March 21, 2014

Think You Don’t Have Time to Take a Break? Think Again!

Time Off

Yesterday was Friday. I took the day off of work and went skiing with my husband—without the kids.

We laughed continually, snuggled up on the chair lift and did some of the best skiing of our lives. That whooping sound heard on the slopes…that was me.

Now we have two more days stretching in front of us to enjoy family time, catch up on home projects and do the general running around most families do on the weekends before launching ourselves headlong into the next week.

I cherish my occasional three day weekends, but not for all the reasons you might think. While I get so much enjoyment out of these days, more importantly, everyone around me benefits.

When I do take this extra day off, the recharge I get makes me just plain happier. When I get back to work, I have better ideas and more success executing them, and before I take off, my work is focused and efficient.

You see, I planned for this day off all week. I ruthlessly deflected all meeting requests for Friday and, in general, worked like my hair was on fire for four days. I didn’t work less this week, I worked more efficiently and effectively.

It’s been said that tasks expand to fit the time and whether you have two weeks for a project or three, that’s how long the project will take. In this case, I shortened the time I had available to me and banged my work out. Not only did the work get done, it was likely even higher quality than if I had had more spaciousness with which to get it done.

In effect, I just got more done, by working less.

I recently hired a new team member in my office. During our interview I asked her to recount a time at her most recent job when she felt most engaged, productive and happy. She told me she loves to play soccer and that every once in a while she’d been able to weasel a pickup game into her lunch break. And that when she did—she’d arrive back at her desk happy, relaxed, focused and ready to dive in for a long spell.

As this is precisely the way we want our colleagues to show up I could only ask what I could do to support her so that she could get out there on the field more often.

In other words, by encouraging her to take time off, we are all benefiting by her increased output and undeniably positive attitude.

Take the case of my longtime colleague and friend, Jeff Klein, who is the single most prolific executive I know.  In a recent interview I conducted with Jeff, he explained how his practice of taking almost daily surfing breaks fuels his optimal productivity. I can attest that it is unquestionably effective.

People who have the option of working a four day workweek understand the benefits of enjoying these three day weekends, or of choosing a day mid-week to run around and get all of their errands done while the rest of the neighborhood is at the office.

Yet, even knowing all this, it can be incredibly challenging to take a break from our doingbeing.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be enough employers who allow their employees this kind of flexibility. I’m often surprised when my friends recount stories of sitting at their desks goofing around on Facebook or instant messaging with friends after hours. For the boss who trolls the office after 5:00pm to see who is still in their seats, it might look like these employees are busy, but while their body is present they are completely checked out. Nobody is winning.

If you can create the conditions to weave in time off to look forward to, whether it’s lunch with a friend or turning a two day weekend into three or more, it’s important to line things up so that when we do take our time off we are relaxed and present, not worrying about the open loops we left behind.

For many of us, we can achieve our objective by working smarter, not harder.  But, how do we do it?

1. Start Right:  Set the tone for your day by waking a few minutes early. Stretch gently, read, meditate…do what it takes to create a spacious start to the day. Consciously choose to start off on the right foot while the rest of the household or neighborhood is snoozing.

2. Plan to work less:  When you have less time to work, you waste less time. Map out your time off, whether it’s an hour, an afternoon, a day or a week, then strategically plan how you will approach the tasks that need to be done before you do so. Chances are, you’ll find things like checking your horoscope or watching another cute kitten video falling by the wayside.

3. Planning and Solitude:  Many systems of time management encourage us to spend a few minutes every morning, prior to checking e-mail, reviewing our lists of goals and our lists of to-dos for the week.

4. Mind mapping:   Creating a plan for the day allows us to prioritize critical steps that make progress towards our goals instead of unintentionally relegating ourselves to the react and multi-task modes we find ourselves in when we don’t take time to plan.

5. Mindfully Manage Your E-Mail:  Check off some priorities before opening your e-mail first thing in the morning and schedule time throughout the day when your e-mail is off—then schedule some time when it is on. Be thoughtful about your outreach and responses. Keep them short and meaningful so you can make time for other priorities.

6. Take Breaks:  Take a lunch break. Take a nap. Take an exercise break. Studies show that when we are pushing hard, the breaks we take actually make us more productive. And who doesn’t want that?

7. Take That Time Off:  Studies back up what we intuitively know—taking breaks and vacation time is beneficial, even providing a boost on our annual performance reviews and encouraging our employer loyalty.

Ultimately, working long hours without taking time off does not make us more successful, but working smarter and taking time off may—and it’s much more enjoyable, which is a win no matter how you slice it.

Next time you think you don’t have time to take time off, try a few of these tips and discover how you and everyone around you might benefit too.


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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Julie van Amerongen


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