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Published on March 12, 2021

Why You Need To Take A Break From Work For Good Productivity

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Why You Need To Take A Break From Work For Good Productivity

Yesterday was one of those days. I sat at my laptop screen with a to-do list the size of a small country and I just typed. I typed for two or three hours and by the time I was done with all the typing, I had made literally no progress.

Between second-guessing myself, deciding I didn’t like what I’d done, changing my mind, and just losing focus, I essentially wasted a good couple of hours sitting at a computer and “working” but actually getting no work done.

I got up, turned the computer off, and went for a walk. It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Walking away when you’ve got a long list of deadlines and time won’t do you the courtesy of just slowing down while you get back in the game. But I needed it. Then I came back to my computer a couple of hours later and ticked the two highest priority items off that list in less time than I’d spent to achieve nothing earlier on in the day.

Taking a break is about so much more than a coffee and a chat. It’s not a luxury. It’s an absolute necessity! So, let’s ditch the guilty feelings of taking a break from work, and let’s stop snacking at our desks for 5 minutes instead of actually taking lunch. It will help us work better, be better employees or entrepreneurs, and possibly even live longer.

Here’s why you need to take a break from work for good productivity.

1. Humans Cannot Function Productively for Hours on End

Humans can’t function productively for hours on end, despite what your employment contract says.

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Do you care to guess how many hours a day you’re productive for? Is it 6? 7? All 8 of the main working day hours? Probably not. Studies suggest you’re productive for 2 or 3 hours at best.[1]

So, what are you doing for the rest of the time you’re sitting at your screen? You’re working significantly less productively, which is no better for you than it is for your boss.

I’m not saying we all need to move to a 3-hour working day with immediate effect. Let’s be practical about it. But accepting that after a couple of very productive hours, you need a break before you can come back and do that again is a good start.

2. Regular Breaks Are Good for Your Memory

Scientific research points to the fact that regular short breaks can improve your memory.[2] Better memory means you can whizz through tasks faster and more effectively. But a break, the study found, also helps you to retain recently acquired information.

So, if you’re doing the research for a report or you’re in a meeting for a couple of hours, actually walking away afterward and taking that coffee break can help you better retain the facts, figures, or information you just got.

Could this be one of the reasons why the Pomodoro Technique can be so effective for so many? Regular breaks in that technique could mean you’re actually processing all the information you’re getting from your work properly and taking that forward into the next task.

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3. A Break Enhances Your Energy Levels

Research in 2016 confirmed what I imagine many of us suspected. If you take a break, your energy levels will improve.[3]

There’s no productivity killer quite as lethal as lethargy. And I personally suffer from the dreaded “afternoon slump” a lot. If you’re tired, you won’t concentrate as well and you will not get as much done. It’s that simple. The research suggests that taking a break at lunchtime (an actual break, not 5 minutes browsing Facebook at your desk with a sandwich) boosts energy levels, thus improving your focus into the afternoon.

I know there are workplaces where the culture is very much lunch-at-desks. But if you feel the need to justify taking your full lunch break, then consider this it. Science says you’ll get more done in the afternoon.

4. You’ll Make Better Decisions After a Break

Decision-making—whether these decisions seem like minor or major ones—is an important part of our daily work. A group of researchers found that failing to take breaks leads to decision fatigue.[4]

Now, the decisions being made by the subjects of their study really were life-altering too. The study followed a group of judges who were ruling on whether to grant people parole. The study found they were much likelier not to grant parole to someone had they not had breaks. The scientists put this down to the judges (consciously or otherwise) making the easier decision on occasions where they hadn’t taken breaks and were therefore not rested.

I personally don’t have to make decisions that affect people’s lives like that (thankfully). But I’ve definitely experienced myself that when I’m feeling like I’m overdue a break, I am likelier to take the easy road even if it’s not the best one. So, switch the screen off, get away from your desk, grab a bite, and get some fresh air. Your decision-making will thank you for it.

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5. Breaks Improve Your Creativity

Whether you’re a writer, a lawyer, a marketer, or something else entirely, some degree of creativity is probably a requirement in your role. From creative problem solving to slogan writing, your imagination and creativity can play a huge role in the quality of your work.

