Mindful Monday: The Productivity Paradox

Mindful Monday: The Productivity Paradox

I’m just going to say it: TAKE A BREAK AND TAKE YOUR VACATION. It makes you more productive and more resilient than your peers.

Even if you’re a high level executive and think you can’t take a day off: put down the phone and emails, enjoy the time with your family and friends, and BREATHE.

We’re so connected in today’s world that we wake up thinking about work and we go to bed thinking about it. We’re berated on social media with ads and political propaganda about the newest product or why pro-choicers are murderers (news flash: they’re not). Our brains can’t handle all the stimulation and high arousal (no not sexual arousal, just a high level response that prompts action, elicits a strong emotion, or some biological response) on a daily basis. This commonly leads to burnout and partly the reason why some people leave their high level roles.

Instilled from a Young Age

It’s instilled from a young age and then perpetuated through college and into adulthood and in your professional life: the longer hours you work, theb harder you work in school, the more bullshit you put up with, the more all-nighters you pull, the better you’re going to succeed and be seen as a martyr in your industry.

At a business conference and many others I attended, the story is the same and seems to be touted as the formula for success. But one of the things I don’t hear is how these crazy successful professionals balanced their health and made sure they had time for loved ones. In fact, a keynote speaker said this week that he almost missed the birth of his second child because he commuted by bus to Wall Street because he wanted to be a stock broker. Crazy dedicated, sure, but is it worth nearly missing that life moment?

I believe in going the extra mile and becoming engrossed in your trade to excel at what you’re doing. Lifelong learning is essential for a more fulfilled life. Hard work is crucial for showing that you’re invested.

But who really wants to sacrifice every waking moment for a job that will replace them in 2 weeks if they tip over dead tomorrow?

I’m sorry, that mentality doesn’t sit well with me and I hope it doesn’t sit well with you. Going the extra mile, sure, I’m all for it. But sacrificing your well-being and health? Yeah, no.

That mentality needs to die painfully and quickly.

So let’s start killing it with a few facts:

The Paradox

We’re put into this box that the more we work, the more we’ll succeed. That’s true up to a point. What about those moments where our brains just won’t go any further? We’ve hit a wall, so to speak, and we just stare at our computer screens and think “OMG I have to get this project done but I can’t concentrate”.

Maybe you’re in college and you think “Omg I have to get this project done tonight and I have to stay up all night to do it or I’m going to fail the class”, but your brain is playing the spinning seal on a 10-hour loop or singing the guacamole song because it’s just too overwhelming.

This is the type of habits that supposedly make or break a successful professional. But you feel like shit the next day because you didn’t sleep and you fail that exam or turn in poor work because you didn’t get enough sleep or couldn’t turn your brain off to rest and recharge.

This is the point to take a break. Take a walk, watch a funny YouTube video, call you mom or spouse, and then come back to your work. Be intentional about how you take these breaks. Switch your brain to something that you actually enjoy or can zone-out for 10 minutes. It actually makes your more productive.

Sounds counter-intuitive, but your brain needs this time to recover and reset. Like an overworked bicep or legs, your brain gets fatigued as well. About every 90 minutes, your brain starts sending signals to take a break and then come back to it. Much like you complete a set of bicep curls and then rest for 90 seconds. you don’t try to do those 3 sets of 12 in one shot. You rest and then repeat. Your brain is the same way.

Believe it or not, a new, growing body of research is showing a recovery stprocess for mental resilience that is very similar to the way we recover from strenuous physical activity, by resting and taking a break.

But let’s take it one step further: if we’re not taking those breaks and intentionally unplugging from the noise and barrage of notifications, we’re not really resting our brains, are we? If you’re eating lunch at your desk and still checking emails, are you REALLY taking your lunch break? If you’re laying on your couch but debating the nuances of universal healthcare, are you truly resting your brain from the stimulation?


What to Do with These Breaks

Need some ideas for how to intentionally spend your break? Here are a few:

  • Take a walk outside if the weather is nice (or take a walk inside? You do you)
  • Go to another part of the office, like the break room, and eat your lunch.
  • Call your mom
  • Put on a 10-minute guided meditation
  • Do a 2-5 minute breathing exercise
  • Read something that will rot your brain (tabloids anyone?)
  • doodle
  • Go out to lunch with coworkers or meet friends
  • have something to mess with at your desk.
  • do the NYT’s daily mini crossword
  • stretch

There are other ways to make your time more productive as well, but taking more breaks, even just 5 minutes, will refresh your brain and help you perform better overall. Because working vigorously for 90 minutes with 10 minute break each cycle is better than operating at 50% all day and only getting 4 hours worth of work done in 8.

Don’t run yourself into the ground and burn yourself out. Do yourself a favor and take a break. Your brain, and body, will thank you later.

In love and light,


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