11 October 2023

Here's how you can work better by working less

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Do you take a break at work? It could make you more productive. Photo: File.

As children we all had recess at school to relieve the strain of back-to-back lessons. Gretchen Rubin believes we can also benefit from recess in our adult lives.

As working adults, we often push ourselves to sit still, grind through our tasks and finish assignments.

We did the same thing as children — but as children, we also had recess.

I always loved recess. It was daily but unstructured. It was creative and playful. I didn’t have to achieve some practical purpose, like ‘improve my concentration’ or ‘lift my heart rate’ or ‘notice my thoughts’.

I didn’t have to follow directions. I could tune in to sensations: The satisfying thunk of a rubber ball; the metallic smell of rain; the dry scrape of chalk on asphalt.

Plus, I never had to decide whether I ‘needed’ or ‘deserved’ recess; it was part of the routine. I could look forward to it, and I could count on it.

Research shows that children benefit significantly from recess and, no surprise, adults do too.

There are many benefits that we gain when we give ourselves recess.

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We might get creative inspiration and energy by walking or exercising, or spark new solutions by daydreaming, or get energy and stimulation by goofing off.

Or we might simply become energised by tapping into our five senses

Yet despite these benefits to our health, mood, and productivity, as adults, too many of us don’t give ourselves regular time for breaks — or if we do take a work break, we fill that time with other fiddly tasks.

How often have you spent your break time making travel plans or working on insurance forms rather than giving yourself recess?

The fact is, non-stop work is never the most effective way to get things done.

Endless days filled with back-to-back video calls, incessant emails and Slack messages, along with the constant juggling of deadlines, can lead to burnout, resentment and stale thinking.

By taking regular breaks, we maintain our mental and physical energy for the long term.

As a way to give myself recess, I committed to the Go Outside 23 in ’23 challenge this year.

Every day in 2023, I go outside for 23 minutes, and this dedicated recess time has proven invaluable.

Just recently, during my ‘recess’, I was walking down the street when I suddenly amused myself with this thought: “I get so much energy from making lists. In fact, when I don’t have a list, I feel listless.”

Is this an important insight? No. Did it give me a boost of energy and cheer? Absolutely.

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When my sister hits a creative roadblock, she and her writing partner, both employed by a television company, ‘do a loop’ — a long walk around the studio lot.

They know that by giving themselves recess, they’ll come up with a solution. It usually works.

If you’re thinking: “My day is so packed, how can I make time for recess?” here is a suggestion.

Think of your duty to your future-self. If you get in habit of giving yourself recess, you’ll be far better able to meet the ongoing challenges of work.

Research and experience show that play is not idleness, and leisure is not laziness.

By prioritising recess in our daily routine, we can make ourselves happier, healthier, more productive and more creative.

If you need an extra push, consider joining my Go Outside 23 in ’23 challenge. You’ll feel the benefits of outdoor recess time right away.

Have you found that recess helps you to do your best work? What form does your recess take; how do you make sure that recess is part of your day?

*Gretchen Rubin is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, Better Than Before, The Happiness Project, and Happier at Home. She writes about happiness and habit-formation. She can be followed on Twitter @gretchenrubin.

This article first appeared on Gretchen’s blogsite.

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