You read that right: if you want to boost productivity and get more done faster…the best place to start is to give yourself a break. There are dozens, and I do mean dozens, of articles and blogs out there from people who will tell you all the best ways things you can do to be more productive. And most of them contain some excellent advice. But let's face it if your brain is worn out, it doesn't matter which system you try or how well it works for someone else, you're still going to struggle to be more productive.
Remember that old commercial? This is your brain…this is your brain on drugs?
And the eggs in the pan that were beautiful and bright get scrambled, cracked, and ultimately destroyed?
Your brain under extended stress will do the same thing.
Now I know what some of you are thinking…But I do some of my best work under pressure. Pressure is good. Without it, you'd be dead. Blah.
Momentum is real. And stress can be a great motivator. And the adrenaline that's pumping while you're under stress can really help light a fire under your butt and get you moving. But your body, and more specifically your brain, is not designed to function under stress for extended periods of time. In fact, if your body is producing too much adrenaline, it can cause serious health problems including insomnia, problems with collagen production, and it's even been linked to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
Stress Management is Not Enough
Stress management works best when your stress is still being doled out in manageable bits — before you've gotten to the point of exhausting your brain. Pressure comes with a variety of symptoms that include headaches, irritability, heartburn, difficulty concentrating…the list goes on and on. Stress management can help relieve these symptoms. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, walking, exercise…most of these things can help you relieve your symptoms.
None of them will rejuvenate a brain that has been worn out and running on no fuel.
You Need to Give The Brain a Rest
A real rest. You may have noticed, if you're always living under stress, it's a lot harder to fall asleep. To-do lists, worries, and regrets flood through your mind at any given time, keeping your nerves on edge even as you try to relax. Even if you take a break from work, work still enters your mind. You still think about tomorrow's meeting, how you're going to find your next client, and what you're going to write up for your next blog post.
When stress accumulates so much that even taking a break doesn't give you a break, it's time to take action. And by action I mean take a bigger break. Start by getting yourself set up for the break by implementing autoresponders, vacation notices, and whatever else you need so your business can survive for a few days without you. Then turn off the cell phone, the tablet, the laptop. Leave them in a different room if you have to — just get rid of them.
Teach your body how to sleep again by going to bed in a room without your cell phone and without a television. Then start getting yourself, and your priorities organized. Get all those little things that gnaw at you taken care of and out of the way. Or learn to let them go. This is especially important if this stuff is beyond your control.
Learn How to Take Regular Breaks
Once you've rested and the burnout has been alleviated, you can work to avoid getting burned out again by learning to take regular breaks during your workday. We're taught from our very first jobs to work 4 hours (minimum) before taking a scheduled break. In fact, many labor laws reflect this. However, research shows the best workplace breaks are short, intermittent, and enjoyable. One study found that taking shorter breaks more frequently would help you be more productive than taking longer breaks once or twice throughout the shift. In fact, Brent Coker found that taking a break totaling approximately 12% of your time at work could boost your productivity by nearly 50%.
And again, these should be shorter breaks taken more frequently.
Now, if you're like me, you're reading this and thinking to yourself “yes, yes, yes” and there are light bulbs going off above your head because you know all this is true. And yet, when you go back to work tomorrow you're going to realize you don't know how to take a regular break.
Can you even pour a cup of coffee without bringing your cell phone with you? I can't.
Luckily for you — I mean us — there are apps to help. Timeout for Mac is an application that will run on your operating system and literally locks you out of your computer for the time you should be breaking. If you don't want something quite that strict, there is a plugin for Chrome browser called Strict Workflow that will buzz at you to let you know when it's time to break and again when it's time to go back to work.
If You Really Want to Be More Productive, You Have to Learn to Slow Down
Even the best engines in the world require regular maintenance, rest, and refills or they will seize up and stop working altogether. When you reach this point of mental exhaustion, trying to power through it is not only impossible but actually harmful to both your health and your productivity. Take a break, rest your brain, then teach yourself how to take regular breaks to help avoid reaching that level of burnout again.
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