I’ve always been a big believer of quality over quantity, but I still find myself wanting to be more productive. I want to get everything done, and then some, so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to do it all. Literally.
Sometimes, however, I find myself spinning the wheels with little to no results. Try as I might, there comes a time in every person’s life — be that a creative entrepreneur or a top-notch businessman — when a break becomes necessary.
Unfortunately, most Americans are afraid to take breaks. In a study done by the U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off, 54% of Americans didn’t take all their vacation days (up from 42% in 2013), in 2016.
Does that mean Americans are more productive and happier in their jobs, given that they’re working harder and longer than their European counterparts (who are given four weeks by E.U. standards)?
Luxembourg, the most productive country in the world according to a 2015 study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, has an average workweek of 29 hours.
Taking breaks can be hugely beneficial for your productivity, and for more reasons than you might think. Even taking a few minutes for a cup of coffee can help boost productivity and get things done — beyond the added caffeine, of course.
Here are three of my favorite reasons for implementing strategic breaks in order to increase output:
1. Prevent burnout.
Take breaks when you need them — and if you don’t? That’s fine too!
“There is no need to take a break if you’re on a roll,” a New York Times article emphasizes. “Working over an extended period can be invigorating — if it’s your choice. What drains your energy reserves most is forcing yourself to go on…”
2. Reduce anxiety + increase creativity.
Exercise breaks are a great way to stay productive (and healthy) without feeling like you’re slacking.
An article by Fast Company recommends that “done right, a good workout can affect how you feel emotionally, your energy level, and how you think that very same day. Aerobic exercise has been shown to reliably reduce anxiety–starting right after a workout.”
3. Build your productivity muscle.
Just like any endeavor — from mastering a sport to building a writing habit — things take time and practice. The only way to be more productive is to actively seek improvement, but there is such a thing as overdoing it according to this article from The Muse.
“Concentration is like a muscle: It needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked. Otherwise it’ll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things.”
Be smart about when you’re taking breaks, and don’t abuse them. For some people, it can be easy to find excuses to step away from work versus putting your nose to the grindstone (especially when Netflix is calling), but you should learn when to hit the brakes.
It’s a cliché, yes, but there is validity to the phrase “work smarter, not harder.” Sometimes taking a mental break might just be the thing you need to push through that final wall and get the job done.