It’s a counter-intuitive proposition. If you’re working flat out but you still need to get more
done, you should take some time doing nothing. As hard workers, we like to charge
ourselves up and barrel through the job at hand without stopping until it’s finished. But
guess what the experts say. They tell us that to up our productivity we should also up our
Being productive isn’t the same thing as being busy. Busy is being engaged in lots of
things—such as logging expenses, getting through your email inbox, all kinds of overhead
tasks. But those are outside your core business activities. As opposed to being busy, being
productive means engaging in the things that directly impact your business goals—such as
prospecting, supporting clients, completing a deliverable, all the things that boost your
revenue. With just a few hours of focused work in these areas, you can have a very
But experts say you can’t achieve that level of productivity without taking a break. Even
machines that run all the time have to stop every so often to refuel. The fuel for human
beings is actually downtime—quality time during which you switch off your mind and reset.
Working Without a Break Is Counter-Productive
When your work nonstop, your capabilities degrade as you put more time into the effort.
For example, if you’re having trouble understanding something you’re reading, often the
longer you dwell on it, the denser it becomes. Cleaning out your inbox without a break turns
into a slower and slower process while new emails keep coming in.
Working without a break can also lead to burnout. A survey of white-collar workers found
they spent more than 50% of their days just taking in information before they were able to
apply it in their work. Half of them said they often wound up feeling they simply couldn’t
process the continuous stream of incoming data any longer. Working like this for days
without a break can soon burn you out.
Working nonstop also puts a strain on your attention span. When you’re learning something
new, or trying to focus on a complex task, you have to take breaks before your attention
span hits its limit. Experts say it takes five to fifteen minutes to make new information your
own. A break gives you the time to process that information.
Taking a break is also a great way to generate fresh ideas. Studies show that rest and
relaxation stimulate creative thinking. A break away from all the information and
interactions we’re hit with gives us space to think by ourselves.
Just be sure that when you do take a break, it’s a real one. Resist the temptation to check
news, emails, or social media on your phone, laptop, or desktop. The point is to rest your
body and your mind and just relax. Here’s more on why downtime is good for your brain.