"You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day -- unless you're too busy. Then you should sit for an hour." -- Zen proverb
Who has time for meditation or relaxation when you're "crazy busy," an increasingly common 21st century phrase? Many of us just think of these stress management practices as frivolous time away from work and productivity.
Taking a break not only helps our mental health and social life, it also makes us more productive
In fact, just the opposite of this common belief is true. Those who spend more time resting, relaxing, and visiting with friends and loved ones seem to be far more productive than those who are all about work, work, work!
How is that possible?
Napping Makes You More Focused
It seems that with all of our focus on being busy and productive, we have lost site of one important fact. We need downtime to be our best selves. And taking a break not only helps our mental health and social life, it also makes us more productive.
A 2013 article from Scientific American put it this way: "Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity"
Our brains need rest and downtime to restore balance. In a study from the Brain and Creativity Institute and Rossier School of Education at University of Southern California the authors determined that "Rest in not Idleness." Rest time is important to our mental processing and cognitive abilities, and it promotes an effective balance between external attention and internal reflection.
Another article on Germans and work productivity, "Why Germans Have Longer Vacation Times and More Productivity" says: "Europeans have always seemed to take a different route when it comes to the work/life balance. Germans on average work around 1,436 hours per year, versus the 1,804 hours Americans work. With those numbers it would be easy to conclude that Americans do more and would be more productive in the workforce...But we don't. Studies show that Germans get roughly the same amount of stuff done in fewer hours each week, and with more vacation time."
Have you ever noticed that when you come back from a long needed vacation things at work seem fresher? You have new eyes for a project you've been working on? You may even notice this feeling when you take a short break and take a walk, meditate, or spend time with your friends or family. We need this time to be our best selves and when we are more relaxed and happy we are more efficient and effective.
Break Time Equals Achieving More
This is a part of the message in Michael Moore's recent documentary "Where to Invade Next." By the title I was sure he was going to be doing his usual documentary style of confronting our political system and quoting facts and figures about what is wrong with our current system. Instead, to my surprise, he took a more positive approach. He asked, what we can learn from other countries who have mastered something about how to live a more fulfilling and peaceful life?
In one segment he visits Finnish schools. Finland is now recognized as having the most productive and intelligent children in the world. What are they doing that we aren't doing? Moore discovered, and research confirms, that they not only had more break time (approximately 75 minutes a day of recess and breaks), but they also had shorter days and little or no homework. In addition, the younger grades have approximately four hours of school each day. And they don't even start school until age 7. These kids have some of the highest test scores in the world.
Working Longer Hours Doesn't Mean Getting More Done
Indeed we can all learn something from these other cultures. We need time to let our minds and hearts be spacious. We need to connect with others and ourselves in unstructured ways at any age. When we say we don't have time to rest, relax and do those things that make us feel spacious and whole, our health suffers. When we take time for ourselves we are bringing our best selves to others.
Rather than saying "I don't have time to take a break and rest or I don't have time to do meditation," what if you said "I don't have time not to?" Rather than bragging about how much work you do, why not start bragging about how many breaks you are taking. The practices of relaxation and meditation may require an hour or more of your time each day but what they give you in return is a gift beyond measure.
How are you going to start practicing stress management and take more breaks in your "crazy busy" life?
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