We’re always told to work extra hard, to push ourselves, to go past what we think is our limit. There is always someone out there, we’re told, who wants success just as much as we do, and if we don’t keep working, someone else will get there first.
It’s all good advice, of course, but how long can we realistically keep up a frenetic pace? How far can we really go before we fall over? The truth is that we can’t keep it up forever. Sooner or later, we all have to turn off the computer, stand up, step away from the desk, and take a break. In fact, doing so may be the absolute best thing for us. Don’t believe it? Here are three good reasons to take a break from work for a while.
Burnout is real.
Look: we all have a breaking point. Pushing through it may appear admirable to some, but the risk of burnout is very real. After a while, you won’t have the mental energy to tie your shoes, let alone get work done. Think of yourself as the human equivalent of a dead battery. The only way to recharge is to stop working for a little while.
You’ll be more creative.
We’re at our most creative when we have time to let our minds wander. Perhaps this is why many of us come up with our best and most interesting ideas when we’re driving on an empty highway, or out for a jog, or even in the shower — there’s nothing much to do in these situations but let our brains flip through situations and outcomes. But what stops our minds from wandering? Work! By taking a break, we get the freedom to daydream and free associate and think of old things in new ways. In other words, we get to stretch our creativity. Take a break, and you’re likely to come back with your best ideas.
You’ll boost your productivity.
In order to work productively and efficiently, we need to be able to focus on the task at hand. However, this focus isn’t in unlimited supply. When you feel like you’re getting less and less done, stop! Take a break, even if it’s just for lunch or a walk around the block. When you come back, you’ll feel ready to focus once again. Not surprisingly, a 2011 study by psychologists at the University of Illinois corroborates this assertion: it found that our focus is at its best after a brief diversion.
But How Do You Do It?
Taking a break doesn’t necessarily mean staying home for the occasional mental health day. Instead, it’s a practice that you should employ on a daily basis as well as on a larger basis. For example, it’s good to take frequent breaks during the workday. In fact, a time management method called the Pomodoro Technique (named after the kitschy pomodoro, or tomato, kitchen timer) stipulates that we should take a five-minute break for every 25 minutes at work. Surely you can spare five minutes to regroup mentally!
Beyond the day to day, remember your work-life balance as you consider your time away from work (and at, you know, life). Yes, working the occasional evening or weekend may be necessary, but on the whole, take that time for yourself. Additionally, take your vacation time! Not enough of us do this; according to a 2014 study by Oxford Economics, Americans use only 77% of their paid time off. Imagine the creativity and innovation that’s going untapped as a result of this!
Finally, if your job allows for a sabbatical every ten years or so, do what you can to actually take it. Take the time to give yourself an experience you never would have had otherwise. Do something new and unfamiliar, and try to make sense of it. You’ll begin to see things from new perspectives — an attribute that will help you immensely when you return, refreshed, energized, and ready to dive back in at full strength.
Will you take time off today? This week? This year? Clearly, you should.