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  • April 25, 2013

Take a Break!

Web workers have a certain obsession with productivity. And it is not hard to see why. The processes and detailed knowledge required to build a website have grown leaps and bounds in terms of complexity and sophistication. Decorative Illustration With an Adaptive workflow that considers Responsive Design, multiple platforms, and countless devices with a wide range of capabilities, the job is not as simple as it once was. There are plenty of great applications and methodologies to help get organized and be productive, but these tools do not do the work for us. When it is time to get work done, we need to be working efficiently, quickly, and intelligently—and in a way that promotes good health and happiness at home and in the workplace.

You Don’t Have the (Will)Power.

When we try to power through work, we end up in a worse place than we began. The concept of “ego-depletion” that willpower is an exhaustable resource we can simple run out of, helps illuminate why this is the case. Rather than thinking of willpower as a trait we either do or do not have, think of it as a muscle that can become fatigued and needs to be rested to be restored (and even re-energized). Maintaining our energy and willpower in an intelligent way will allow us to keep our focus and remain productive, ultimately helping us get more work done in less time than if we attempted to power through.

Also, since our reserves of willpower are not compartmentalized, if we fatigue our willpower muscles at work, we will not be able to call upon them in the other parts of our lives. Keeping up with that diet, resisting the urge to spend compulsively, or even just dealing with those annoying quirks our loved ones have all require us to use some of our willpower reserves.

Like distance runners, we want to be able to conserve our energy and willpower reserves for when we need them most. There are a variety of things that can be done to help achieve this goal, but I am going to suggest starting with just one of them that you can use today with almost no effort: taking a break.

Breaks Are More Important Than You Think

There is immense pressure in our work environments to keep up working throughout the day. Try as we might to keep focused on tasks in front of us, inevitably, the distractions of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube start to creep in. Instead of working deliberately on a task, we find ourselves jumping back and forth between procrastinating on social media and working on what we know we really should be doing.

To avoid this, it is better to practice a more deliberate schedule in our work days. As Gregory Ciotti points out, when the most elite violinists practice, they do not do so in isolation for hours on end. Their sessions are broken up into periods of deliberate, one might say intense, practice followed by breaks of 15-20 minutes. This allows them to maintain their energy throughout the day and get the most out of the time they do spend working on their craft.

The 90-minute Strategy

So, here is my suggestion: break your day up into sessions like those elite violinists. Focus on work deliberately for 90 minutes. Quit your twitter client and block out disruptions as much as possible. Knowing there is a break coming up allows us to zero in and focus intensely on the problems we are trying to solve. You will not be missing too much on Twitter, I promise.

On your breaks, ideally of 15 minutes, step away from work entirely. Take a short walk outside in the fresh air and replenish your energy reserves. You will return to your desk ready to refocus on your work. And I mean really focus. Many times, when I find myself stuck on a particular problem, breaks like this are often followed by the solution. It’s a strategy that designers and writers have long employed to get past a creative block. The benefit of including regimented breaks in your routine is these solutions come much more quickly and regularly.

Recognizing our limitations and working within them in this way will provide a boost to the quality of our work. The benefits we realize from managing our energy reserves in this fashion can be extended to our home life or extracurricular activities. If you do end up trying this strategy, I would be very interested in hearing how it works out for you. Good luck, and do good work.

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