Relax: The Overlooked Secret to Increase Productivity

If I asked you, “what’s one of the first things you do when you wake up in the morning?” I’m willing to bet that many of you would reply with some version of: “check my email/facebook/instagram/etc.”

Am I right?

Let’s try another one.

Do you ever feel so exhausted in the morning, that drinking copious amounts of caffeine is the only thing that will get you through the day?

Yep, my hand’s in the air, too.

Is your day ever so jam-packed that you’ve had to skip breakfast, work at your desk while eating lunch, or dash from appointment to appointment, lucky to inhale a Quest bar during those precious few minutes between meetings?

Is this getting depressing yet?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, first of all, you’re not alone.

Perhaps more importantly, however, just because many of us do live this crazy, work-driven life, it doesn’t mean it’s effective or healthy.

You see, when we run ourselves ragged day in and day out, and never allow ourselves a break, it takes a serious toll on our productivity levels.

As Daniel Goleman explains, when we’re under constant stress, it creates for us “an ongoing hazard for performance…attention narrows to focus on the cause of the stress, not the task at hand. Our memory reshuffles to promote thoughts most relevant to what’s stressing us, and we fall back on negative learned habits.”

In other words, when we’re stressed, we can’t focus.

And going one step further: when we don’t get enough sleep, when we inundate our lives with work/emails/social media from dawn til dusk, and when we schedule every minute of the day with something “productive,” it’s no wonder we’re stressed!

Heck, according to the Huffington Post, over half of us work during vacations, and at least a third of us eat lunch at our desks. (And full disclosure: I’m raising my hand here, too)

So what can we do? How can we fix the situation?

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The Overlooked Secret to Increase Productivity: Relax

Well, the simple answer is this:

Relax.

Now, if you’re anything like me, that’s much easier said than done. So don’t worry, we’ll talk about strategies in a moment.

But first, science…

Science

The New York Times had an interesting piece called “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive.” And in the article, they found that “[s]pending more hours at work often leads to less time for sleep and insufficient sleep takes a substantial toll on performance. In a study of nearly 400 employees…researchers found that sleeping too little — defined as less than six hours each night — was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burn-out.”

Want more? The accounting firm Ernst and Young did a study of their employees “and found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of one to five) improved by 8 percent. Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.”

So basically, we need to sleep more, take more vacations, get more rest, and we’ll be happier and more productive in our jobs.

Do you know something? I can get on board with that.

“Okay, Paula…I know the importance of taking breaks, but what can I do specifically?”

Don’t worry, I hear you.

Know your Limits

If you’re just venturing into this foreign world of “rest” and “relaxation,” you might not know when it’s time to take a break. How can you tell if you’ve reached capacity? Is it possible to know when your productivity is about to plummet?

In a word, yes. If you pay attention.

Mistakes

First of all, make note of your mistakes.

You may be going strong for a good 60-90 minutes, but then, all of a sudden, you start making careless mistakes.

Maybe you wrote an email with a few spelling errors. Perhaps you made a wrong calculation in your expense reports. Maybe you missed a meeting or a conference call.

These are all signs that your brain is on “empty.”

So pay attention to these indicators, and when they happen, take a bit of time to recharge.

Focus

For me, my waning focus is the first sign that I need a break. I’ll be chugging along, staying focused on the task at hand, when – seemingly out of nowhere – boom!

I’m distracted. by. everything.

I click through my copious amount of open tabs. Then, I “quick” check the comments or page view stats on the blog. I decide, “now might be a good time to check my Instagram feed” and then – all of a sudden – an hour’s passed by.

So what can we do in this situation?

Rather than fighting it, I’m learning to see these signs as mini reminders: “Paula, it’s time for a break!”

No more resisting. No more “pushing through.” Just pause for a bit, let yourself recharge and come back strong.

Want more strategies to maintain clarity and focus? Check out my strategies in the post, 6 Ways to Boost Your Mental Clarity and Focus

Motivation

Motivation one often goes hand-in-hand with focus.

