Why You Should Take A Break

Posted September 9, 2012 by Marcy Farrey in Features

You might assume that the person who stays at her desk all day is the busiest worker in the office. And if you’re the person who never leaves her desk — not even for lunch — you might think you’re the most productive. You’re working so hard that you just don’t have time for a break.

I used to believe this to be true when I was in high school and college. My first journalism class freshman year required me to write a research paper that was nearly 50 percent of my final grade. I slaved over this paper weeks ahead of the due date, spending whole days in the library. One friend in the class left her’s to the last minute, writing almost the entire paper the night before. She earned an A. I earned a B.

So what did my fellow classmate know that I didn’t? She knew that she could work for less time but at a higher capacity, whereas I worked far more time and at a lower capacity — because I was tired from full days inside a library, researching.

Harvard Business Review Guest Contributor Tony Schwartz sets up an office example of the Law of Diminishing Returns in his article “How to Accomplish More by Doing Less.” He explains that someone who is at his desk all day, with no breaks, starts out working at 80 percent of his capacity, and his energy diminishes throughout the day. His coworker, who works in concentrated chunks with breaks, works more consistently at 90 percent capacity. He still has the energy to work at 70 percent capacity by the end of the day. The worker who takes more breaks is, in the end, more productive:

It’s not just the number of hours we sit at a desk . . . that determines the value we generate. It’s the energy we bring to the hours we work. Human beings are designed to pulse rhythmically between spending and renewing energy. That’s how we operate at our best. Maintaining a steady reservoir of energy — physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually — requires refueling it intermittently.”

Think your schedule doesn’t allow for any breaks? If you consider how much more productive you’ll be if you squeeze in just one or two, it’s worth finding that time. It may not be possible for all of us to sneak in a 15-minute afternoon nap at work, but we can and should take full advantage of our lunch break and a coffee/tea break in the afternoon. Even getting up to take a walk to the office break room can be refreshing when there aren’t any other options.  Schwartz compares the benefits to the kind you get from exercising a muscle:

Stress isn’t the enemy in the workplace. Indeed, stress is the only means by which we can expand capacity. Just think about weightlifting. By stressing your muscles, and then recovering, you gradually build strength. Our real enemy is the absence of intermittent renewal.”

Whenever your brain is working at full capacity, do whatever you can to give it a well-deserved rest. Your managers will likely appreciate the higher quality of work you turn out, and your body and mind will thank you for it’s renewed strength.

Read more examples of how you can accomplish more by doing less.

About the Author

Marcy Farrey

Marcy Farrey is a videographer, writer, and editor. In her previous life, she worked as a broadcast news reporter and producer in Lincoln, Nebraska and as a writer and producer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University. Learn more about Marcy on her website www.marcyfarrey.com.

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