A Big Secret Behind Working Faster, Performing Better, Having More Energy
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
It's not really a secret. It's been known for millennia. Ancient physicians and philosophers prescribed it. Modern medical science has demonstrated it time and again. Eastern health traditions laud it. Psychologists, management scientists and fitness coaches tout it. It's easy. It's comfortable. All you need is to do it.
Get rest. Not just sleep, although that's an important of overall rest. But schedule regular breaks and rest periods. Every day. Add in longer rest periods of hours, days and weeks, also on a regular basis.
What would this do? Why would it work? What's in it for you? How the heck will you find time in the middle of this rush-hurry-going nuts-gotta finish now-frantic-too much to do life that you probably have now?
1. "Coffee Breaks" are often thought of as excuses for goofing off. Actually, they provide an opportunity to stop trying too hard to focus on your work, so you can break out of stuck places and recapture flow and enthusiasm. Work is always harder when you constantly go at it. Taking a brief break lets you refresh the "little grey cells" (as Poirot would say) and approach whatever you do from an expanded perspective. Or in psych-speak, it gives you time to allow the vast resources of your unconscious to release ideas to the surface. Which makes you work more efficiently and with greater focus than before.
There is the additional effect of preventing repetitive stress disorders -- like carpal tunnel syndrome -- preventing eye fatigue and vision damage, and preventing nerve compression damage from holding specific postures for too long. Furthermore, it is well known that taking regular breaks increases workplace safety by reducing accidents.
Oh, yes, and you don't have to have coffee or other caffeine drinks just because you call it a coffee break. Just taking the break is good enough. Moreover, you must remember that having too much caffeine will create the opposite effect from what you are trying to achieve. You want to rest your brain/mind.
2. Enough Sleep. Yes. You do need to get sufficient sleep. Almost everyone needs 7-9 hours per day. It's just a bodily reality. Sleep time is body/mind repair time. Without it your body and mind start to break down. Without going into the long list of disease, disorders and discomforts that can cause, let me just point out that everyone (EVERYONE) performs better, does higher quality work, is more efficient and works faster when they get enough sleep. No matter how young and energetic they are.
3. Stop for Regular Meals. If you stop and actually sit down to eat regular meals at regular times, not only will you get the energy-increasing benefit of nutrition (assuming you also make good food choices) but also the rest and refocus you need to return to work more alert and ready to be more productive.
4. Micro-breaks and Mini-breaks. Taking 20-second micro-breaks about every 10 minutes to rest your eyes, correct your posture and/or stretch your muscles and 3 minute mini-breaks about every half-hour are actually essential to maintaining good fitness and health. Come on. How difficult and time consuming is it to remember to stand up and stretch, take a drink of water for good hydration or put some saline solution in your eyes to prevent dryness and blurring if you're working at a computer?
5. Naps! If you are fortunate enough to work in your own home office, you might consider naps. Even as little as 10 or 15 minutes of light sleep can have multiple times the effects of breaks and other on-the-job rest periods. Einstein used them with great proficiency. You know what results that produced.
6. Longer Breaks. Over time, simple daily rest breaks and getting enough sleep don't do the whole job for a whole person. You also need longer breaks to bond with family and friends, socialize and get more input and new ideas, get away from the daily grind (no matter how good a job you have), get in touch with nature and self. You need to rediscover your other interests and abilities. Have unadulterated fun. Major relaxation and refreshment not only repair your body but additionally expand your mind, open you to new ideas, possibilities, opportunities, and give you the distance necessary to re-evaluate your work and lifestyle. To make sure you are doing what you truly want to do and what fits for you. You need time to examine your life and make sure you are living your values. You need weekends, vacations and maybe even retreats.
Do all of the above and you'll feel better, work faster, produce more, make better choices and actually end up with more time.
C.S. Clarke, Ph.D. is a psychologist/coach who publishes Superperformance.com: Human Performance and Achievement Resources, providing a wide range of content and tools for improving human performance and productivity. Dr. Clarke also publishes EverydayDelight.com, a website on positive psychology, positive thinking and everyday happiness. Superperformance ® is a trademark.