Scientific America puts it best with “mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity”.
Taking action is important. A lot of us love to stay busy and we get an emotional ‘buzz’ from taking action, however, sometimes the best action to take is to avoid taking action. When we focus on action and neglect reflection, we can often end up backing ourselves into a corner that’s difficult to get out of. The other common side-effect that we’ve all encountered before is burnout.
We’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives. After countless hours toiling away, it becomes harder to focus. Motivation grows more scarce, and we start to teeter on depression. Burnout is terrible, and it’s difficult to recover from once you get to that point. By taking breaks and integrating down time into our schedules, we can avoid this dreadful state and maintain high productivity levels throughout the year.
The Benefits of Downtime
Taking time off has significant benefits for learning and memory. Confucius himself said, “Learning without reflection is a waste, reflection without learning is dangerous”. As you’re pushing yourself and learning new things it’s important to take time to reflect on what you’ve learned and allow your brain to digest this new material.
Not just with learning, but with everyday activities, the brain needs frequent bouts of ‘nothingness’ to help keep your productivity and creativity levels in check. The heart of the ‘Pomodoro’ technique involves breaking up tasks into shorter time intervals and taking break afterwards to increase focus and boost productivity. With the Pomodoro technique, you’re encouraged to work 4 sets of time with short breaks in between and longer breaks after every 4th Pomodoro.
Other experts have recommended taking short breaks every 90 minutes. As with most things in life your mileage will vary and you’ll have to discover what works best for you. Whatever the time frame you’re using, as long as you’re incorporating small breaks in, your brain will thank you.
How Much Downtime?
Not all downtime is created equally. We’ve already espoused the many benefits of taking short breaks throughout the day, but it’s also important to take longer stretches away from work.
Stress from work can have a huge impact on our bodies. Put simply, mental stress can be PHYSICALLY damaging and cause a whole host of problems. There are varying recommendations floating around, but as with everything, the proper amount of downtime will vary from person to person. It’s important to schedule as much downtime as you feel necessary. Listen to your body. If you’re experiencing difficulty focusing, increased hostility, weight gain, restlessness, or anything else that may be out of the ordinary, start trying to squeeze some extra downtime in there.
Armed with this information, you’ll be able to maximize your efficiency and productivity by doing nothing.