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Is Time Your Friend or Your Enemy?

Is Time Your Friend or Your Enemy?

Western society promotes being busy at all times and at all costs. As a result, it seems that we are always rushing. We live by the calendar and we are run by the clock. We learn early on in life that you had better be on time for things or bad stuff will happen. Be late to turn in your papers and your grade gets lowered. Be late to pay your bills and you get stuck with a penalty. Be late to finish your work and you may be out of a job.

As a result many people conclude that time is their enemy. It must be battled and beaten. But there is no permanence in any victory over time — the clock gets reset tomorrow and the calendar at the first of the month, or at the very latest at the first of the year.

Consider the popular phrase, “Life is too short to __________.” Here are some beauties you hear all the time:

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  • Life is too short to hold on to regret.
  • Life is too short to work at a job you hate.
  • Life is too short to play small.
  • Life is too short to {insert your favorite here}.

Aphorisms like these certainly imply that time is your enemy. However, time is not the reason why you ought to give up regret, revamp your career, or up your game. Even the shortness of life is not the reason. There is an assumption going on here that entirely misses where the real problem lies.

A short life and limited time would be a blessing in these circumstances. After all, the less time one spends in some undesired state, the better. A short amount of regret? Sounds great. A short time at a crummy job? Excellent. A short time of cowering in the corner? What could be better?

So let me give you a different way to look at things:

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“Life is too long to __________.”

When you approach your problems and challenges from this standpoint, time is not only not your enemy, it is your best friend. It is because of the abundance of time and life that you are motivated to seek change and transformation. After all, since you are going to be here for some time, don’t you want to make the best of it?

When you have a habit or circumstance that needs fixing, imagine what your life would be like if you delayed taking action to fix it. See yourself a year from now with this problem still hanging around. What impact has it had on you? How has it hurt your relationships? What is it doing to you at work? What cost have you paid to your health?

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Now take it out to five years. What have you lost? What have you suffered? What have the people close to you been forced to pay?

Time keeps marching on. It is now ten years with your unresolved problem. What has happened to your faith and hope? How insurmountable does this problem now look? How much weaker are you now than when this problem first arose?

We are far from the end of the calendar. Twenty years go by. Can you even remember life without your problem? Can you muster the energy to even care anymore? Are you locked in to a state of resignation?

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When you consider the impact that leaving something unresolved for a long period of time can heap upon you, you start to realize the value of taking action in this moment. Time isn’t out to hurt you here. It is giving you an opportunity. Some resolutions will require hours or days, some weeks or months. But time is there for you. Take what you need.

Time has no agenda. It will allow you whatever you need. This is not to say that some problems don’t have deadlines. But it is not time that imposes such restrictions. Time will either offer you volume or impetus. It is on your side.

Waiting for the perfect moment is a fool’s errand. You don’t have to be very experienced in life to know the truth of that. Partner with time to get the most out of life. Time is waiting for you.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

Reference

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