Productivity: Take a Break

This post is part of a series in Productivity and Getting Shit Done. You can read the original introduction article here and part #1 here, part #2 here, part #3 here, and part #4 here.

The gas pedal

The creators, entrepreneurs, and visionaries amongst us love the accelerator.

We’ll put our foot flat on the gas pedal all day long.

We’ll work forever if we let ourselves. When we’re living true to our values, we can work with a seemingly unrelenting supply of energy.

Workaholics? Maybe.

Putting on the brakes

But slowing down, taking time out, taking a break – this might be just as important as going full throttle.

The most successful people understand the importance of breaks – the value of rest.

At a micro level

You already know I’m a fan of the Pomodoro technique:

  • A 25min period of intense focus
  • Followed by a deliberate short break
  • Repeat the above for 4 pomodoro cycles
  • Take a longer break

Work isn’t flat-out all day long, work is a series of sprints.

At a weekly level

Do you take your weekend (or equivalent) off?

Yes yes, the 8-hour day is a counterproductive lie, and the 40-hour Mon>Fri work week is a relic from years past to stop employees (including children!) working 70+ hour weeks.

However, any absence of work / life boundaries is proven to impact your physical, mental, and emotional health. Doing yourself the favour of taking a day here, a couple of days there, a long weekend here, will help you relax, spend quality time with your loved ones, get a sense of the bigger picture, and help you be more productive.

When do you need a break? Feeling too busy to have a break is a pretty definite sign that you need to slow down and take one!

What about longer breaks?

The sabbatical

Sean McCabe schedules a recurring sabbatical week every 7th week.

“I ate two out of three meals at my desk. I consumed dinner with a TV show, after which I returned promptly to my office to work again until midnight.

‘But I love what I do!’ As if loving my work meant it was any less of an addiction.”

His sabbatical happens every 7 weeks, where he takes a whole week off work.

Yes, for 7 years he’s been taking every 7th week off work. Preventing burnout, benefiting from rest, enjoying life to the fullest. Absolutely game changing.

He’s writing a book about it – worth following.

Sean didn’t start the sabbatical, and it’s likely he was inspired heavily by renowned designer Stefan Sagmeister, who every seven years, “stops talking to clients, closes up his office, and takes a year off.”

His first sabbatical was 1999: when returning and reopening his studio, he was chocka full of ideas. After seven years of constant work, his calling as a designer had been renewed.

“I also expected it would be joyful.

What I did not expect was that these sabbaticals would change the trajectory of the studio, and I did not dare to imagine that they would be financially successful. But they were.”

Infamous Spanish chef Ferran Adrià would close his restaurant – the world-famous El Bulli (where the annual waiting list was 1,000,000+ people) – for six months each year.

His experience showed that breaking your normal routine can recharge your creativity. Sometimes it’s necessary to step back. “To keep up, it’s good sometimes to slow down.”

Work and rest are partners

Some of the greatest creatives of our time understand that work and rest are not opposite ends of the spectrum – they don’t fight against each other, they compliment each other.

Musicians, athletes, writers, creatives – they alternate periods of intense work (and high levels of concentration) with breaks.

Work and rest go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other.