I believe it’s because I thought that when I had a ton of work (e.g., finals period), I must stay home all weekend without any breaks. It was before surfing the web was really possible (I had dial up in my apartment, and when a high school classmate sent me a link to something he wrote on a website, it took 30 minutes to download the one article. I’m not kidding). It was before smart phones (I didn’t get my first not-smart-cell-phone until I had been out of grad school for 4 years, and only because my car had broken down on the side of the 80 and… I had no cell phone). I thought staying home and working non-stop would be the most productive strategy, but by Sunday afternoon I was usually watching bad TV or playing solitaire on my computer (games weren’t as good, or as easily accessible, in the 90’s).
Maybe you are different. Maybe you are one of those people who is so focused, you don’t need breaks. I went to grad school with one of those people, and he’s still that way today. When you’re in a crunch, you can work straight through for days and not come up for air. Then feel free to ignore this advice.
I am not one of those people. I am easily distractible. These days, I take short breaks to check twitter or Facebook or feedly. Or, because I’m working at home on sabbatical, to grab a bite from the kitchen.
I do better when I have a bigger break (i.e., not a Facebook checking break) to look forward to. For the past 7 years, that break is basically automatic, because (back in my non-sabbatical life), every day I know I relieve the babysitter at 5:30, and generally don’t get back to work until 8:30 or 9:00 PM when the kids are in bed and the house is somewhat straightened. But during my grad school and faculty-pre-parenthood years, I would often sit in the lab/office from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, with little break. If I knew I had something to look forward to – dinner out, a movie, etc. – it made me more productive during the day because I knew I had to finish at a certain time.
So, in grad school, even on the busiest of weekends, I started making plans to do something on Saturday night so that I didn’t end up watching golf on Sunday afternoon. Often the plan was to go out to a movie (a big night out drinking is counterproductive to increasing subsequent productivity). On Friday night and all day Saturday, I could look forward to seeing my friend and going to a movie. And, on Sunday, I felt refreshed by the break and could hit my studying/paper writing anew.
Sometimes, a break just means a nap. Once, as an assistant professor, I was trying to finish a grant on a deadline. I had been working on it nonstop (except for teaching and other responsibilities). I called my then partner (now husband) from the office one evening, and said, “I just don’t know what’s happening, but I can’t do it anymore!” I had kind of lost it in my non-stop grant writing. He said, “I know what’s wrong. You’re not with me.” So he drove to my office (granted, it’s State College, so that took 5 minutes), brought me to his apartment, cooked me dinner, and insisted that I take a nap. Around 10:00 PM he drove me back to the office and I worked for a few more hours before heading home. The work from 10:00 PM to 1:00 AM was so much more productive than the same work would have been from 7:00 – 10:00 PM if I had not taken the break.
I’m sure there’s research out there that explains why taking breaks increases productivity. I just googled it, and the NY Times said so last year. So you can read that, if you don’t believe me. Better yet, do your own experiment. Text a friend and set up a movie date for this weekend.
“The post Increase your productivity: Give yourself a break first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on December 9, 2013.”