I have to admit, I wasn’t that surprised by some of the comments I received in response to my recent What Are YOU Doing for Lunch? post. Comments like, “Lunch, what is that?” and “I’m lucky to shove a sandwich in my face while I’m working!”
I was expecting those comments, because I work in 9-to-5 corporate America myself. I’ve skipped plenty a lunch, stayed late and taken work home on the weekends. Many of us are under almost impossible workloads and expected to produce even more — preferably by yesterday. So we manage the only way we know how: by racing against the clock to cram as much work into each day as humanly possible.
Unfortunately, all doing and no pausing does not make Jack a good worker. It actually makes him a worse worker as the day wears on.
The Trouble with Always Go-Go-Going
The inescapable truth is that humans need breaks — moments to refuel, recharge and refocus — or else we end up burned out, frazzled and no good to anyone, our jobs included.
News flash: we are not machines. We don’t have endless reserves of energy (mental, physical or emotional). Sure, we can work for eight hours straight without stopping, but the quality of what we produce will inevitably take a nosedive. We get tired and irritable. We have trouble concentrating. We make careless mistakes.
Whatever our corporate culture (and our bosses) might tell us, taking a break is not a luxury. It’s a necessity, especially if we want to continue doing our jobs to the best of our ability.
Life is a Series of Sprints, Not a Marathon
My attitude towards productivity changed radically when I read The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.
It’s written by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, two executive business trainers who started their business by working with athletes to help them reach peak performance. What they learned from this work was paradigm-changing: The best athletes weren’t necessarily the ones who pushed themselves the hardest for the longest time. The best athletes were the ones who had developed effective energy management strategies that incorporated efficient periods of rest.
In other words, it was what these athletes did between exertions that made them successful. They knew that to keep performing at top level, they had to pause to recharge their batteries and regain their balance. So they developed resting routines to maximize in-between time.
Tennis players, for instance, used refocusing techniques between sets. No matter what had happened in the previous set, no matter how much pressure they were under, taking the time to disengage enabled them to shake it off and start fresh, focusing only on the moment at hand. Even something as simple as pausing to take a sip of water could be an opportunity to refocus.
It’s the same thing for worker bees. We can’t constantly push ourselves and expect consistent results if we don’t also allow our minds and bodies a chance to disengage and regroup. We have to allow ourselves time to breathe, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
“But You Don’t Understand; I Seriously Don’t Have the Time!”
Okay, so an hour-long lunch may not be feasible for you. But no matter how busy you are, you can always find a way to steal a few moments to rest and refocus. Every little bit helps.
Loehr and Schwartz were amazed to find that some sprinters they worked with had found a way to maximize the mere seconds they had as they walked back to the starting line between races. They developed a ritual of taking the same number of measured steps, breathing in the same number of deep breaths, so that when the next race started, their heart rate was lower and their focus was sharper than their competitors’. In just seconds, those sprinters gave their bodies the chance to reset as much as possible for the next push.
You, too, can find small opportunities to rest, even in the busiest of days. Maybe you can spare five minutes to walk to the break room to refill your coffee? Or pause for two minutes between one project and the next to refocus? At least take a trip to the restroom. (If you can’t afford even a bathroom stop, then seriously, please start looking for another job.)
Use any break you can find to escape and “reset.” Take some deep, yoga-worthy abdominal breaths. Do some stretches. Relax your shoulders, your jaw muscles, your mind. Sip some water. Visualize something soothing.
Allowing yourself a little time to pause in the midst of your work can do wonders for your productivity and your sanity. So do yourself — and your job — a favor, and pause with me for just a few seconds to take three deep, long breaths. One… two… three.
Now, isn’t that better?
Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.