Stop Working – Get more done!

Yes, I know the obvious disconnect in this title.  We all believe that if we just work more, we’ll get more done.  But I’ve found that’s not necessarily true.  My best productivity comes from having a mix of work and regular breaks.

Where are you and what are you doing when you get your best ideas?  Over the last twenty years I’ve asked this of hundreds of clients and friends.  The most frequent answers are “when I was in the shower,” “when I was walking on the beach,” “when I was reading a book,” “when I was on the treadmill,” or “when I was relaxing in the bathtub.”  Seldom does anyone claim to get their best ideas when they are fully immersed in their work.

What happens when you lay down to rest, when you put on some great music, or when you take a walk in the woods on a beautiful fall day?  Most people find their breakthrough ideas when they are relaxed and doing something unconnected with their daily work.  When Leonardo Da Vinci was working on The Last Supper, he would spend days painting from dawn until dusk; then without warning, he would take a break for a day or two.  The duke who contracted his services was not amused, preferring that Leonardo would “never lay down his brush.”  But Leonardo persuaded him that “the greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they work less.”

Look for small breaks in your daily routine.  Don’t think you can work non-stop for 50 weeks and then do all your relaxing in a two-week vacation.  Don’t think that the only productive thing you can do in a 10-minute break is to answer 5 more emails or squeeze in one more report.  I heard recently that the average businessperson now experiences 170 interactions per day (phone calls, emails, face-to-face conversations) and has a backlog of 200 to 300 hours of uncompleted work.   But sometimes the best thing to do with 10 minutes is to watch a hummingbird or to water your plants.

Here are things I often do in 5-10 minutes:

  • Fill my bird feeders
  • Walk down our long lane to get the mail
  • Read an article in one of my favorite magazines
  • Relax with a cup of tea and muffin
  • Play a game of Quiddler with Joanne

Here are some 1-hour breaks I enjoy:

  • Meeting with the Eagles Group on Wednesday morning
  • A massage from 4-5:00 on Friday afternoons
  • Weeding on of our many flowerbeds
  • Meeting a friend for lunch

Don’t let the unending list of work to be done keep you from your own version of these healthy and necessary insertions of relaxation and creativity.  You might be surprised at the increase in your overall productivity.

This is Holy Week.  I’ve heard from several friends who are going to “unplug” from email, FaceBook and Twitter for this entire week.  Could you unplug from some of your normal activities and feel more productive?

Here’s a fun 24-hour clock that deducts each activity as you list the time required.  See you day evaporate with nothing but work and other responsibilities – if you don’t plan in your own relaxation and creative rests.

24-hr Time Clock

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11 Responses to “Stop Working – Get more done!”

  1. Pieter Linden Says:

    I definitely agree that taking occasional breaks is a good idea. Sometimes I just get mentally fatigued, so continuing to work when I’m like that is a waste of time. In cases like that, I find it helpful to do something else – could be anything from doing some other work that’s less taxing to doing something I enjoy for a few minutes, to stopping completely and taking a walk.

    I find that expecting myself to be 100% productive 100% of the time is just plain unrealistic. I am not and never have been. Sometimes I need to step back and maybe quiet my own thinking and listen for guidance. Sounds almost silly, but that’s what works for me. The success in my life has always come from stepping back for a bit each day and taking the time to pray for direction. As I have done that, avenues and answers have opened for me that in human terms may not have made sense. Maybe it’s the result of calming my thought. I don’t really know. The one thing I do know is that stopping working and listening for guidance has never let me down. Even if it’s just to shake myself from the same stale thought patterns that keep me in a rut. The other funny thing is that doing so allows me to do more work – for a couple of reasons: first, I’m now doing things the *right* way, and second, I have a lot more energy, because I’m not dealing with as much stress. I like to think of it like running – I can run a LOT faster if I am facing forward. Something I can’t do if I’m trying to pay attention to things behind me. So the answer is to put those things behind me first, and THEN run.

  2. Pierce Says:


    I love this blog. I also love that 24 Hour Time Clock.

    When I get off the beaten path and do things differently, take a different road, I see things in a whole new way. Getting a new view helps me slow down and think.

    I am also energized by talking about new ideas with someone else like you mentioned over lunch.

    Unfortunately, your blog reminds me that I should do this more!



  3. Michael Says:

    Amen. Jesus Christ often took breaks and look what He accomplished!!!

  4. Clarity, Focus, Action and Results » Stop Working and Get More Done? Says:

    […] That’s what Dan Miller suggests in his new article “Stop Working – Get More Done” found on his blog at 48daysblog […]

  5. Michael Says:

    Amen. Jesus Christ often took breaks to be alone with the Father and look at what He accomplished!!!!!

  6. Shannon Says:

    I hope to be able to do that someday. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Angela Says:

    I know it’s picky, but your sentence that has the phrase “when I lay down to rest,” should say, “when I lie down to rest.” I am an English teacher who sees students every day who misuse our language. We all make mistakes, but I’d like to see more effort put forth to be as grammatically correct as possible, especially in published material. Thanks for letting me vent! I really do enjoy your insight on many issues concerning how our work can make us happy.

  8. Tod Shuttleworth Says:

    Dan –

    I could not agree more. My best ideas come far from work. I need to take more time away. Thanks for reminding me.

  9. Royal Says:

    After the health care vote I was so very angry and frustrated that I vowed to take a break from all news until after Easter. It’s been a blessing !

  10. Ralph Says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this. A fantastic short book by Depak Chopra, “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,” specifically outlines that one of the Laws is The Law of Creativity, and in order to be creative, we must set aside time each day where we have quiet time or rest time. This time is to be spent without interuptions such as cell phones, chatter or just cluttering your mind with thethought of work. You will be surprised as how this helps. I see people everyday who don’t even have a minute of uncluttered time. They are constantly busy doing something. It must be exhausting, they claim theey feel like a hampster in a wheel, no wonder!!

  11. Kelly@Tabithas-Team Says:

    I’ve been feeling guilty for working this way, and you’ve just confirmed to me that there is a method to my working around the clock for a period of time and then taking a break from it for a day or two. Sometimes what is needed is focused, uninterrupted work, but other times what is needed is the perspective that comes from stepping back.

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