by Josh Millar
Striving for optimal productivity can sometimes start to feel like a race against the clock — with only so many hours in the day to accomplish all the things on your list. Even when you’re armed with several strategies to support efficiency, it can still feel like long hours and extreme focus are your only options. As it turns out, one of the best strategies might also feel like one of the most counterintuitive. It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that taking breaks and slowing down can often boost productivity, but despite that knowledge, many of us don’t seem to apply it to our own lives. It can be challenging to pull yourself away from your desk to take a walk when you feel the pressure of a hefty to-do list, but it can also be the best strategy to help you power through. Here are a few ways I try to put this knowledge into practice:
Often, when I find myself operating at high-speed all day and still not accomplishing everything I intended to, it’s a result of taking on a handful of things I didn’t really need to take on — an additional project at work, a favor for a colleague, or an after-work meeting that extends into the evening. One of the best ways to get out of busy-mode and slow the pace is to pause and ask ‘why’ before accepting a new project or task. When it’s something you want to do and your schedule can accommodate it without eliminating breaks and plowing into your personal time, then great. But if it’s going to force you to go through your day without the opportunity to pause, I think it’s important to see if it’s worth that sacrifice. By better screening tasks and protecting your schedule, you can avoid the rushed, frantic pace that many people encounter on a regular basis. That will support better concentration and overall productivity when it comes to the tasks that are important.
Take Regular Time-Outs
Some studies suggest 75-90 minutes of work followed by a 15-minute break to be the most productive workflow. While everyone’s optimum windows may look a bit different, it’s a great model to follow. Experiment to find the times that work best for your schedule and tasks. When you get into a rhythm, it makes short breaks become habitual, meaning you’re not wasting time deciding if you have time to take one or not. When you have a major project, it can feel tempting to put in hours at a time, but these breaks often help you return to your work with more focus and mental energy to complete it. This means you’ll get more done without the exhausting stress of being locked to your desk for 5 hours straight.
One of the best ways to take a break is to move your body. It doesn’t need to be a workout. Perhaps one or two of those 15-minute windows mentioned above are spent walking around the block, or maybe you dedicate a portion of your lunch break to a loop around the office. Studies show this has a beneficial impact on the brain that allows you to better absorb and retain information. It also supports physical and mental health and can give you a boost of energy when you feel yourself heading into a slump.
While some breaks are ideally actual breaks, they don’t all need to be a complete disconnection from work. Part of the benefit of taking a break can be to return to a project with fresh eyes. If the idea of a peaceful stroll just doesn’t feel realistic in your day, pick an easier item on your to-do list to accomplish during a “break”. These breaks might not be as effective at slowing your overall pace, but they can still help you reap the benefits of breaking up your workday.
Operating at a healthier speed and taking regular breaks can help you recharge, see things differently, and improve your focus — all of which help you to work more efficiently. Though this makes sense to many of us, it can be difficult to implement. Do you have any strategies that slow the pace and support your productivity? I’d love to hear your thoughts!