Making a Case for Downtime
By Denise A. Robinson
Want to be more productive? Take a break.
As discussed in the first blog in this series, our American culture drives us to do first, be later. And the legal profession and client-service fields like it take that mantra to that next level. We are rewarded for pushing through, working all the time, and dropping everything when the client calls. But this approach means that we’re fighting a losing battle with our ability to focus, according to the research of Daniel Levitin and other neuroscientists.
While we are trained to think that if we just keep at it, we’ll get the work done, the fact is that our brain cells fatigue like any other cell in the body. To keep them fresh, we need to regularly allow the attentional filter in our brains called the insula, to move from tasks that require focus and concentration to those that don’t. These attention states are known as task positive and task negative, respectively. Taking a break from work is a way to get to the task negative state, but some of the common things we do when we think we’re taking a break won’t get us there. Consider the last time you were working and stopped to do something else. If that something else included checking your email or reading the news online, your brain treats that just like working from an attentional standpoint. It may feel like a break to you, but those activities compete for the focus and concentration needed for work tasks.
No wonder we’re so tired!
In addition to getting proper rest, something as simple as taking a brief walk outdoors or even around the office can reset your brain and provide you greater attentional resources when you return to tasks requiring focus. Recreational activities have a similar effect, as do hobbies such as gardening, painting, or making crafts. Listening to music or getting lost in a good novel works as well.
Taking vacations where you’re truly unplugged counts, too, but don’t wait for your next trip to give yourself a break. Make time for downtime every day.