Want to Increase Your Productivity? Take More Breaks

It may sound counter-intuitive, but giving yourself more breaks actually helps to boost your productivity in the long run.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but giving yourself more breaks actually helps to boost your productivity in the long run.

Being bombarded with success stories from every angle, it’s hard not to be crazy about pumping up your productivity. There are literally thousands of books on how to be more efficient, and their number is growing exponentially. Biohackers come up with new techniques to squeeze more resources out of the human body, and developers churn out one productivity app after another. And with all of this, it may seem like the work-life balance is for those who are not that ambitious and can get by on very little.

The wish to achieve success and unleash your potential is pretty natural. Ironically enough, trying to be a superman or a superwoman 24/7 actually can lead to the opposite of the expected outcome. Regardless of what your priorities are and how many goals you have, it is important to take breaks from being productive. Here are three reasons why taking breaks actually increases your productivity:

1. Breaks actually help you be more productive

It’s like with working out: without proper rest, you will experience harmful side effects instead of building muscle. Heavy exercising does micro damage to your body tissues, so you need to take time off to restore them. Otherwise, it will be impossible to get stronger.

Struggling to remain productive all the time can also lead to exhaustion, and you don’t want to do yourself a disservice, right? Although some people may say they are able to work continuously at the same energy level for long periods of time, they may not actually be performing their best and they might not even be aware of it.

Of course, after months or even years in a “work non-stop” mode, you get used to it to the point where you can’t take a break without feeling guilty. However, breaks are not about being lazy; it’s an equal part of work that should be included in your daily to-do list.

2. Taking a break from productivity allows you to make wiser and more conscious decisions

When you are too focused on just checking items off your list, you may forget why they actually need to be done. In order to stay focused on the purpose of everything and to not waste time on unimportant tasks, you have to temporarily stop the process of solving tasks. Switching to a relaxed state of mind will help set up your priorities properly with a fresh set of eyes.

Without proper rest, you may lose your ability to make decisions and find yourself in a loop of uncertainty. There is a phenomenon called a decision fatigue – when people find it much harder to decide on something after mental overload. In this state of mind, they tend to accept the most simplistic one, which does not require much energy. However, in most cases, it is not the best option.

Our mental resources are easily depleted, so we need to use them carefully by knowing our limits and reducing the number of decisions to be made back-to-back. It goes back to the proverbial saying of “working hard vs. working smart”.

3. Rest can restore your motivation and learning skills

We cannot be inspired all the time, and moving towards our goals requires some old-fashioned grit as well. However, motivation is crucial for staying on track, and it is something you cannot sacrifice. In order to maintain motivation, you have to stimulate your brain on a regular basis by alternating between “work” and “rest” modes. This way your brain will not perceive your tasks as something too routine and not worth additional motivation.  

Breaks also help consolidate your memories and thus, stimulate learning to ultimately accomplish everything faster. It works even with creativity – you have probably noticed that it’s hard to come up with an interesting idea when you are tired. Yet once you have had some rest, the “aha” moment comes seemingly naturally.

One may ask, “What if I really like what I do and recharge from doing it?” Valid question, but think about it this way - you can be a champion in eating chocolate, however, there is still a limit to how long you actually will enjoy it. The same is true for work. You need to take time off, otherwise the burnout is imminent.  

Here is another argument people often use: “Elon Musk is a productivity genius and he works about 100 hours per week.” Also true, but first they need to ask themselves several questions: “Am I sure he won’t regret it or does not regret it already?”, “Do I have the same amount of energy?”, “Am I ready to pay the same price?” and finally, “How can we know he wouldn’t be even more productive with proper rest?”

Even Arianna Huffington, whose success is also undoubted, expressed her concerns regarding his lifestyle and the impact it may have on other people. As she says, “This is not about working hard... It’s about working in a way that allows you to make your best decisions”, which is impossible without occasional downtime.

There is no need to always work full steam ahead – otherwise, you may lose your direction. Take breaks to be full of energy, have clear goals and feel the taste of life. After all, that’s what real productivity is about.

Linda Cartwright is freelance writer and educator from Seattle. She teaches creative writing classes and provides editing and proofreading paper help for college students.