The Gift of Sharper Focus, Renewed Energy, and Increased Productivity Are Yours When You Regularly Schedule These Three Types of Downtime


Are your days feeling longer and more tiring?  It’s not surprising.  In today’s economy, we do what we must to keep the lights on.  We struggle to make time to exercise, cook quality meals, and get enough sleep.

Indeed, the American work ethic is deeply valued.  Keeping busy, working late receives praise.  Some of my friends tell me it’s the only way to get ahead.  Do you hear that, too? Perhaps this nonstop activity actually brings poor health or burnout.

Like a blade needs regular sharpening to work most effectively, people need to be sharpened.

Conferences and trainings can keep us sharp.  Yet there is something else.  Something easy to dismiss.  And in missing it, we work ourselves out of our best performance.

Wasted Potential

Employers are running into an interesting dilemma. Employees tend to avoid taking real breaks, eating at their desk instead. They also aren’t taking their vacation days, citing cost, too much work, and a need to save them for family emergencies.

Believe it or not, many employers believe their workers would be more productive if they took their allotted time off.

The ability to unplug is critical on multiple counts.  Turns out, so is the first factor of success – the ability to play.

Necessity of Play

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Stuart Brown gave a TED talk ( about people’s discoveries about play.

“Nate Johnson is a mechanic. He taught mechanics in a high school in Long Beach, and found that his students were no longer able to solve problems. And he tried to figure out why. And he came to the conclusion, quite on his own, that the students who could no longer solve problems, such as fixing cars, hadn’t worked with their hands.”

Brown goes on to say, “Now JPL, NASA and Boeing, before they will hire a research and development problem solver — even if they’re summa cum laude from Harvard or Cal Tech — if they haven’t fixed cars, haven’t done stuff with their hands early in life, played with their hands, they can’t problem-solve as well. So play is practical, and it’s very important.”

“It’s hugely important in learning and crafting the brain. So it’s not just something you do in your spare time,” according to Brown.

Powerful Influence of Nature

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“We know that creativity and innovation happen when people change their environment, and especially when they expose themselves to a nature-like environment,” says Kimberly Elsbach, a UC Davis Graduate School of Management professor who studies workplace psychology.  (

“Staying inside, in the same location, is really detrimental to creative thinking. It’s also detrimental to doing that rumination that’s needed for ideas to percolate and gestate and allow a person to arrive at an ‘aha’ moment,” Elsbach tells Jeremy Hobson, host of Here & Now. (

Some businesses understand this factor of success and create a courtyard with plants or a water feature.

Dynamic Reset

Tim Kreider, blogger at Opinionater, ( says it really well.  “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

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Florida State University psychologist K. Anders Ericsson  found over-work damaging.

“Unless the daily levels of practice are restricted, such that subsequent rest and nighttime sleep allow the individuals to restore their equilibrium,” Ericsson wrote, “individuals often encounter overtraining injuries and, eventually, incapacitating ‘burnout.’”  (The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance)

Surprisingly, this applied to musicians, writers, and other high performers, in addition to athletes.

Quite a few successful CEOs take breaks to breathe deeply.  They associate this third success habit with greater focus.

Vital Success Habits

Taking full advantage of all kinds of breaks offered is crucial to maintain our physical and mental health.  Without them, the ability to bring our creative spark will fade.  Our enjoyment will disappear with it.  The appreciation of those we work for diminishes as well.

Try the following for the gift of sharper focus, renewed energy, and increased productivity:

  1. Plan for a minimum of three quiet breaks daily. Just a couple minutes of breathing deeply, slowing our breath down, three times a day.
  2. Disconnect in the evening as much as possible. We need a complete break from our jobs.  Try to avoid thinking about it during our down time.  If we can disconnect from electronics, we’ll experience even more restful results.
  3. Plan for fun at least once a week. Fun looks different to everyone.  What enjoyable activity causes us to lose track of time?  If physical activity is involved, so much the better.
  4. Plan to get away for a night – two or three are even better. Try to do this three or four times a year.  Getting a change of scenery does wonders for our creativity.  It doesn’t have to be expensive.  Just away.

As we incorporate these habits more consistently, we’ll find ourselves accomplishing more.  Chances are, we’ll enjoy it more, too!