Four Reasons Why Taking a Break Can Boost Your Productivity

As someone who is always working on projects and posting about them every day, I can understand why people think I’m more productive than most. But I’m not. To be honest, I’m probably less productive than you think. It’s all about time management. I’m an adamant believer in working smarter, not harder.

I’ve been in rigorous academic environments for a while now and one thing I notice, especially in law school, is that so often people incorrectly equate working more with doing more. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

There is so much danger in working until you drop. That “grind mentality” leads to much less success than little progress every day. We need breaks. Breaks can be anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of days. Sometimes, taking more time off is critical. Allow me to explain:

1. Breaks Allow Your Mind To Reset

“Just sleep on it!” It’s a phrase we’ve all said, the concept of waiting to make a decision until the morning when you’re all fresh. Sometimes, though, we need to “sleep on it” in the middle of the day. Think of it as restarting a computer. When your computer is moving slow, you reboot it and there, it’s fine again!

Taking a break allows your mind to look for new solutions by looking at it with fresh eyes. You’re looking at your problem in a whole new light, right? Not quite. In difficult and nuanced situations, your brain has likely been processing your problem all along. According to a theory proposed in 2006, called Unconscious Thought Theory, your unconscious mind helps you make better decisions for these issues:

[C]ontrary to popular belief, decisions about simple issues can be better tackled by conscious thought, whereas decisions about complex matters can be better approached with unconscious thought.

A Theory of Unconscious Thought, Ap Dijksterhuis and Loran Nordgren, 2006

You can read the full paper here.

2. You Can Compartmentalize Your Work

I’m notorious for this one. If I’ve got two assignments due, I only work on the one that’s due first. I won’t even touch the second one until the first is done.

This is a useful technique for the same reasons as above. You’re keeping yourself exposed to only one problem at a time. Cranking out assignment 1 and taking a long break before assignment 2 allows your brain get ready for a new topic.

Psychologist Jordan Peterson argues that getting small tasks done can keep us motivated to keep moving and that these small changes make a big impact in our lives. It’s powerful stuff. It’s a bit more motivational than concrete evidence of compartmentalizing, but if you’re interested, you can listen in yourself here.

3. The Longer You Work, The Less You’ll Accomplish

This is the law of diminishing returns. Eventually you’ll hit a point where the more effort you put into something, say studying, the less you’ll retain. That first hour of working on something is primary real estate. Measuring out the wood you’ll cut to make furniture, chopping all the vegetables for a soup. Whatever it may be, there eventually comes a point where your brain just won’t get much more.

While I could explain more on this topic, I think it’s best summarized by a Ted Talk my boyfriend sent me last night. Go ahead, watch this for yourself. You may be surprised:

4. You’ll Probably Be Happier Doing Your Work After Taking Breaks

Scaling back can be invaluable. It’s common knowledge since burning out doesn’t feel good. But happiness can boost productivity (check out this academic paper from the University of Warwick about work environments and productivity).

It’s exemplifies why those who have the “grind mentality” might not get as much done in a day. One social media hustler, Gary Vaynerchuk, consistently advocates for working until you can’t any more. A real-estate investor, Graham Stephan, took the opportunity to explain exactly why this mentality doesn’t work for everyone – and why it didn’t work for him. I’m a big fan of this video because it promotes mental stability and also accomplishing big goals:

If you made it this far, I hope something has struck a chord that it’s okay to move slow. This method works well for me, but I want to know: what productivity tips do you have? Does this method work well for you?

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