Taking time to relax and unwind is vital to employees’ creativity and productivity in the office.
And so it was that I found myself awake in the middle of the night, catching up on work on my laptop. In a hotel room. In the dark. With my wife and kids asleep in the room. At Disney World.
It just so happened that our family vacation this summer fell at a particularly inopportune time with regard to my business, and there were things that simply had to be done, lest everything fall apart back at the office. So, I spent the day riding Space Mountain and the night putting out fires at work. As a child, my parents would have called that “having responsibilities.” I just called it exhausting.
My unusual vacation (I had seldom before done more than the cursory email check while on a trip) fortunately served as the impetus for me to revisit the nature of work and rest. Most of this is stuff we know, but all too rarely put into practice. However, if we make the conscious effort to adjust even a few small habits, not only will we find more rest, our productivity at work will actually improve.
More and more, it seems that for many of us, the lines between work and home are exceedingly blurry, and perhaps nowhere are these boundaries more fluid than for those of us who manage small businesses. Being a cog in a giant machine may have certain drawbacks, but one perk is that there are usually other cogs to fill in while you enjoy a relaxing break from the machine. Small business folks rarely have that luxury. Even for the small business owner blessed with a capable, proactive team of employees, there are always decisions to be made and work to be done that requires your input, and yours alone.
In many ways, the blurring of the work/home compartmentalization can be a good thing. Often, it helps to prioritize our activities, allowing us to accomplish both our work objectives and our personal goals. However, the flip side of that coin is that work can gradually begin to push out our personal lives and consume us more and more each day.
Now don’t get me wrong, work is a good thing. It is rewarding to put forth great effort and accomplish your goals, and it puts food on your table (and if you know anything about my love affair with food, you know that’s a very good thing), so it is tempting to burn that midnight oil more and more frequently.
For many of us, hardly a moment passes by without thinking of something that needs to be done at the office. If you love your job, you might truly enjoy thinking frequently about how to succeed at work, but even so, periods of rest—real rest away from work—are essential. Not only are they essential to your family and friends, but science has revealed periods of rest to be essential to your productivity and creativity at the office.
A Training Regiment
Yes, rest, from a walk around the block to a week in Cancun, makes you a better worker. It’s science! So the next time your boss catches you sleeping at your desk, you can politely inform him or her that you are actually just attempting to be the most productive employee possible.
Think of it this way: if you have ever trained for, or known someone who has trained for, an endurance race like a marathon or a triathlon, then you likely know that you can’t simply train as hard as you can every day. Your body will fail you, and you will injure yourself. The body requires rest after it has been worked vigorously in order to perform when it is called upon again. That’s why training programs for marathons and similar events call for you to train hard for several weeks and then take a week to pull back and rest before you train hard again for several more weeks.
What we often fail to realize is that our brains function in exactly the same way. If we push and push our minds to perform without giving them a break, they will eventually lose the ability to perform at their highest level. Without rest, we arrive at a point where our efficiency and productivity drops to a point where we are actually being counterproductive. If we had taken the time to rest, we would have been able to do more, better-quality work in a shorter timeframe—even including the time spent resting.
Scaling Up Rest
Easier said than done though, right? Of course, we would all like to take a long vacation away from work, but the whole reason we’re working so much is that we don’t have the ability to do so yet. Thankfully, we can start small and work our way up. Experts say that even short periods of time spent mindfully doing something other than work—even if that something is nothing at all—can rejuvenate our brains enough to help us work efficiently for a longer span of time once we return to work.
So start with something easy, like a walk around the block where you intentionally think of something other than work. Or perhaps take a morning or evening, turn off your smartphone or computer, and read a book or put together a puzzle. If you choose a restful activity in which your family can participate, then you’ve just killed two birds with one stone—you’ve scored points at home and made yourself a better worker.
Scaling up our times of rest will take planning and more than a little help from others, but I believe it’s possible to eventually be able to go on a vacation and leave work behind completely, no matter who you are. Of course, I haven’t exactly figured out how it’s possible, but I’m working on it! So check back with me after my summer vacation next year and see how it went. Hopefully, instead of working late into the night, I will have been sound asleep, having nightmares about how I just spent my kids’ college savings so they could ride the Dumbo ride. iBi