Could the Path to Peak Productivity Be to Work...Less?

Today’s blog post is written by Ellen Hindson, Education Specialist, PatronManager.

As the daughter of two incredibly hardworking academics, I was aware of “overwork culture” in the United States long before I fully understood it. But this trend goes far beyond the bounds of academia. Statistics show that the average American, regardless of their profession, takes only 53% of their allotted vacation time. Beyond that, two thirds (66%) of Americans report working while they are on vacation. Technology connects the world in beautiful ways, but can also make it exceptionally difficult to disconnect when that’s called for.

Like many others, I am fascinated by the productivity industry; it has become a bit of an obsession for me. I’ve read books by David Allen, Timothy Ferriss, and Carson Tate, and I love implementing new methods for time management and focus. But I fear that I have been guilty of overworking for a long time, and it’s an extremely tough habit to break. I’ve been lucky enough to have supervisors who see that behavior and tell me (very lovingly) to “scram” when I need to be reminded to stop; and a partner who has been known to pry my laptop from my hands and announce that it’s time to take a break if I’m showing signs of having worked nonstop for too long.

Research shows that there are massive benefits to taking breaks (including an increase in energy and focus) and yet most American workers resist taking downtime, preferring to power through the day/week/year without slowing down. I’ve noticed this to be especially true in the world of non-profits and the arts, where long hours are often assumed and expected, and where one employee is responsible for doing the work that would be done by three employees in another sector. When we are doing work that we’re passionate about, it’s especially easy to push aside recommendations to rest, even if we know it’s better for our health (and our… yes, productivity!) to take regular breaks.

What if we finally begin as a society to listen to what science is telling us? What happens if we change the way we think about downtime, and allow it to help us succeed? I read an article recently that reminded me that some of the most objectively successful and influential people in the world, past and present, have embraced taking mindful breaks from their work. In an article he wrote for Medium, author Michael Simmons notes that something Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, Benjamin Franklin, and Jeff Bezos all have in common is the commitment to stepping back. Quoting the article:

Despite having way more responsibility than anyone else, top performers in the business world find time to step away from their urgent work, slow down, and invest in activities that have a long-term payoff in greater knowledge, creativity, and energy. As a result, they may achieve less in a day at first, but drastically more over the course of their lives.

Whether we take a break to plan ahead, to read, to go on a walk, to think, to sleep, to journal, or to simply reflect — the impact of taking time to slow down could dramatically improve the way we work. As we enter 2019 and prepare for the projects, productions, and campaigns ahead, let’s commit to giving our brains and bodies the breaks we need to do our very best!

“In a world where frantic work is the focus, top performers should focus deliberately on learning and rest.” – Michael Simmons

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