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Short Breaks Improve Productivity

“Short Breaks Improve Productivity”

High gear isn’t the only gear in running your business. In fact, it’s probably not the best gear.

Eric Powers (name disguised) owns and manages a warehouse and distribution plant in the Midwest. His typical workday is to get to his office by 7:30 a.m., and for the next 12 hours or so, proceed like a buzz saw in handling every issue and tackling every problem. Then he goes home, returns the next morning and repeats the process.

The irony for Eric and entrepreneurs like him is that although he could take breaks throughout the day and week, he virtually never does. Yet, every shred of wisdom on the subject of effective management indicates that you’ll be more effective if you allow yourself moments of reflection — even if it’s only for an extra precious minute a couple of times each day.

Tip: Seven hours and 50 minutes of work, plus 10 one-minute intervals of rest or reflection in a workday, will make you more productive than eight solid hours of work.

So you work a 12-hour day? No problem. Eleven hours and 50 minutes of work, plus 10 one-minute intervals of rest or reflection in a workday, will make you more productive than 12 solid hours of work.

The Flip Side: To insist on proceeding full-speed through the day, without allowing yourself 10 minutes to clear your mind, all but guarantees that you will be less effective. All bodies require downtime, even if it’s just for a moment or two.

Some of the most productive and energetic entrepreneurs of the past 100 years learned how to pace themselves effectively by taking a few "time outs" each day.

Thomas Edison would rest for a few minutes each day, often several times a day, when he felt his energy level dropping.

Inventor Buckminster Fuller often worked in cycles of three or four hours, slept for 30 minutes, and then repeated the process. He found that in the course of a 24-hour period, he would get far more done using his unconventional sleeping and working habits than in the traditional waking and sleeping pattern.

Opting for Some Time in Low Gear

Consider this: chief executive officers in many top corporations routinely take naps midday to recharge their batteries. They have executive secretaries who shield them from the outside world, take their calls, and arrange their schedules.

Don Vlcek, third in command at Domino’s Pizza during its growth heyday in the 1980s, unabashedly kept a cot in his office at Domino’s world headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., for just that purpose.

Reality: As an entrepreneur, you may not have a secretary at your disposal to hold off the world for a catnap. But you do have the power and the means to make the most of even just a private, reflective minute here and there. In doing so, you’ll notice that you’re actually more productive after just a short break — more productive than you would have been by working straight through. Don’t rule it out until you give it a try.

Writer: Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC, is the executive director of Breathing Space Institute, Chapel Hill, N.C., where he helps people manage information and communication overload. He is a popular professional speaker and the author of "The Joy of Simple Living," Rodale.