Want to be more productive? Feeling burnt out?
It could be because your mind, body, and spirit are depleted. It is important to practice self-care and replenish by energizing ourselves to continually perform at optimum levels. If we work without letup it will jeopardize our work, health, relationships and finances.
Studies show that performance increases after breaks of all durations: from extended vacations down to microbreaks of 30 seconds to 60 seconds.
Regular refueling–input–is a prerequisite for quality output, because the brain is an energy machine, consuming 20 percent of the body’s calories, even though it’s only 2 percent of total body mass. Energy that gets expended must be resupplied.
Just like the heart, the brain gets fatigued from too much time on-task. “If you overtax your heart, the next thing you need to do is relax, or you’ll die,” says Jeff Stibel, CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. and author of Wired for Thought, among other books. “The same thing is true of the brain. Do too much, and you’ll burn it out. You’ll make bad choices.”
One study found that mental fatigue takes hold after three hours of continuous time on-task; other scientists say brains need a break after 90 minutes, the length of the “basic rest-activity cycle.”
Burning up mental resources without replacing them leads to stress, burnout and poor performance. Stress constricts the brain to a narrow focus–a perceived threat–making it hard to concentrate on anything else, plan or make good decisions.
Recovery opportunities might range from breaks during the workday to diversions that shut off the work mind when you get home at night, to weekend activities, vacations and sleep.
People who engage in respite activities during workday recovery breaks have higher levels of positive affect (observable expression of emotion) after the breaks, a study led by John Trougakos at the University of Toronto found. That restores regulatory resources that increase focus and resilience. Subjects who used the time for restorative activities–relaxing, social activities, napping–got the benefit, while those who used the time for chores–other tasks and errands–didn’t.
As the longest separation from work stressors during the workday, lunch is a big opportunity for restoring energy. Working while eating lunch doesn’t aid recovery, one study by Trougakos reports, while autonomy during the break “can offset the negative effects of work” and result in less end-of-workday exhaustion. Exercising during lunch is also effective. Swedish researchers found that taking two and a half hours per week for exercise during work hours increased productivity, even though workers were logging 6.25 percent fewer hours.Vacations have been shown to lead to significantly higher performance upon return to the job. The energizing ingredients are time away from stressors (you need two weeks to get the recuperative benefits from burnout) and mastery and social experiences while on vacation that build competence and social connection.
Leaving the work at work is one of the most important recovery strategies–and the hardest. If you’re still obsessing about work when you’re off the job, no recovery can take place. Detaching from work with diversions at night reduces fatigue and promotes positive effects the next morning at work.
By getting away from work and letting the mind get involved in thinking, hobbies and rejuvenation, you can return to work and produce results faster.