Learning to relax makes you more productive!
Do you wake up feeling tired? Do you check your work email before you get out of bed? Do you work at your desk during lunch? Do you run from meeting to meeting without a moment in between? Do you wonder if you can ever keep up with all of your work email?
(Gee, some days that sounds like me!)
An article in The New York Times (February 9, 2013, “Relax! You’ll be more productive” by Tony Schwartz) cites some interesting research that demonstrates that taking more time to relax and recharge actually increases productivity and work efficiency.
It’s easy to think that time is the most valuable resource for accomplishing work, family, and household tasks. When the “to do” list grows, we add more time to the equation to get the job done. Staying up later, getting up earlier, and working through lunch becomes the way to accomplish more. But how well does this work? Is there a juncture, where adding more time, reaches the point of diminishing returns?
I remember during college many of my friends pulled “all nighters” to complete papers or study for finals. I could never do that. It worked much better for me to go to sleep, get some rest, and wake up a little earlier. When I got up, I was refreshed and worked much more efficiently.
Indeed, working more hours results in adults getting less sleep. Studies have shown that inadequate sleep (less than 6 hours a night) was the best predictor of job burnout. Other studies show that sleep deprivation results in over 60 billion dollars in lost employee productivity!
Actually, the renewable resource for adults is energy. Time is finite. We get only 24 hours a day, no matter what we do (I love when the time changes in the spring. Do I make use of that extra hour!)? Mental and physical energy are required to sustain attention and concentration—all-important components of efficiency and productivity.
So, how can we renew our energy? There are many ways, but they involve taking a break from answering emails and returning telephone calls. Interestingly, short naps can have a big impact on performance. Schwartz cites an air traffic controller study, which demonstrated significant increases in vigilance and reaction time when controllers took a 20-minute nap. I have mastered the art of the 15-20 minute nap, after years of regular meditation. I can close my eyes, fall into a deep sleep, and wake 15-20 minutes later. I wake up feeling refreshed and revitalized.
A 2006 study demonstrated that taking more vacation time resulted in improved performance reviews from supervisors. Yet, a recent Harris poll found that Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012 compared to 6.2 days in 2011. It seems that working longer is valued more than working smarter.
Schwartz makes an important observation—“The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology. Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.”
Taking regular breaks results in greater productivity. In our office, I encourage staff to walk during lunch. Several of us take a 20-30 minute walk, several times a week during lunch. I notice some staff will read fiction during their breaks or watch part of a funny movie on their electronic devices.
The main thing—take regular breaks to recharge, relax, and restore your energy. It’s better to choose something that you are more likely to do, rather than something that is more ambitious, but more difficult to make a regular part of your life.
Be disciplined about taking your tranquility breaks. It takes discipline to turn your computer off, put your smart phone away, and close your eyes and breathe for 15 minutes. You won’t be disappointed. Indeed, you will reap the benefits of renewed energy!
What do you do to restore your energy at work and at home?