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.