Every day, we spend time sleeping, daydreaming, and unwinding with entertainment. These enjoyable leisure activities may not appear productive on the surface, but they are actually quite crucial to maintaining productivity.
Forcing yourself to work without sufficient rest is counterproductive because it reduces your productivity overall. The New York Times reports that a growing body of evidence shows that taking breaks “improves productivity and creativity — and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.”
Sleep, in particular, is important to maintaining cognitive function. If the brain is deprived of sleep, it prioritizes the part of the brain that keeps it awake to the detriment of other cognitive functions, including taking in and processing information. Thus, sleep deprivation results in impaired decision-making that reduces overall quality of work.
The key to taking breaks strategically is figuring out what works best for you. By examining yourself and gaining deeper knowledge about the types of rest activities to which you respond well, you can manage your energy for increased productivity.
Start by asking yourself the following three questions:
- How many hours of sleep do I need a night?
- How long and hard should I work before taking a break?
- What types of activities can I count on to help me unwind?
The commonly recommended amount of sleep for adults is seven to eight hours per night. However, you may require more or less than that amount. So, take note of how you feel throughout the day after sleeping for different amounts of time. After you figure out how many hours of sleep per night is optimal for you, make an effort to start winding down your day at a specific time every night so that you are more likely to get the hours of sleep that you need.
Likewise, keep an eye on your work patterns to find out how often you should take breaks. How to tell if you need a break? When you start daydreaming or not working as productively as you could, it is probably time to recharge your mental resources. At that point, set aside some time to go on a short walk, stretch, have a healthy snack, or rehydrate. During your break, give your mind permission to rest and wander so that you can return to work after your break with renewed focus.
At times, you may need a little extra help to relax and unwind effectively. Experiment to find which activities are most effective for helping you relax and rest your mind. Some common and effective rest and relaxation activities include taking warm baths, listening to soothing music, exercising, using aromatherapy, and socializing with friends and family. After you find out which activities help you relax best, you will have that knowledge handy every time you feel the need to restore your energy levels.
Working productively means working efficiently, and taking breaks strategically helps your mind perform at its best. So, choose to actively manage your energy by prioritizing breaks. A little attention to what works best for recharging your mind can make a big difference.
by Christine Arce-Yee