how often should you break and for how long? Here are four suggestions:
- Work in small bursts. The Pomodoro Cycle suggests that people should work for 25 minutes and rest for 5. This can create an urgency to complete an action in a specific time.
- 90 minute work blocks. After studying the body’s natural rhythms with sleep and wakefulness, it was noted that every 90 minutes or so the body feels a lower level of alertness. Musicians, athletes, actors, and chess players take note of this and they keep their practices and performances less than 90 minutes.
- 52 – 17 method. This method is between the previous two. By working for 52 minutes and resting for 17, people are more apt to work with a purpose. It’s like a sprint done in reasonable bursts.
- Two 15-minute breaks a day. For those unable to take many breaks, at least two a day are important. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon are suggested because they tend to be the least productive times.
DO NOT FEEL GUILTY for taking breaks. Without taking a few minutes for yourself to recharge your inner batteries, you will wear out and have nothing to offer. Vacations are not you shirking your responsibilities. A lack of personal time and stress are linked to depression, anxiety, and obesity. So you’re going to take a break. What are you going to do during it? The best thing to do is to move, stretch, go for a walk, exercise. We are beings meant to move. For some great ideas of exercises to do at your desk, watch this.
Eating lunch for a change is highly beneficial; providing your body with much needed nutrients. As suggested previously, daydreaming is where great ideas can come. Rest your eyes. Read. Get a coffee. Take a nap. Listen to music. Meditate. Talk to your friends and co-workers. Plan something fun and unique. Every day is a special occasion. Go outside and see some nature. Or even just mess around online. “Studies show employees are 10% more efficient when they can check social media regularly”. The goal is to find balance.
“A life that gets out of balance is much like a car tire that is out of balance. It will make the operation of the car rough and unsafe. Tires in perfect balance can give a smooth and comfortable ride. So it is with life. The ride can be smoother for us when we strive to stay in balance.” –M. Russell Ballard, Ensign
You ready to change your work schedule and stay more in balance?