Give Yourself a Break – and Become More Productive


It sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it: by taking a break, you can get more useful work done. But it really works.

You can struggle along for days, weeks or even years, working hard but without really producing anything good. With so many interruptions and distractions (from meetings to phone calls to Twitter), it’s easy to come to the end of a week and question what you’ve really accomplished.

If you’ve ever worked on a big project, whether at work or in your personal life, you’ll know how easy it is to get bogged down in trivia – or to procrastinate.
Rather than plowing on grimly, sometimes you just need to take a break. Here’s why.

You’re Not Very Productive When You’re a Quivering Wreck

I’m a freelancer, and I realized a while back (while trying to follow various time management tips) that one of the big areas where I “lost” time was when I kept pushing myself and pushing myself to work … ending up burning out.

If you work too long or too hard, you’re working yourself up to a crash. You’re not going to be at all productive if you’re lying in a ball on the floor, or if you’re lashing out at employees or relatives because you’re so stressed.

Looking Forward to a Break Helps You Stay Focused

Have you ever had a whole day to get something done – and ended up spending most of that time fiddling around with other tasks? I’m sure most college students are familiar with the essay-writing process, which involves a lot of cups of coffee, sharpening pencils, doodling, filing lecture notes – anything but actually getting on with the essay!

When you give yourself all day to do something, chances are it’ll end up taking all day. When you give yourself two hours – with the promise of a proper break at the end of that time – it’s much easier to concentrate and stay on task.

Limited Time Makes You Stick to Important Tasks

Another problem with plowing on, and on, and on with work is that you’ll often end up doing unimportant tasks: the ones which let you look or feel busy (like repeatedly checking emails). When you know you have an end point for your work session, you’re forced to focus on the things you really need to get done.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list, go through it and put the numbers 1, 2 and 3 against the three most important tasks – the things you really must get done. Then work through them in order, and don’t switch to anything new until you’ve completed them. This is a great way to race through work and to avoid darting between tasks without finishing anything.

Your Mind Keeps Working During a Break

Have you ever had a great idea when you were in the shower, or driving, or doing the dishes? Your unconscious mind doesn’t switch off when you’re having a break: on the contrary, a period of time when you’re not focusing on a particular task is just what your mind needs in order to come up with something amazing. What might you be missing out on because you’re not giving yourself that sort of thinking time?

All it takes is one or two good ideas, well-executed, for you to live the life of greatness. Most of the influential creatives throughout history – including present ones – started with one really good idea. The rest of their life was spent either working on that idea or living off of the fruit of that idea. You may be incubating that great idea, or you may be one step away from it and I want you to get it out so we all can enjoy it.(Charlie Gilkey, Demystifying the Creative Process, Productive Flourishing)

Breaks come in different shapes and sizes. A five-minute break to gaze out of the window can calm you down and prevent you from trying to work in a frantic but unproductive way. A week’s vacation can give you a whole new perspective on your life.

What sort of break can you take today, or this week?

Written on 7/29/2010 by Ali Hale. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life (get the RSS feed here). As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. Photo Credit: JOVIKA
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