The quick and short answer, disconnect your internet cable from your computer for at least a day. You will be shocked at just how wired and distracting the internet can be!
Sometime last week our internet connection was lost due to a cut wire in the ground. Needless to say, it took a few days to get everything back and running. But what I learned over that time is how much more productive I was without the internet!
I’ve always believed myself as very productive and efficient in what I do, wasting very little time to unwarranted distractions. What I never really realized before is just how many interruptions the internet has to offer. Not necessarily in terms of me wasting time surfing, but the notifications, popups, and all other things that try and grab my attention.
First there’s email. I generally only check every few hours, but now I had no reason to check at all. I had no emails to respond to. Nothing. That sure freed up a lot of time. Now I wouldn’t offer this as advice to follow on a daily basis, but if you need a specially productive day, few days, etc., then just disconnecting completely from email can have a large impact on your productivity. And it’s not just the time lost task switching, it’s also the time it takes to read and respond to your emails.
After email another common problem is web browsing. Basically without an internet connection you can’t take a quick five minute surf break that accidentally ends up being a lot longer. I know when I get pretty tired I just fire up my web browser and check Hacker News, my Google Reader feeds, and so on. It does refresh me a bit, but not nearly as much as stepping away from the computer for a few minutes. Plus you never accidentally lose more than a few minutes if you don’t surf.
And it’s not emails and web surfing, if you don’t have an internet connection you can’t have a chat client open. You can’t have a twitter client open. You can’t take a quick peak at the weather, the news, etc. Basically you’re forced to focus on your work and nothing else. If you’re tired you get up and take a break, otherwise you’re focused on accomplishing your work.
Of course this doesn’t mean you should just be heads down working, everyone needs to come up for a breather once in a while. Take some 5-15 minute breaks when you’re tired. Do stop for lunch. Do get up when you need a break. The key is that you’re limited in what you can and can’t do, forcing you to better focus on your work at hand. Try it for a day, you might be surprised at how productive that day is. I definitely wouldn’t do it every day, but once in a while it’s a really good thing. Especially with looming deadlines!
As many of you know, I took the summer off from writing on this blog. Actually it was a bit more than the summer, but close enough. Anyways, the reason I took the break is that I needed time to recharge myself. And this of course led me to this post.
Nobody can work forever at a grueling pace, it’s just not possible. Everybody needs to take a break or holiday here and there, some more than others. And today we’re going to cover the top 10 reasons why you and everyone else needs to take breaks from time to time.
1. Your body needs to relax
As simple as it may sound, everybody needs to slow down once in a while. As much as some of us want to believe we can work through anything, we are human and our bodies and minds do need to rest. You can only keep going on fumes for so long. It’s even harder if you quit caffeine!
The other thing to remember is that it takes a bit of time to unwind. Weekends aren’t really enough to catch your breath. Even a one week holiday barely gives you enough time to unwind. Most people find that they finally really start to relax after a few to several days of rest, which means by the end of a week you’re finally starting to truly relax. It’s generally not until the second week of holidays that you really relax and benefit from your holidays. Unfortunately for a lot of us, it’s very difficult to take more than a week at a time of holidays.
And just taking a day off here and there is definitely not enough, sometimes you truly need to take some time to slow down your pace. It’s amazing the difference it can make. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that one day off is enough to fully recharge, it’s not. It’s a good start, but that’s all it really is. I view it as more of someone drowning and being able to get a grasp of air. It’s not enough to save you, but it sure does feel great!
2. Get new perspectives
If you never take a step back, you’re always going to be looking at it from the same angle. Taking a break or a holiday gives you the opportunity to take a step back and look at what your doing from a different perspective.
It’s amazing what a little difference in perspective can make. The theory of relativity is really just looking at the world from a different viewpoint. Instead of everything being absolute, Einstein basically realized that everything is relative. In other words we move relative to others, not from an absolute point in space. A simple little difference in perspective lead to a massive improvement in physics. That simple change in perspective completely changed how we view the world and lead to incredible discoveries.
While you probably won’t make the same level of groundbreaking discoveries as Einstein did, it may be enough to give you a significant boost in whatever it is you’re doing. I know being an entrepreneur sometimes I have to look at how I run my business from the outside, otherwise I would just keep doing more and more of the same. Looking from the outside allows me the opportunity to grow when and how I least expect.
3. Appreciate what you have
Like anything, if you do it too much, you start to lose your appreciation for it. For example, imagine if everyday someone did your laundry, cooked all your meals, and so on. After a while you would start to lose your appreciation for everything that’s done for you, it would almost become an expectation. Many hilarious Hollywood movies are based on this single idea.
It’s not until you stop getting the benefits that you really appreciate what you had and lost. For me blogging had become somewhat of a chore and I was no longer appreciating the benefits. And after writing for many years on a regular basis, I kinda got use to it. Once I stopped, about a few weeks into it, I started to want to write again. And the more I wanted it, the more I appreciated that I had the opportunity. And so instead of blogging being a chore as it had eventually become, it’s now something I really look forward to!