I’ve often found my creative breakthroughs coming at the least convenient times (maybe I should start taking a notebook in the shower and to bed). My “aha!” moments, inconveniently, never really happen when I’m in a brainstorming session or when I’m in a call with a client or sitting at my screenwriting strategy and planning documents. Oh no, that would be too easy.

In fact most of my creative ideas, I’ve found, happen on walks or when I’m relaxing at home. Turns out, I’m not at all unique in that. A study found that creativity was improved by walking (as opposed to sitting).[5]

So, instead of sitting staring at your screen (and, if you’re anything like me, getting more frustrated by the minute) just walk away—literally. Get outside and just walk. Even if you don’t have the “aha!” moment you’re looking for, you’re probably going to be likelier to stumble upon a creative breakthrough later for having taken the break.

6. Breaks Are Good for Your Health

A healthier you is a more productive you. There’s nothing quite like a health crisis to knock your productivity, after all.

Breaks aren’t only a necessity for your mental health but your physical health, too. This is particularly notable for office workers and those of us who sit at desks and screens for vast quantities of the day. Back problems, cardiovascular problems, and weight gain, or even obesity are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the damage experts believe that prolonged sitting can do.

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So, not only is taking a break great for your energy levels, it’s imperative for your physical health. Stand up, move, and walk. If you can’t get out for a long walk, just take a 15-minute stroll around the block. It’s good for you in so many different ways.

Our physical and mental health is intrinsically linked to how well we perform at work. So, don’t feel guilty for prioritizing your health. It’s good for your work in the long term, too.

Tips for Fitting Breaks in

I’m self-employed with the flexibility to work hours to suit me, my family, and our schedules. I also know that I am far more productive in the mornings than in the afternoons, so I take my breaks in the afternoon very often.

I’m also fortunate that our office is very close to a stunning reservoir with jaw-droppingly beautiful walks. So, I often take some time out in the afternoon to talk or run there and invariably find that it leaves me feeling far more equipped to deal with the rest of the day.

But I also know that not everybody is in that position. So, if you find you’re working for someone else and you’re working set office hours, perhaps without much space for getting out for walks, here are a few tips for getting your breaks in:

  1. Eat your lunch away from your desk wherever possible. Stand up if you can (standing desks, breakfast bars, and so forth are helpful here). Making lunch a set time each day that you actually take a break is a simple way to make that time within the allowances of a pre-set working day
  2. Walk before work. Even if you just park a mile further from your office or get off your transport a stop or two earlier, you buy yourself a precious few moments to walk, decompress, and just relax while getting in some physical activity. When I was working for someone else a few years ago, I found this a life-changing habit and it was such a small change. I arrived at work feeling refreshed and ready.
  3. Switch off at home. The nature of the ever-connected society we live in is that we are plugged into our work constantly. But try to take time out—completely out. When you’re not at work and you can take the time out, capitalize. I also know that some workplaces have a toxic culture of expecting prolonged hours, evening work, and dragging staff onto projects over the weekend. If you’re in the position to push back, please do. No job is worth having no life outside of the office.
  4. Try to lead from the front and build a culture of smart working. If you’re a leader, then encourage your team to work smarter—encouraging breaks to improve productivity and allowing people to experiment with other productivity techniques like Pomodoro.
  5. If you’re not in management, then perhaps speak to management and sell the business benefits of a smarter working culture. It’s a simple business case to make when you can prove productivity increases and more gets done in a day if people take a full lunch break for example. See if you can get them on board.

A Necessity, Not a Luxury

Over the years, I’ve come to regard breaks as an absolute necessity if I want to work smarter and continue to deliver my best work. It’s a mindset shift from ten years ago when I regarded them as a self-indulgent luxury I needed to live without.

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If you’ve been denying yourself breaks, then maybe start fitting one in each day and seeing what difference it makes to you and your work. I don’t imagine you’ll be disappointed. Now, please do excuse me. I’m off for a walk.

More About How To Restore Energy

Featured photo credit: Christin Hume via unsplash.com

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Stacey MacNaught

Small business owner, public speaker and marketing expert obsessed with working smarter.