If your brain has reached overload, finding the motivation to keep working is incredibly difficult. Pair that with the inability to focus, and you’ve got the perfect storm.

So if you find you’re dragging yourself to work, unmotivated to get started on your tasks, or simply less-than-thrilled about the day in front of you, it may be time to take a break.

Looking for more strategies to boost your motivation? Check out my post, 6 Reasons We Lose Motivation, and How to Find It! 

Then, download my free motivation and productivity workbook here! 

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Practice Mindfulness

As I mentioned above, if you’re just starting out on this whole work-life balance thing, it might be difficult for you to recognize when you need to simply stop and relax.

This is where mindfulness comes in.

One of my favorite blogs, The Mindful Mom, explains that part of mindfulness is “tuning into yourself and recognizing when you need a break.” And she’s so right.

So as you continue this journey, be sure to check in with yourself and your thoughts.

How are you feeling? Are you still focused? Are your thoughts wandering? Why is that? Is your office filled with distraction or is it perhaps time for a break?

This awareness might take practice at first, but don’t give up. And if you need some extra guidance, be sure to check out Laura’s blog. She has these great “two minute meditations” that really help clear your mind.

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Find Time To Relax

If you’re a regular reader of I’m Busy Being Awesome, you know I’m a huge fan of self-care. And as I mentioned in my post, Self Care: The Key To Healthy Living:

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

You can’t pour from an empty cup. #selfcare #selflove #relax Click To Tweet

So if you truly want to increase your productivity and make the most out of your day, you must take time to relax as well. It’s as simple as that.

Are you looking for some ways to incorporate relaxation in your day? You got it!

Here are some of the great suggestions from YOU, my wonderful readers, which I’ve received over the past few months.

Strategies to Relax

Read

I can’t tell you how many people cited reading as one of their tops ways to relax. I can completely relate.

Reading has the ability to remove you from the present, sweep you up in a story, and get you thinking about something else. It’s also a fantastic way to learn, grow, and experience new ideas.

The challenge, however, is that despite our love of reading, we don’t always make the time.

So if you want to use reading as your relaxation technique, keep a book at your desk. When you find yourself making mistakes, losing focus, or lacking motivation, allow yourself to take that break.

Grab your book, move away from your desk, and read!

If you’re looking for reading recommendations, I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and I absolutely loved it. (I talk about its powerful message here.)

Take a Hot Bath

Taking a bubble bath was another suggestion that came through loud and clear from you lovely readers. It’s a fantastic way to slow down, take some deep breaths, and regroup.

Now I’ll admit, taking baths wasn’t a relaxation technique for me until last year. I was staying at a hotel for a conference, and they had this giant, standalone Kardiel bathtub.

It. Was. Incredible. Add in lots of bubbles and some essential oils and WOW did I feel pampered.

Go To Bed Early (Or Take A Nap)

I’ve preached enough about the importance of sleep, so I won’t go on about it here.

But seriously… get enough sleep.

(Want to know more? Learn how to create the perfect bedtime routine here!)

Looking for some sleep strategies? How about 25 of them? Get your free list here!

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Create Something

I love this suggestion for several reasons.

First of all, it’s fun!

Second of all, it really pulls you away from work and gets you thinking about something else.

Third of all, it can help you break through a productivity block by creatively using your mind in a different way.

(Want to learn how to incorporate more creativity into your day? Check out my post, “How To Live A Creative Life” and then download my creativity workbook here!)

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So the next time you feel your productivity fading or your energy levels waning, take note!

Be mindful of what your body is telling you, and give it time to recharge.

Question:

How do you know when you need a break? Do you take all of your vacation days each year? Do you eat lunch at your desk? What’s your favorite way to relax? Let me know below!

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46 thoughts on “Relax: The Overlooked Secret to Increase Productivity”

    1. Absolutely, Hillary! That’s fantastic; it’s amazing how much fresh air and mindful breathing can help focus your mind, isn’t it?

