We live in a culture that lauds productivity. We measure it, talk about increasing it, look for ways to reduce “unproductive time" and many other variations of the theme. Productivity is pretty much a good thing, until it becomes a bad thing. . . that is, until we begin to view our down time as being “unproductive. " Unfortunately such a skewed picture of productivity results in a great deal of pain and stress, and ultimately undermines our efforts to become more productive.
I recently spoke with a prospective coaching client and asked when she had taken her last vacation. She confessed that she had recently spent 12 days on vacation, but that was after having had NO down-time for at least a dozen years! A recent newspaper article noted that the traditional “lunch hour" is also rapidly becoming a thing of the past, with many salaried employees forgoing any break in their day at all! What has gotten into us?
The irony is that often what we most need when we're high on deadline pressure and too much to do is the most counter-intuitive: that is to take a break! Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, researchers and former coaches to world class athletes, have studied productivity and write about it in their book, “The Power of Full Engagement". They've worked with successful athletes, businessmen and women, executives and public officials, many of whom have lost the spark and energy to perform at the highest level. Among other things, their research indicates that we need a break every hour-and-a-half because our bodies actually go through a mini-shutdown after about 90 minutes of sustained activity. At that point, the least productive thing we can do is push through the fatigue or mental fuzz in the name of productivity. The best thing we can do is get up, move around, drink some water, have a healthy snack or breathe deeply to recharge our batteries.
And remember there is a big difference between regular “peak performance breaks" and plain laziness or goofing off.
My friends, we're in the midst of the traditional summer vacation season. What are you waiting for? No one will give you permission to take a vacation or to schedule regular periods of “battery recharging" into your day. But I'm telling you now: unless you begin to treat yourself like the highly-tuned business athlete you long to be, including regular recharge breaks, or even time off to do nothing if that's what your inner voice tells you, you're in serious danger of crashing and burning. . . flaming out. . . or running away and joining Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus!
What's it going to be? Lily Tomlin had it right when she said, “Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat. " Come on, don't you have something better to do than work your fingers to the bone? I think you do, so relax and start doing it.
Betty Mahalik has been coaching small business owners, independent professionals and leaders who want to achieve more but stress less, since 1996. Her background includes several years in the broadcasting and public relations fields prior to starting her own firm in 1987. She is an accomplished public speaker and corporate trainer specializing in communications, goal-setting and leveraging your strengths. Since 2001, she has written a weekly motivational message, free to subscribers, titled Monday Morning Coach.