Think for a moment about your typical work day. Do you:
Wake up tired?
Check your email even before leaving bed?
Skip breakfast for time?
Eat a quick lunch that isn't particularly nutritious?
Often eat lunch at your desk?
Run from meeting to meeting with little time for independent work?
Fall behind on catching up with the seemingly insurmountable volume of emails you receive?
Leave work later than you want to?
Stay glued to your phone and answering emails even at night?
If this sounds familiar, then this is for you. More and more employees, as the years progress, are finding it difficult to juggle everything that needs to be done in a day. Even the daily necessary tasks of eating 3 meals and being present and on time at work can pile up to feel overwhelming, pushing many to sacrifice activities that aren’t absolutely necessary to survival: including working out, eating well and enough, taking naps, taking breaks, sleeping enough, taking time away from the office, and investing time in cultivating hobbies. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done is not to spend all of your time trying to do what is necessary. To get more done, you need to spend more time doing less.
Research shows that taking breaks throughout your day, and blocking out time to spend on activities that bring you joy helps you stay focused and productive. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that workers who took breaks were more engaged at work and had higher levels of energy. Another study showed that employees who nap during the day are less likely to get sick, and those who take long naps tend to be happier and healthier. Employees who spend more time away from the workplace also report feeling more satisfied with their jobs.
“There’s always something else you could be doing.”
This, our modern mantra, is also grounded in an outdated myth — that we have unlimited time. We’ve come to think that if we put in enough hours, we can accomplish anything at work. But time is finite. When we feel like we’re starting to run out, then one is faced with what seems like a choice between allocating all of your time to work, or all of your time to retaining some semblance of a personal life outside of work. The truth is, they build on each other. And it is difficult to be successful in one area without also sustaining the other. Putting all of your energy simply into work depletes you personally, and you become a worse worker for it, not working at your optimal productivity levels anyways.
We all need rest. We all need to recharge. And yet, we often feel like we have to choose between work and life. If you’re not taking enough breaks, your body will eventually break down. You might even get sick. But if you’re constantly pushing yourself, you’ll burn out. So what should you do? Scientists say there’s an easy answer: Take more time off. To truly be successful, you need balance, and that means taking care of yourself, and prioritizing your happiness and health as well.
As mentioned before, we do use time as the resource that we transform into work. But there is another resource we cannot forget about: energy. Throughout the day, you use up both time and energy to complete your tasks, and carry out your daily activities. Energy, however, unlike time, is renewable. While taking time off may seem counterintuitive at first, in the end it serves to renew one’s energy, so you can work at full capacity when you are working.
This contradicts the accepted corporate culture in our society, as well as the prevailing work ethic held by most companies. Most companies view downtime as a waste of time. According to a survey conducted by the American Time Use Survey, nearly half of all employees regularly eat lunch at their desk. Additionally, almost half of them also assume they will work during their vacation. Even on vacation, the standard practice is to not allow oneself to actually vacate from work subconsciously – and this is why without proper energy renewal, burnout occurs.
It appears as though workplaces reward those who accrue the most hours and push themselves the hardest for the sake of their work. These people are not necessarily the most productive, and at what cost do they earn these rewards?
Sacrificing sleep for what appears to be better performance from more hours worked looks like a good idea in theory. Sleeping too little, though, can lead to poor health and worsened performance. In a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, researchers found that working overtime causes a significant decrease in quality of life. Employees who worked more than 50 hours per week reported feeling more stressed, depressed, angry, and anxious than those who did not. A study published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine found that workers who slept fewer than five hours a night were twice as likely to report symptoms of depression compared to those who got seven to eight hours of sleep. As you can see, to be an efficient worker, you have to understand that work isn’t everything. It is through putting health and happiness first that you can put your best foot forward in your job, and complete the work you know will act as your legacy later on.
Cheri D. Mah of Standard found a drastic improvement in the performances of male basketball players when they slept a total of 10 hours a night, compared to when they were limiting their sleep to the bare minimum for more hours practiced. In fact, there was an increase of 9 percent for the free-throw and three-point shots success rate.
Napping during the day also improves alertness. A study published in the journal Sleep showed that when subjects took a daytime nap, they scored higher on cognitive tests than those who didn't get any rest. Naps lasting about 30 minutes had the greatest benefit. Time spent on naps is not time wasted, it is time invested for maximized time later on.
More vacation time is equally beneficial. A 2006 Ernst & Young study showed that for every ten extra hours of vacation taken per year, employee performance increased by eight percent. Employees who took frequent vacations were also less likely to quit their jobs.
In an article published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Dr. Ericsson and his team analyzed the habits of top performers in several different fields. They found that the best performers were not necessarily those who worked the longest hours. Instead, they tended to practice in short bursts throughout the day. The optimal schedule to be working on was found to be in 90 minute intervals, and at Dr. Ericsson's company, it is rare for any employee to work for more than 4.5 hours in a single day. The frequent breaks are present to recharge their batteries and keep working at peak performance levels.
There’s not enough time in a day, and that is a good thing.
The key is simple, and easy to use. When you are resting, truly rest, so that when it is time to work – you can really work. You just might find that time is not the enemy that must be outrunned, but just a counter of our days. One cannot fight time and win, one can only enjoy its passing, and cherish the moments where the only thing to do, is to watch it run.