3 Reasons why taking a break makes us more productive

20 Aug

Last week I took off to Montana with some good friends for a few days lake-side. We mountain biked, paddle-boarded, wake surfed and bon-fired our brains out of work mode and was fabulous.

It’s now a new week and I am back to work feeling like a million bucks. In wondering why I am feeling so ready to take on the world, I did a little research into the science behind the need for taking little holidays and how that can effect your productivity. Here are a few things that I learned:

1. A relaxed mind creates perspective

The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

-essayist Tim Kreider

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees and you need to physically take a step away in order to get a fresh perspective. A few days away doing something where your mind is unplugged and not focusing on the processes, systems, issues, needs etc of your business, will give you a chance to come back to it and see things with new eyes.

2. Downtime creates clarity

…Downtime is in fact essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior and instill an internal code of ethics—processes that depend on the DMN (Default Mode Network). Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself.

-Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California

When we take some time off, away from our devices, the constant stream of information, the questions and demands, our brains get a chance to make sense of the world. It reminds me of that scene from I Love Lucy when she is in the chocolate factory making chocolates and she can’t keep up with the conveyer belt. That’s kind of like our brain when we are busy: We need a chance to filter information in order to feel confident that we can move forward and make wise decisions, manage our needs well and move ahead.

3. Chilling out keeps you stable

Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.

-Ferris Jabr in Scientific American online

When you are stable, you can handle a lot more. The misnomer is that if you take a break, you won’t get enough done. Research has shown that by taking a break, you will actually get more done, feel better about it and be happier while doing it. To me, that’s a no brainier!

Let’s do this

Think about ways that you can give yourself a little break every now and then. Things like yoga and meditation are great daily breaks for the brain. Taking an afternoon off and going for a hike or adding a Friday off every now and then to unplug for the weekend is more doable than you may think. Planning the big holiday is important too. If you don’t plan it, it usually won’t happen. Give yourself a leg up by putting your legs up every now and then and see what happens.

If you want to nerd-out on the research behind these thoughts here are some links that you may enjoy:

Functional connectivity in the resting brain: A network analysis of the default mode hypothesis

Consistent resting-state networks across healthy subjects

Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education



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