How to Focus on Goals and Get Rid of Distractions Why Is It Important To Set Realistic Goals? Why You Need To Take A Break From Work For Good Productivity How To Motivate Yourself When You Are Overwhelmed in Life

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Published on November 30, 2021

Entrepreneurial Burnout: 6 Ways to Avoid And Overcome It

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Entrepreneurial Burnout: 6 Ways to Avoid And Overcome It

Burnout became an especially painful issue during the pandemic when the majority of people worked from home, finding it difficult to draw the line between work and private life. However, entrepreneur burnout has been less discussed, despite evidence that entrepreneurs are at a higher risk of burning out.[1]

It may seem that as the boss, you are more in control of your time and work duties. Feeling stressed? Take a day off. Don’t feel like doing something? Give the task to someone else. But in reality, the responsibility of leading a company weighs heavy on many company owners.

In addition, when you’re passionate about growing your business, it can be tricky to notice the symptoms of burnout. It may take long months or even years of putting yourself through survival mode before you notice that your body or mind has raised a white flag.

The tips compiled here will help you avoid entrepreneur burnout and tackle already existing burnout symptoms, like exhaustion, sleep problems, irritability, weakened immune system, and others. However, if you feel that these have already become serious issues, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor or a psychotherapist in addition to following these tips.

1. Find a Reliable Business Partner

There’s a reason why most startups nowadays have at least two or three people on the founding team. Starting and growing a business is a challenging endeavor and can become a gargantuan task if you sign up to do it alone. Even if it may seem doable at first, new responsibilities, needs, and issues will arise as your company grows.

If you’re lucky, you already have a trustworthy partner to share the highs and lows of managing a business. If you’re going at it solo but would like to find a business partner, look for someone who:

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  • you trust and, ideally, have already worked with, either as colleagues or co-founders;
  • has a complementary skillset and temper;
  • has similar work habits and ethics;
  • will be equally invested in the business, both financially, practically, and emotionally.

Rihards Piks, the co-founder of on-demand supplement fulfillment service Supliful, shares that he and his business partner Martins were childhood friends and had already worked on several business ideas together before Supliful. Their close-knit partnership played a crucial role when their previous business was facing bankruptcy: “When we decided to take out personal loans to save our business from going under, we both took an equal share of the risk – and an equal share of the loan. Neither Martins nor I became a tag-along co-founder.”[2]

2. Set Your Priorities as Soon as Possible

When starting your business, the list of tasks and plans seems endless, and it’s clear as day that it’s not humanly possible to attend to all of them. That’s why priority setting is so important when you’re a company owner. In other words, take small but focused steps in the right direction.

If your company is still at a very early stage, prioritize the tasks that help you create a Minimum Viable Product or MVP to kick your business off and start attracting customers. An MVP is the most basic version of your business idea that can operate. Gather the first clients, and get valuable feedback.

If you’re leading an already established business, think about slowly transferring operational tasks to others, keeping the focus on company goals and other crucial aspects of your business.

Jonna Piira, the founder of Kali, worked on too many projects until she was forced to take some time off due to an unfortunate fall down the stairs. That’s when she realized she was experiencing entrepreneur burnout and decided to take a critical look at her list of priorities: “I reviewed everything that I was doing. I listed all of my commitments from most fulfilling to least. I then reviewed how much time each commitment was taking each week. Then I cut out the items at the bottom of my list.”[3]

3. Delegate Instead of Micromanaging

First-time founders are at the highest risk of entrepreneur burnout simply because they operate in high uncertainty and thus, feel they have to be responsible for every aspect of the business and control everything. More experienced business owners know that it’s impossible—and unnecessary—to participate in every process and decision within the company.

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Instead of trying to control everything, follow these tactics:

  • Hire great people and trust them to fulfill their responsibilities.
  • Remember the list of your priorities and focus on them instead of constantly checking your team’s performance.
  • If necessary, schedule weekly or monthly meetings with different teams and employees to stay in the loop about the most critical processes.
  • Delegate straightforward manual tasks to freelancers (e.g., from platforms like Fiverr or Upwork).
  • Prepare documentation to streamline how processes run within the company (more on this in the next section).

