Want to Boost Productivity? Step Away From the Computer & Relax

This piece on The New York Times about relaxing made is do a double take. After all, it seems counterintuitive, right? Do less and achieve more?

Well, the piece indicates the best way to get more done is to do less. Whether it’s a workout in the middle of the day, taking a quick snooze, sleeping longer during the night or spending more time offline and away from the office, it’s all good.

Tony Schwartz, the author of Be Excellent at Anything, explains in the piece:

“Time is the resource on which we’ve relied to get more accomplished. When there’s more to do, we invest more hours. But time is finite, and many of us feel we’re running out, that we’re investing as many hours as we can while trying to retain some semblance of a life outside work.”

Sure, with mobile technology it gets incredibly tempting to stretch the work day to any hour without a hard stop to the day. Downtime is typically looked upon by management was wasteful as employees need to work, work, work and burn the midnight oil, take lunches at their desks, all in the name of working “harder” and getting it done.

Schwartz says au contraire, spending more hours on the job frequently results in less sleep which therefore makes a negative impact on job performance.

He points out:

“Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company. Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.”

In fact, as he points out, last year researchers showed that sleep deprivation is one of the top predictors of burn out on the job. This was after they conducted a study showing that almost 400 employees who slept less than six hours a night.

As for daytime sleep (yes, as in the coveted and elusive daytime nap), researchers showed when night shift air traffic controllers had 40 minutes to nap they performed better on tests regarding vigilance and reaction time. Keep in mind they slept only an average of 19 minutes and the succinct nap still made a positive impact on their performance.

In addition to sleep, Schwartz mentions vacation time via a study conducted in 2006 by Ernst & Young. They discovered their employees’ year-end performance ratings from supervisors increased by eight percent for an additional 10 hours of vacation time taken.

As for renewal itself, simply stated, we’re not machines. We need to restore, regroup, refuel. He writes in the article, “Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.”

So it’s no surprise he advocates taking frequent breaks as per a study done by Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University. Working in 90-minute intervals maximizes productivity.

As for how Schwartz incorporates these principles into his company, emphasizing it’s “not how long, but how well you renew that matters,” he dedicated a renewal room for employees to nap, meditate or simply relax. They also created a spacious lounge so employees can hang out and enjoy healthy snacks.

Encouraging employees to take frequent renewal breaks throughout the day as well as working from home a few days each week to avoid “debilitating rush-hour commutes,” their workdays end at 6 p.m. Period.

And he speaks from experience, too. The more rapidly and deeply he quieted his mind and relaxed his body, the more restored he felt. Schwartz recalls, “For one of the breaks, I ran. This generated mental and emotional renewal, but also turned out to be a time in which some of my best ideas came to me, unbidden.”