Self-Care for Self-Improvement: 3 Reasons Why Taking a Break Can Make You More Productive

 

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)?

Not quite.

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.

The Art of Making Sh*t Happen

We all have things we want to accomplish, places we want to go, people we want to meet (any and all Marvel cast members, call me. Let’s be friends.)

Sometimes, however, life has other plans.

School happens. Work happens. Kids. Marriage. Debt. Illness.

Things get in the way of our dreams, and suddenly we find ourselves thinking that the impossible really is impossible after all. Sucks, doesn’t it? I don’t know about you, but as a kid — and as a young adult — I firmly believed that I could do anything I wanted. Make it to Hollywood (decided against it). Become a super secret spy (almost did). Meet and interview some really cool people (did). Write a book (did and more).

At some point, I lost faith in that. The aforementioned obstacles stood in my way. It’s totally understandable, because it happens to most if not all of us.

However, I would like to point out that those obstacles — school, work, kids, marriage, debt, illness, life — they’re not insurmountable. They aren’t the end-all to your dreams.

The biggest obstacle in the pursuit of your dreams? The number one thing stopping you when you’re trying to make shit happen?

You.

Want to write a book? Get started. Put pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — and start writing. Want to make it a best-seller? Work. Your. Ass. Off.

While I do believe that some people are blessed with certain opportunities and connections that others do not have, I’m still a firm believer in the sheer strength of will.

You’ll wake up at 5AM to put in your morning workout before diving into your novel (or other side-gig). Then you’ll work from 8 to 5, driving straight home, only to eat a rushed dinner and write some more. Maybe you’ll even give up Netflix and coffee dates. You’ll do whatever it takes to squeeze in more productivity time. You could probably lose a few friends.

I did.

While I miss those people, I’ve also learned that my closest friends support me in my dreams. They understand if I’m a little too busy to get together. I’ve also learned that I can live without Netflix. When I work hard, when I make shit happen, it’s exhausting — absolutely — but it’s also rewarding. Every single day, I’m closer to making my dreams a reality. One step at a time, all that matters is that I’m moving.

That’s right — I don’t want you to read this and think, “Oh, so how much and how often you work is the true measure of being *really* dedicated to your dreams?” No. That’s not what I think. Sometimes those obstacles, those things in life that happen, they happen. The important thing is how you respond to them. It’s picking yourself up. It’s always taking a step forward, because no matter how fast or how slow you’re moving doesn’t matter. What matters is that you don’t stop.

So, the moral of the story? I’m trying to make shit happen.

You can too.

Productivity Hacks for Creative Entrepreneurs

I spend a lot of time working with writers, and one of the first questions I’m always asked is, “How do I find the time to get everything done?”

If you’re working a day job (or if you’re spending all of your hours writing), it can seem impossible to fit in all of the other tasks that are frequently required of creative entrepreneurs. Social media, marketing, administrative tasks, reading + research— it can get overwhelming as the laundry list grows longer and longer.

So how do you stay on top of everything? Here are my top productivity hacks for writers and creative entrepreneurs who are looking to make the most of their time.

Read more “Productivity Hacks for Creative Entrepreneurs”

Creativity and Fear: How to Embrace Your Fears and Live Boldly

Elizabeth Gilbert said in her book Big Magic that creativity and fear are “conjoined twins”. We can’t escape it, try as we might, because — while it can be overwhelming — fear is also a good thing.

Fear motivates. Fear keeps us safe. However, fear also limits us.

Instead of rejecting it outright, Gilbert reminds us that fear is along for the ride. It’s better to accept it (and get used to it) than spend your precious time fighting the inevitable.

So how do you move forward? How do you cope when fear is screaming “No!” and your heart is telling you the opposite?

Gilbert recommends giving fear this reminder:

“You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice. But you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps, or suggest detours. You’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

The first time I read this paragraph, I stared at it — stunned — as I absorbed the meaning. I’d spent years (literally) fighting with fear and anxiety, and I’d always told myself that it was better to get rid of it completely.

Try as I might, however, it never worked.

But embracing my fear? Using my fear to my benefit?

Talk about crazy.

Think about the things you’re afraid of. Make a list in your head, on a scrap of paper, and stare your fears face to face. If you’re like me, just acknowledging these fears can be overwhelming.

I’m afraid of putting myself out there, of criticism, of saying the wrong thing, and of failure.

I’m also afraid of ladders, ants, being upside down, and octopi (don’t @ me).

Some of these fears are so incredibly useful. I hate being upside down because I cracked my head open as a kid after hanging upside down on some fitness equipment in our basement. I also knocked myself out after hanging upside down on a swing set. Upside down and me? Not friends.

Others can prevent me from action. Fear of failure, fear of putting myself out there, fear of criticism…this is a recipe for living a life indoors, in my safe space, where I never take a risk.

But if I never take a risk, will I ever succeed?

Logic tells me probably not.

Yoda said it best in Star Wars: The Last Jedi:

“The greatest teacher, failure is.”

I mean, obviously you can learn from success. You can learn what to try again. You can also learn from doing nothing — you can learn that if you don’t try then you don’t risk getting hurt. There’s nothing wrong with that.

For me? I crave success. I need more than sitting at home watching Netflix. So, for as much as it terrifies me to go out in the world and announce my presence, the alternative is much more frightening.

And that’s where fear plants its self in my psyche and helps fuel me. I’m afraid of failure, yes, but failure is guaranteed if you don’t try. I’m also afraid of getting stuck in my life, never reaching my goals, and burning out before I can do anything truly epic with myself.

That fear wins in my book.

So do you need to eliminate all fear? Do you need to become an emotional Spartan and pretend like you’re truly fearless? Do you even need to act whenever you’re afraid, despite what your fears are telling you?

Hell freaking no.

Determine what matters to you. Give fear a voice in your brain. Embrace it, use it, but absolutely do not let it drive.

You can do this. Much like anything in life, living with both creativity and fear takes practice and certainly won’t happen overnight. Think of embracing your fears like a muscle that requires training — sometimes it’s going to suck. Sometimes you’re going to be tired, sometimes you’re going to need a break, and sometimes you’re going to need to power through.

You’ll get there.


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