Relax Your Way to a More Productive Work Day
Are you always stressed about work? Do you continue to think about work when you get home? If you’re constantly wound in a ball of knots over work, you need to find ways to relax. Research shows you’ll actually get more done if you learn to let go, take a deep breath, and stop working yourself to death. Tony Schwartz, founder and CEO of The Energy Project, says taking time to unwind and care for your basic needs is one of the keys to being highly productive. “A growing body of research suggests that each of us has the potential to be excellent at almost anything if we make the right moves. The first key is fierce intentionality about managing the four sources of energy that fuels us: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual,” said Schwartz, in The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.
Why you need to relax
Slowing down and making time to regroup allows you to think clearly and have the mental space necessary to make important decisions. We all need to recharge. When you don’t take time to relax, you become stressed and fatigued. Consequently, you won’t have the energy needed to produce your best work. This may cause you to procrastinate until you finally get motivated enough to do your work. Working around the clock will wear you down and may even make you sick.
Florida State University researchers found that working roughly 90 minutes at a time is ideal for maximum productivity. Schwartz agrees that working beyond 90 minutes at a time is not helpful but many of us choose to keep toughing it out until our minds and bodies begin to tire. “Many of us unwittingly train ourselves to ignore signals from our body that we need a rest — difficulty concentrating, physical restlessness, irritability. Instead, we find ways to override this need with caffeine, sugar, and our own stress hormones — adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol — all of which provide short bursts of energy but leave us overaroused,” said Schwartz.
How to relax
Get away from your desk and go to a local park. Read a book during your lunch break, exercise, or take a nap. If a nap isn’t possible, make sure to get enough sleep so you can be refreshed and ready for your day ahead. Researchers have found that sleep is especially important. Without adequate sleep, you may feel agitated, fatigued, and find it difficult to concentrate. You may reason that skimping on sleep will help you get more done, but lack of sleep will rob you of relaxation, impair your ability to think clearly, and may make you feel anxious.
It’s difficult to relax when you can’t perform due to fatigue. Harvard University sleep researchers warn that sleep deprivation can cause a significant decrease in mental functioning. “…Not getting enough sleep—whether for just one night or over the course of weeks to months—has a significant effect on our ability to function. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus, and our ability to access higher-level cognitive functions,” said Harvard researchers.
Another way to relax and improve work performance is to take your vacations. This may be easier said than done, considering most employees don’t take all of their vacation time. A poll by Harris Interactive and Glassdoor discovered only 25% of American workers take their entire vacation. Among respondents who said they take all of their time off, roughly 61% said they continue to work straight through their vacation. If you want to boost your productivity, don’t do this.
Relaxation isn’t just something you do every now and then. You should aim to stay cool and calm under pressure no matter the circumstances. This way, if something happens at work that rattles you, you’ll be able to recover quickly and still carry on with the rest of your day instead of remaining irritated and distracted until it’s time to go home. Meditation is a great way to get in—and stay in—a calmer state of mind. Also remember not to be too hard on yourself if you’re not as productive as you would like to be on a given day. Leo Babauta, founder of Zen Habits, says it’s important to give yourself a break. “Step by step, learn to relax. Learn that productivity isn’t everything. Creating is great, but you don’t need to fill every second with work. When you do work, get excited, pour yourself into it, work on important, high-impact tasks … and then relax,” said Babauta.