Schedule Time to Relax and Avoid Diminishing Returns

Scheduling time to relax can almost be as important as scheduling time to do your work. I remember thinking it was so interesting that all my professors would continually emphasize to us the importance of making time to relax or do something other than our research and class work. Obviously, these “doctors” should know since they’d all been through a doctoral program and were now surviving the pressure world of academics. It still struck me as odd that the one piece of advice my professors always told us was to make sure we took time not to do the work they were giving us to do!

Well, after a few years of graduate school I began to understand what they meant and why taking intentional time to relax was so crucial. You may not be in graduate school, but if you are working, parenting, building a business or going to school, you have a lot of work to do. That’s great! Work is one of the most rewarding parts of life; but I’m here to tell you, no one can work non-stop. In fact, you’ll find that the more you work without any time to relax or take care of yourself, the less productive your work is.

Have you ever heard of diminishing returns? In grad school, I vaguely understood what that meant before experiencing diminishing returns myself. The Merriam-Webster definition of diminishing returns is this: “benefits that beyond a certain point fail to increase in proportion to extended efforts”.

In other words, if you are working and working non-stop, the benefits you gain from working are no longer worth the effort you are putting into the work. When writing my dissertation, I could work hard for a few hours straight but then I stopped producing material at the same rate as I had been those first few hours. And if I kept working, the material I produced wasn’t the same quality. The best thing to do in order to work well again? Relax, nap, do something completely unrelated! Your brain and body need time away from your work. You’re actually doing yourself a massive favor—and in the long run increasing your overall productivity—by not doing work for a short period of time.

My brain can only operate at a certain level for so long before it slows down dramatically and won’t work at the same high capacity. I can and have pushed my brain even when it was beyond its limit but I don’t recommend that. I never could work as fast and the work I did was of a lower quality. My professors tried to emphasize to us that it is just a simple physical and psychological fact that our bodies and minds can only operate at a high level for so long before they need time to recharge.

On top of this, don’t try to mix work with pleasure. In other words, you may want to do work and watch a movie or go on vacation and bring work along to do on vacation. I’d highly recommend against this technique. You end up burning out more quickly because you are less productive with your work and less productive with your relaxation and rest. You just end up doing neither one very well, which means your brain and body never have a chance to fully relax and recharge. If you schedule for yourself time to completely get your mind off of your work, then enjoy that time to its fullest but once it’s time to work, work as hard and as fast as you can.

I used to use an app called the Pomodoro app to help me manage my relaxation time and my work time. The theory was, if you schedule out little breaks in your time of work, you end up working much better while you are working. So, the timer would require that I work 25 minutes straight before enjoying a 5 minute break. I would do this about 5-6 times before I’d get a 25 minute break. This was a life changer for me. If I had to go to the bathroom, or my I got a text or a personal email and I was in the middle of my 25 minute work time, I’d wait until my next 5 minute break to take care of those various issues. It was great because I would look forward to those 5 mins and enjoy them to the fullest but would focus hard and long while doing my work. I could rest easy because I knew that I had designated time to take care of those other things during my 5 minute break.

You may not like that method of 25 mins on and 5 mins off. That’s fine. Maybe you work best working for 3-4 hours straight and then taking an hour break to watch a show or take a nap or get some coffee or walk your dog. Whatever works best for you is what works best for you. The key is, make sure you intentionally work when you are supposed to work and intentionally relax when you are supposed to relax.

This might sound a bit simple to you, but just take a step back and look at how you handle your schedule. How many times do you mix work and play? What would happen if you were to intentionally make sure they were separate and not overlapping? How would that change your schedule and how much more work would you get done in your designated work time? How much more would you enjoy your designated relaxing/family/play time?

Try this out and let me know what you think!

The Liberty Belle

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