  1. I think it is so important to take all your vacation days because I feel like this is “free” time to enjoy life that we work SO hard for and on!

  2. These are some great tips. Focusing is a big one for me. Like right now, I have 13 tabs open on my laptop and I’m jumping around doing too many things at once.

    1. Yeah, it can be so challenging to just sit and “single task” on one activity. But it really helps with focus and productivity in the long run.

  3. So true! We cannot pour from an empty cup. Sleep and rest are incredibly important. I believe that we were not made to be so busy and go constantly.

  4. I love the tips you shared about being able to recognize when a break is needed! I definitely need to improve in this area and actually take the break, instead of just trying to push through it when I can see that my productivity is waning!

    1. Yes, it is easy to just try and “push through.” But when we stop and take breaks, it’s amazing how much more productive we are.

  5. Colleen Mitchell

    Great tip about suddenly losing focus! I do that at home a lot – it was worse when I had multiple Chrome windows with multiple tabs open. I only work from 1-5 tabs at a time now, so I’m less distracted by opent tabs. But I get SO distracted by my phone that I use an app called Forest to force me off it and actually do work.
    (I’ll admit I eat lunch at my desk, but I don’t work while I eat.)

    1. Yes! Multiple tabs can be such a time suck. I haven’y heard of Forest before, but I’m definitely going to check it out! Thanks for the tip 🙂

  6. I still remember one of the funniest comments I ever got from my boss: “Paige, you’re my highest volume producer (I was a grant writer) but when I walk by your desk, you’re always doing anything but work!” Taking multiple breaks to relax my mind throughout the day resulted in me being able to really focus and crank out work. This tip works wonders!

    1. I LOVE this comment! You are living proof that breaks are key! Thank you so much for sharing this story 🙂

  7. I am definitely so guilty of everything you said in the beginning – skipping meals and copious amounts of coffee! While it can be so hard to take a step back in a world that tells you that if you’re not going full throttle 24/7 then you’re not successful, I have personally realized it’s so important. I’ve definitely started taking weekends off to rest and refocus – because like you said, you can’t focus on your work when you’re stressed!

    1. Exactly, Cathy! I’m so glad to hear that you’re now taking time to step back and relax a bit on the weekends. It is SO important 🙂

  8. I wish that more businesses in the U.S. understood the importance of vacation days – it seems like most European companies are way more on top of that, but here it’s all work work work and it’s not necessarily productive, and definitely not healthy. I’m one of those people that LOVE to read – it’s very relaxing for me, so I try and do that as often as I can.

    -Lauren
    http://www.shootingstarsmag.net

    1. Yes, I agree. The U.S. workforce really needs to up their game in both giving AND taking vacations. I’m so glad you’ve found a relaxing activity that you love 🙂

  9. These are all great tips! I needed to read this to remind myself that I am human and I need to take a break. I just wish I worked for a company that the owner’s were understanding that people make mistakes. The pressure is almost too much to bare. I will admit I have been looking for another job for about 9 months, fingers crossed God has a plan for me and the right job will come along.
    Lee

    1. Yes, Lee. You are absolutely right. We all need (and have a right) to take a break. And I am glad to hear that you’re actively looking for a new position. It sounds like the job you’re in is a highly unhealthy environment.

  10. Interesting since I didn’t sleep very good last night. Will be saving this to refer back to later today. Liking all your ideas.

    1. Yes, I completely agree! When you work at home, you don’t have the feeling like someone might “check in on you.” Ha. I’m glad it’s helpful!

  11. I agree with everything you’ve said here and love this post! When I feel myself getting stressed I try to get fresh air outside, do some yoga or gentle stretching, take a hot Epsom salt bath or read a good book. Thanks for these great tips!

  12. Great tips! I have struggled with this myself recently. I have to remind myself to be more mindful to what my body needs. Recently, I fell ill partly because I was overexerting myself. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yes, it can be so hard to remind ourselves of this. I’m sorry to hear you feel ill, but I’m glad that you’re working on reminding yourself now! It’s a constant journey, isn’t it?

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