Toms Panders, co-founder and CEO of ad tech startup Setupad, said: “Prior to launching Setupad, I had spent almost 10 years in the advertising industry, so I felt that I knew how to do things the right way and wanted to participate in every decision made within the company. However, as the company was quickly growing, I realized that I must release the reins and trust my team if I want to stay sane and avoid burning out. I also realized that micromanaging is an overhead cost. I prefer to invest in improving the hiring process and education.”

4. Document Processes and Guidelines

To avoid having to participate in every process within the company, it’s a smart move to streamline your company’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) as soon as possible. These are the documented processes specific to your industry or type of work and describe the steps necessary to complete tasks according to industry regulations.

SOPs are crucial for running a smooth business operation and for onboarding new employees as swiftly as possible. Following such step-by-step documentation, anyone can complete tasks and lead basic projects.

When starting a small business, it may seem that SOPs aren’t necessary, but as your company grows, you’ll see that such documentation saves your valuable time that you’d have to spend mentoring instead of tending to other business goals. Now, this is not to say that SOPs substitute all human interaction during onboarding and delegating tasks, but they are a huge help and time-saver.

5. Use Apps That Save Time and Automate Tasks

Automation can help your business scale without you having to be involved in the mundane and repetitive part of it. Whenever you feel like you’re spending too much time doing something manually, check if there isn’t an app to do it for you! Chances are, there’s already existing technology that will solve your problem and automate processes without requiring much effort and time from you or your team, while you focus on creating value for your clients.

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For example, there’s no need to manage and assign tasks manually and control who’s responsible for what when there are so many great project management apps out there. Why create attendance shifts and issue invoices manually when effective time management tools can do it for you? Many of these tools offer free trials, so you can test them out before committing to a purchase.

Julia Gifford, co-founder of PR and content marketing agency Truesix shared with us: “I can’t emphasize how much time and nerves I saved when I switched from manually creating invoices in Google Docs to using invoicing software. It seemed inconsequential at first, which is why it took so long to make the switch. But it’s the little things that are done automatically that really ended up making a difference – like setting the date, due date, calculating totals, calculating VAT. It has made invoicing so much faster, not to mention with significantly fewer errors. Now I don’t dread this task every month like I used to, and am a much happier person for it.”

6. Nourish Your Life Outside of Work

Here’s a universal truth that many entrepreneurs have learned the hard way: it’s rarely only work that causes entrepreneur burnout. Usually, it’s a combination of different external factors, lifestyle aspects, and personality traits.

For one, the health of your mind is directly linked to the health of your body. Neglecting physical activities, eating unhealthy food, sleeping too little, smoking, and drinking too much—all these contribute to burnout.

If you experience stress, it’s crucial to learn to deal with it healthily, whether it’s through meditation, sports, massage, or something else that relaxes you. In addition, make sure you take sufficient breaks and exercise or at least take a walk also during work hours.

Armands Broks, the founder of fintech company TWINO, shares how he experienced burnout back in 2017: “I had to turn my company around and basically start from scratch. As burnout wasn’t a widely discussed topic back then, I went through it all alone. This experience taught me that to maintain mental health, all areas of life need to be in balance. You cannot focus only on work, neglecting your body or your emotions. If you cannot hold that balance, getting burned out is only a matter of time.”[4]

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That said, many passionate and ambitious entrepreneurs and especially startup founders find it hard to slow down and stop working when they still feel they could do so much. Armands Broks told us, “One of the difficult decisions I had to make was handing over the reins of my business to another person. I delegated my operational responsibilities, deciding to focus only on business strategy and growth agenda.”

Learning from his struggles, Armands has emphasized his company’s employee wellbeing strategy, placing even greater emphasis on mental health. For example, employees are allowed to take some days off for the sake of their mental health or simply resting.

Watch Out for Entrepreneur Burnout

Entrepreneur burnout can creep up on people who are ambitious and excited about what they do. In addition, entrepreneur burnout doesn’t happen only when things aren’t going well. Many company founders running successful businesses can be just as susceptible to this modern plague.

On the bright side, experiencing burnout often teaches a valuable lesson and forces people to switch to more balanced and healthy lifestyles. If you feel burned out now right now, follow these tips and hang in there! Chances are, you’ll come out of this stronger, calmer, and with a new set of priorities.

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Featured photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Solutions via unsplash.com

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