Rest More to Do More

These days, many productivity-seeking people are all hustle and bustle, flitting from one thing to another through all hours of the day in an attempt to squeeze in just one more thing.

Resting during work

According to some, that’s exactly the wrong way to go about it. In his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie outlines a simple idea that should “add one hour a day to your waking life.” It’s not by using those spare minutes between meetings to scribble down a few thoughts; it’s not by listening to podcasts while you crunch numbers; it’s not by jamming tasks bumper to bumper.

Nope, what he recommends is taking a break, perhaps even a nap. He says:

“If you can’t take a nap at noon, you can at least try to lie down for an hour before the evening meal. … If you can sleep for an hour around five, six, or seven o’clock, you can add one hour a day to your waking life. Why? How? Because an hour’s nap before the evening meal plus six hours sleep at night—a total of seven hours—will do you more good than eight hours of unbroken sleep.”

Personally, an hour nap is a little much for me (I wake up groggy if it’s longer than 20 minutes and shorter than 7 hours), but the points Carnegie makes are still valid on a smaller scale too. Taking breaks when you’re tired lets you tackle your next task or project unwearied and with full vigor. As Carnegie points out, your heart, the hardest-working muscle in your body, spends over 60% of its time resting. After every beat, it relaxes completely and resets for the next pulse. With that reset time, it’s able to manage the steady, regular, and immensely productive work that keeps you alive each day. And it doesn’t burn out.

So how can you put more resting reset time into your day? Here are a few tips:

Never stand up when you can sit down; never sit down when you can lie down. This tip, adapted from mass-producer Henry Ford’s lifestyle, can work wonders for overcoming physical and mental fatigue. If your work scenario allows it, lie down when you’re brainstorming, drafting proposals, or reading research material. The change in posture can add variety to your day (which keeps your mind sharp) and it also allows different muscles to relax and repair (which keeps your body in better condition).

Don’t run head-long into brick walls. When you hit a wall in the middle of your day, don’t keep charging at it until your mind completely gives out. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t work hard and tackle difficult tasks, just that when those tasks become increasingly difficult because you’re fatigued, take a break instead. Come back to it in fifteen minutes or so. The wall will shrink or maybe even disappear while your back is turned.

Build rest into your day. This is the basis for some productivity methods like the Pomodoro Technique and Merlin Mann’s (10+2)*5 strategy. (More about those in a future post.) Rest and repair shouldn’t be something you do when you get a chance, or when you’re broken down. Cars run better when they receive regular maintenance—your body is the same way. Instead of only taking a breather if you can find time between the deadlines you’ve set, create a solid block of time during your day when you’ll put down what you’re working on and relax.

You’ll thank yourself, and so will your to-do list. When you keep yourself running smoothly instead of stumbling through a burnout-induced haze, the productive path before you is clear of potholes and brick walls and you’ll find that more is getting done because you took the time to do less.

Image by graur codrin, via FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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