Focus Fuel: Rest – The Keystone of Productivity
Despite our best intentions of powering through and being productive for long stretches, the reality is that humans are not designed to perform at maximum capacity all day.
For the first few years of my business, I felt like I was constantly playing catchup. Some days, I’d be working at my desk, pushing to finish a task.
“Five more minutes”, I’d tell myself.
“Five more minutes”, I’d say, again an hour later.
3 hours later, I’d finish the task, missed lunch, and was left feeling drained and unproductive.
Working hard is essential to any successful venture, but I eventually discovered that the keystone of productivity was something else entirely: REST.
Rest is a fundamental building block of focus and productivity
Expected negative consequences of not taking breaks are higher stress levels, poorer physical & mental health, and reduced job satisfaction – all key indicators that you need some downtime!
Sahil Bloom, one of the most inspiring creators out there, put it brilliantly when he said:
“One of the most difficult challenges for any ambitious person is eliminating the guilt associated with free time and rest. The idea that free time is bad is one of the greatest lies you’ve been told.”
Relaxing allows us to reset our minds to approach each task with greater clarity and energy, allowing creativity and efficiency to flourish.
Consider this analogy:
Without rest or breaks, we’re like an engine running on empty; take the pause, however, and suddenly everything runs far smoother again!
The same is true for our minds.
By taking regular breaks to rest your mind, you will stay energised and motivated throughout the day. As a result, you’ll be more effective and less anxious.
Let’s dive into 3 areas that will help make breaks obvious and automatic:
- Why: Understand the benefits
- How: Categorise tasks by effort
- When: Work with your natural rhythms
1) Understand the Benefits
Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab studied 14 people over 4 days of meetings.
The study highlights the importance of taking breaks between back-to-back work, as research has shown that it can reduce stress and improve focus and engagement.
- Breaks between meetings allow the brain to “reset”, reducing a cumulative buildup of stress across meetings.
- Back-to-back meetings can decrease one’s ability to focus and engage.
Taking breaks helps to alleviate stress and improve performance.
- The science behind taking breaks goes beyond the basic need to recharge. It also benefits how we process information.
Andrew D. Huberman, Ph.D., Professor of Neurobiology at Stanford Medicine, shows how the brain needs downtime to adapt, learn and evolve:
“Neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to change & learn, is a two part process:
1) Learning is triggered by focused attention, especially to novel, emotionally laden or otherwise meaningful events.
2) Actual brain rewiring occurs during sleep, and other forms of deep rest.”
2) Categorise Tasks by Effort
Different tasks require different cognitive efforts.
Just like athletes don’t run a full pace all day, neither should we! Instead, they execute in bursts of high-intensity, low-intensity and recovery.
Athletes need to mix up high-intensity and low-intensity bursts, and you can use this same strategy when it comes to the tasks in your day.
Group tasks by high, low, or recovery.
Focus Drivers are a great way to break down your workload into four separate categories – one of them being PARK mode — which should be used for all those restful moments that help recharge us mentally and to shed focus!
Everyone has different ways to unwind. Find yours and plan it.
Leverage your body’s natural rhythm to create a focused and energised daily routine.
Are you an early bird?
Or do the sparks of creativity arrive in the evening when it’s quiet?
When does fatigue have its strongest grip on your day-to-day operations; be aware, plan accordingly and allow yourself extended rest periods after heavy tasks!
Categorise your tasks:
- Group tasks by cognitive effort
- Plan effort around your natural rhythm
- Build 60-minute flow sessions from categories
- Avoid stacking too many heavy lift sessions back-to-back
- Plan longer breaks after high cognitive effort
3) Work with your Natural Rhythms
Take it from me – we can’t control everything. Even with the strongest willpower, our DNA will take over after 60 minutes!
That’s why I’m a big believer in an Ultradian Rhythm to help maintain productivity and focus throughout my day.
An Ultradian Cycle is a natural rhythm between alertness and calmness that occurs over 90 minutes. The Ultradian rhythms help regulate the transitions between attention and calm during the day
So next time your brain starts flagging (which it inevitably will!), check if you’ve pushed past the 90-minute limit and take a quick reset and reset.
Running 60-minute cycles:
- Choose a focus session (high, low, recovery)
- Schedule the type of break at the end (long or short)
- Set a maximum time you’ll work before a break
- Set a timer
- Start your focus session
- At the end, set a timer for your break session
After learning to categorise tasks and add breaks throughout the day, my productivity soared!
You can do this too — take control of your agenda with moments of relaxation sprinkled into each working day.
The goal is not just short-term success but long-term endurance as well. So don’t let overworking rob you from achieving what you deserve — take today!
- (1) https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/brain-research
- (2) https://endel.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360012517639-How-Endel-Works