Can breaks from work improve your productivity?

This is what Abraham Lincoln had to say on this topic:

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my Axe”

At first look, that statement might look a bit impractical. I have seen people who work for 95% of their available time and in the remaining 5% of the time, think about what else they could do, and how to go about doing it! To be frank, I have seen people on the other side of this spectrum too – the ones that pretend to do a lot of work, but are actually in a permanent state of break!

During one of my jobs, I had this interesting conversation:

“Why do you guys keep working (sending mails) on weekends?”

“What to do, we have so much work!”

“No. If you had worked to your full potential on weekdays, you don’t have to work on weekends.”

Then it struck me – what were we doing on weekdays? Coming late – chattering with other employees/ partners etc – then slightly pick up working after lunch – not able to finish work by evening – put in a couple of hours more – not able to finish work even then, postpone it to the next day – continue doing the same all week – at the end of the week – postpone it to the weekend!

What he said afterwards was even more revealing:

“Its because you allow yourself to work extra-hours, that you don’t work efficiently when you have to. You always know you have that extra time to finish the job. But once you stop allowing yourself the option of working over-time, you will find ways to finish the work within office hours.”

Then I realized that it was not only true but a whole bunch of us were doing the same thing! This may not have a direct connection to the topic that I am discussing, but it reflects on our mentality that if we work for more hours, we can be more productive and hence the results will be better! But in actuality, are we not pretending (to ourselves – more importantly) that we are working for a long time and hence we are hard working?

In other words, its about efficiency.ย  I have been in situations when I have a whole day, but no upper or lower limits to how much work I can complete. So naturally, I try to put every minute and every hour to complete as much work as possible. But this policy was disastrous. It not only resulted in me wasting time in front of my computer and not getting enough sleep, but after a week or so I was down for a full day with fever!

Did I at least complete more work that way? No. I work for sometime, wander around – both physically and virtually for some more time. Then back to working for a short while, and more wandering!

It was then I forced myself to take a break – To sleep for 2-3 hours compulsorily in the afternoons, and sleep well in the nights : 10 PM – 7 AM. It was then I realized, how fresh my mind was, after waking up from sleep and I started to do the crucial part of my work in the morning, immediately after I woke up from sleep.

There was one more thing I did – I took two days off, compulsorily – every week. That means, not staring at the computer monitor on Saturday and Sunday. That’s when I started going out to tourist places around my place, taking photos and trying to keep myself out of the reach of my laptop (Well, as far as possible!).

What surprised me was the results – I was doing almost the same amount of work even after sleeping twice a day and taking two full days off! Now I am wondering if I should restrict my work hours to certain number of hours a day, and not work at all – beyond those hours!

So, the point of the post is – Taking short breaks away from what you are doing, might actually help you do the work more efficiently! This is quite contrary to what we teach our kids and what we are advised at work – Work more, work more and work more!!

Now I am wondering – If I take a break in proportion to what is said in the first quote (6 hours in 8 hours), would I be spending those remaining two hours ultra-efficiently?

Well, we have all seen our classmates who rarely study or touch books (except just before exams) but score almost the same marks in exams when compared to us, who keep studying daily! So, maybe that first quote is right after all! ๐Ÿ™‚

“What counts is not how many hours you put in : Its about how much you put in those hours”

Destination Infinity

(Visited 10 times, 1 visits today)

23 Replies to “Can breaks from work improve your productivity?”

  1. I do that, I dont work on weekends , might do as a favour to someone but otherwise no going ot office on weekends, from friday evening to monday morning nothing to do with job.
    it helps in rewinding and getting all the chaos and tension of the week out , ready to give our best in the coming week ..

    Bikram’s

    1. When I was in Bangalore, I too did not work on weekends (except rare occasions where it was required). In fact, one of my bosses asked me why I was calling him on a Saturday? ๐Ÿ™‚

      Destination Infinity

  2. You could have been more correct! I particularly agree with you that it is discipline and nothing else that ensures one to be on speed with what one has to do!

    โ€œWhat counts is not how many hours you put in : Its about how much you put in those hoursโ€ – Absolutely!

  3. Insightful article. We definitely need breaks from work so to improve our productivity. The 2 hour break which you have been taking and which has improved your productivity is nothing but can be called ‘Sharpening your Axes’. By allowing yourself to relax sufficiently you are able to keep your all senses prim and sharp.

    I would dis-agree with your last contention that if we rest for 6 hrs, we can work efficiently in 2 hrs. Your body will get used to too much relaxing to work properly at other times ๐Ÿ™‚

    PS
    *+

    1. I was expecting that , its not my contention – its Abraham Lincoln’s! ๐Ÿ™‚ Drawing the line between productive use of time and unproductive use of time and balancing both is a tough job! To do that effectively, we need to be frank with ourselves – that’s the toughest part.

      Destination Infinity

  4. What you say is absolutely right! ‘โ€œWhat counts is not how many hours you put in : Its about how much you put in those hoursโ€! Quality hours!

    If you nap for half and hour also is enough to refresh, but you should take the nap! It will be like a new day when go wake up.

    Weekend off is a must and going out is best for relaxation!

    Yes, D.I. you should be sincere to yourself!

    1. I sleep for a minimum of 2-3 hours (sometimes more) – thats an issue! These days, I am taking some time off whenever I am struck with headache – a sign that I am overly reading from the computer monitor!

      Destination Infinity

    1. Time management is an art indeed – it requires a lot of discipline! What all we need to learn with our small brain ๐Ÿ˜€

      Destination Infinity

  5. I agree with you Destination Infinity. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Initially I used to sit in front of my computer all day, trying to finish my work on time. But for the past few months I have been taking breaks in between and it has increased my efficiency. ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. It’s all about concentration. Most people need a break otherwise it becomes difficult to concentrate. However there are some people who can concentrate for hours on end so I guess there are exceptions.

    1. The exception part is something that I was wondering about – can they really concentrate hours together, or are they taking a mental break now and then. But with practice and discipline, I guess its sort of possible to concentrate for long times.

      Destination Infinity

    1. Yeah, we generally believe that putting more hours automatically translates to more work! But a little time spent qualitatively is better than spending a lot of time quantitatively doing (almost) nothing.

      Destination Infinity

  7. Rajesh,

    You stole mind….I always thought like that…always. In fact your choice of words, start and end …almost seems like I would write in the same way. So I can safely say you write really really good – how modest…appreciate you & myself on the same time.

    But on the serious note, you write really good and you are right on spot in this article too.

    1. Thanks Amrit. Most of the bloggers are quite similar in their thoughts, and have common characteristics – thats why we are here blogging!

      Destination Infinity

  8. We think alike. Before we do more work, we should make sure that the work that we are currently doing is done efficiently and we are getting maximum output.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *