For centuries, humans have understood that rest is fundamental to success, health, and happiness. As the saying goes, “Even God rested on the seventh day.” Traditionally, humans have too – thanks in no small part to the practice of the weekly Sabbath (a core component of Judeo-Christian cultures) that’s observed by millions of people around the globe.
But over the past few decades, more and more workers are foregoing their day of rest in exchange for more hours at the office (especially in the Western world). The ubiquitous quest for productivity has driven many of us to give up on having consistent rest days altogether. Nowhere is this truer than in the United States, which is the only advanced economy that doesn’t mandate vacation policy at the national level.
But counterintuitive as it may be, the real secret to increased efficiency at work might actually lie in working less – and resting more. Here’s what your work life stands to gain from making rest days a priority.
The brain operates like a muscle — meaning that, just like your biceps, itcan get worn out and fatigued if you use it too much, and it needs rest in order to recover. In fact, down time is essential for boosting motivation, learning from the past, planning for the future, processing new information, making memories, problem solving, maintaining your ability to concentrate, and even sustaining a personal code of ethics. Without these core mental processes, it’s going to be pretty tough to achieve anything efficiently. In other words? Down time is perhaps one of the most essential ingredients for continued workplace success.
More and more research confirms that regularly giving your mind a breakpromotes creativity, while failing to take rest days can erode innovative thinking. This might explain those flashes of insight that come to you in the shower or after a nap – little glimpses of evidence proving that down time is essential for the brain to generate fresh ideas. Heck, it’s even said that Albert Einstein thought up the theory of relativitywhile out for a bike ride.
Studies consistently find that taking time off from work actually allows you to work more efficiently whenever you get back to the grindstone. In one study, people who were asked to take off one day each work week ended up reporting higher productivity and a greater sense of accomplishment over time. In contrast, pushing yourself to work longer hours and skipping rest days actually reduces productivity in both the short and long term.
Too much time working without a break can fatigue your brain, reduce your ability to concentrate, put you in a bad mood, and generally put a damper on your emotional capacity. The result is a general depreciation of mental faculties that makes it increasingly difficult to make good plans or decisions. In contrast, regularly taking short breaks and combining them with a weekly rest day will allow your brain to replenish its faculties so that you’re able to make thoughtful and well informed choices at work.
Nothing gets in the way of productivity faster than sniffling through the workday with a box of tissues blocking your monitor or taking the day off because you’re sick as a dog. Rest days help your body and immune system repair themselves so that you’re less likely to get sick – and more likely to keep your head in the game.
Why does this matter to work efficiency, you might ask? Studies consistently show that sleep deprivation reduces your ability to concentrate, makes you more likely to snap at coworkers, and decreases overall work performance. In fact, a Harvard study has estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies around $63 billion per year in the form of lost productivity. In contrast, combining a regular rest day with good sleep habits (such as keeping electronics out of bed, using black-out curtains, and choosing a comfortable mattress) can improve your chances of staying well rested and functioning at max capacity.
Taking some time off gives you the space to assess how things are going at work and make adjustments as necessary. Without taking the time to reflect, you run the risk of maintaining work habits or structures that aren’t actually making your more efficient. A rest day is also a good time to celebrate your accomplishments and refresh your sense of purpose so that you return to work with renewed motivation to get things done.
What all of this boils down to is that the energy and awareness you bring to your work will have a much greater impact on your productivity than the number of hours you spend sitting at a desk. Managing your energy resources in a responsible way by prioritizing regular rest days will allow you to prevent mental and physical burnout so that your mind functions at its best any time you sit down to work.
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