4. Improve the quality of your work
Generally if you do something a lot, you start to get lazy with it. A good example is a business manager or entrepreneur that’s had a nice growth and success history. After a few years of getting lots of good results, they may start to slack off a bit on their work because everything is going well. They have the midas touch. That or they’re getting so busy they start to take shortcuts. And unfortunately they may be able to get away with it for some time, riding on their previous successes. The bad news is that eventually it will catch up, and that’s when bad things happen. We’ve all heard stories of people who had it but then road the wave until they crashed.
For whatever reason, I find that when I take a good break, I have a tendency to ramp back up my quality of work. When you come back, you want everything to be done as best as you can. Things that you’d let slide you now address. Of course we always have to be careful about doing busy work just to be busy (like making sure your email inbox is completely clean). It’s just that in many cases you feel refreshed enough to address some of those bigger issues head on rather than deferring them where before you would defer them as much as you can. You’re up to dealing with the hard issues.
5. Disconnect to relearn how to focus
It’s amazing how good it can be to disconnect. Turn off your cell phone. Step away from your emails. Instead of always being on, multitasking like a mad person, it’s great to be able to relearn to focus.
We’re so used to constant distractions in our day and age that we forget how intrusive they can really be. After you’re disconnected for a while, you start to realize how many of those distractions are really just disruptions. You don’t need to receive all your emails right away. You don’t need to address every issue right now. You don’t need to respond to every email this minute. The world doesn’t come to a grinding halt! It’s good to remember that once in a while.
6. Discover and learn new things
How often can we just take the time to learn new things which will in turn make us that much more productive? To be quite frank, most people just keep doing things the same way because of two reasons.
The first is because they’ve always done it that way and they always will. It’s easy and they’re comfortable with the way they are doing things.
The second reason is that they just don’t have the time to learn anything new. That, or in my opinion, they don’t take the time. That is to say they don’t really understand the value of learning.
For example in software development I believe it’s crucial that you investigate your possible solutions before jumping on what you know. Sometimes the difference can be an order of magnitude increase in productivity. Not always, but often the difference in productivity is staggering. This of course doesn’t mean research everything to death, but do take the time to look at alternative options. You might be surprised more often than you think.
This is also partially where you can get the sunk cost effect. Basically the sunk cost effect is where you keep going the same path because that’s what you’ve always done and have invested large amounts of effort and/or money to get it working. In technology, this may be where you create a framework and stick to it regardless of where the programming world is going, or even how badly it’s working out. At some point alternatives and much better solutions come around, but forcing your people to stay to a specific solution because it’s worked in the past and because you have a large system built on it isn’t always the best solution.
As a quick tip, this is why I strongly believe all companies have limited lifespans. Eventually companies get stuck in some way or other due to the sunk cost effect, and they either collapse under their own weight or another new company eclipses them by leveraging a better and more productive way of doing things. As the cliche goes, out with the old in with the new.
7. Create a strategy for the future
When we’re in the thick of it we rarely take the time to create strategies for what we’re doing. We’re mostly just acting and reacting. Rarely do we plan and strategize. It’s generally only when we take a break that we can really do this.
My favorite example for this is video gaming. Before you start a video game, especially multiplayer games, you prepare your strategy. Then you try to execute it. Rarely do you adjust your strategy in the middle of a game. You’ll sometimes make tweaks to it between games, but often they won’t be very significant. It’s not really until the time between when you end your gaming session and you restart your next gaming session that you really take the time to plan what you’re going to do. That’s when you think about what you’ve done, and what you can do to improve your gameplay.
The same is true for almost everything in life. When you’re in the thick of it you’re too busy dealing with the situation. It’s generally only after the fires have been squelched that you figure out what happened, and look at how you can prevent it for the future.
8. Spend more time with family and friends
As though it wasn’t obvious enough, we’re probably all guilty of working too much. As much as I try to balance work and play, I’m sure I work too much. So taking a break is a good time to improve that balance.
And if you think you aren’t working too much, let me ask you this: On your death bed, will you ever tell yourself you should’ve worked more? Never have I heard of an instance of someone regretting not working enough. All you hear are stories of people regretting they worked too much and didn’t spend enough time with their families. Ask yourself right now, if you only had one week left to live, what would you do? I doubt your answer would be to work 24/7 for that week. Most likely you would completely skip working. That says it all right there!
9. Catch up on much needed sleep
A really weird thing I found is that when I take a holiday, I always get a lot more sleep. Suddenly instead of sleeping 4-6 hours a day, I start sleeping 8-10 hours a day, sometimes more. Why is that? I would assume because my body naturally needs more sleep than I allow it to take. I make no mistake about it, I am in no way hiding the fact that I’m fooling myself into thinking I can do this and get away with it. No one can. Eventually something has to give.
10. Improve your health
And last but not least, it’s a good chance to improve your health. Go outside and get some sun. Exercise. Ride a bike. Take a walk. Swim. Go for a hike. Whatever activity you prefer, it’s a good time to do it. We’re almost all guilty of not exercising enough. And although exercising during a holiday is not enough, it’s better than nothing. Plus, if you’re lucky you’ll continue doing it for a long time after you come back from your holiday.