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Productivity: Could Working Less Really Help You Get More Done?

In a world where technology has the ability to keep us plugged in all the time, it seems as though the line between work time and not-work time has been rather blurred. I work from home, so the challenges can seem especially overwhelming. However, I think that even those who work in more traditional settings are seeing an increase in the amount of work they bring home with them because of technology. We feel like we should always be doing something productive.

But are we actually getting things done? Or are we just busy? Could we be more productive if we weren’t working so much?

Taking a Break from Work Could Help You Get More Done

I recently read an article on CNN Money about increasing productivity by taking breaks — and not doing work while on them. This includes checking your email while you are supposed to be on break. Instead, you are supposed to take a few minutes every 90 to 120 minutes to take a true break from work. This can include taking a break to do something like eat lunch away from your computer, meditating, or doing some exercise.

Michael Lev-Ram, the author of the article, says that he tried this experiment, and taking breaks did help. You don’t always have to be working in order to be productive. Indeed, it appears that taking a break from work actually helped him step up his game in some respects.

Are You Being Productive? Or Just Busy?

I think one of the reasons that taking breaks from work can increase productivity is that taking a break might reduce your dependence on activities that we call “work”, but that really aren’t. Sometimes we forget that just because we look or feel busy, it doesn’t mean we are actually getting anything done. Being busy is not the same as actually accomplishing something.

If you take time to break from work, you might find that you aren’t spending as much of your “work” time staring pointlessly at the screen, since a break can actually help you clear your head and re-focus. Additionally, if you take a break from what is going on with your job for a few minutes, you won’t have as much time to answer personal emails while you’re supposed to be working, or to check out that viral YouTube video. The truth is that sometimes we mix in distractions when we’re supposed to be “working”. I wonder how many of us, if we kept a journal of our time use, would find that we aren’t actually “working” the whole time we say we are.

Taking Breaks

I’ve tried taking breaks now as well. And it has seemed to help. I’ve always tried to get some exercising in during the day, and I enjoy that for its physical, mental and emotional health benefits. But I’ve also stopped bringing my lunch down to the computer. Instead, I eat upstairs, at the kitchen table, reading a book or the newspaper while I eat. I’ve found that this does work wonders for my productivity. That 20 minute lunch really helps me re-focus.

On top of that, having regular breaks to do something else, whether it is exercise, eat lunch, meditate or pick my son up at school, helps me compartmentalize my work day. I set goals for what I want to get done before my next break, and it really helps my productivity. It’s not quite scheduled procrastination, but it’s close — and it helps me stay on task.

5 Responses to Productivity: Could Working Less Really Help You Get More Done?

  1. I’m glad you wrote this post, Miranda — keeps me reminded to take a break once in a while. Like you, I’m also working from home and I sometimes find it hard to define the thin line between work time and family time. I guess, that article from CNN is right – that sometimes, even a simple yoga break can give you that spark that will put fire to your ideas.

    Issa @ Ajeva

  2. Breaks are important for refreshing your ideas, but in order to be productive you need to maintain a certain working rhythm. I think that today we can’t afford to work in the same rhythm as we did 10 years ago, things have changed and we need to keep up.

  3. Great Post. It is so true, not taking breaks and overextending ourselves by filling up every moment (and sometimes even multi-tasking as well) really cuts down the the productivity. I also work from home and I’m seeing this more and more in my own life. Now to schedule some breaks (I’m thinking of using a timer that goes off and makes me stop for a couple of minutes and some “break type” activities off the computer – like journaling, drinking tea and staring out the window or even a nap).

  4. I think this is such a battle! Like you mentioned above about being productive vs. busy. Sometimes I’m busy and feel like I’m getting nothing done. Other days I feel like I’m knocking things off my to-do list and have time to spare. Breaks are important too, as sometimes I go a whole day without taking one.

  5. Thanks for your comments! It really is important to take a few minutes to refresh yourself — and your ideas. I think that, without breaks, there is a very real danger of getting burned out, as well.

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