I’m no mathematician. But, when it comes to productivity, there’s an equation that I think is pretty straightforward and simple. It goes a little something like this: More time spent working equals more to-dos taken care of.
Seems pretty obvious, right? Well, I’m about to challenge everything you think you know about getting stuff done.
For years, I was never someone who took a lunch break. I work from home, and my lunch hour typically consisted of whipping together something quick and then bringing it straight back to my desk so that I could effectively utilize every single minute of my workday.
Even though studies show that brief breaks actually help to boost your motivation and productivity, I still assumed my unnecessary commitment to my desk was helping me. That extra half hour or hour spent in front of my computer meant I wasn’t wasting a second of work time—I felt like I was some sort of red-caped productivity superhero with a turkey sandwich in one hand and my computer mouse in the other.
Then, one day, everything changed. I’m still not certain what made me flip the switch. But, I decided I wanted to break away from the chains of my desk and do something different. So, that’s exactly what I did.
For an entire week, I made sure that I stood up and ventured away from my computer for at least a half hour every afternoon. Whether I walked the dog, watched a TV show, or read a book, I challenged myself to do something that broke me out of my routine and took me away from the computer that was seemingly holding me captive.
It was a positive, rewarding, and—you guessed it—incredibly enlightening experience. So, here’s a breakdown of a few of the things I learned.
1. Time to Recharge Truly Is Necessary
Have you read all of the advice, research, and statistics about the importance of taking time to unwind and recharge your batteries? I’m right there with you. But, for some reason, I always operated with the understanding that those suggestions were meant for other people—the same rules didn’t apply to me.
But, guess what? In giving myself some time to press pause in the middle of the day, I quickly began to realize that all of that advice doesn’t exist just to make you feel like an obsessed workaholic who can’t manage to set decent boundaries. No, it’s actually pretty spot-on.
Trust me, I was never anybody who thought I needed some respite from my workday. I still managed to be pretty impressively productive, without feeling completely burnt out. To my knowledge, I was doing just fine.
However, after taking some time to just take a deep breath and reset for my afternoon, I’m now fully convinced of the power of taking breaks. Just that short stop in the middle of my day allowed me to return to my desk feeling motivated, focused, and levelheaded—rather than blurry-eyed and completely drained.
2. Work-Life Balance Isn’t All About After-Hours
Work-life balance is another thing you’ll hear and read a great deal about. And, there’s no denying the importance. Let the scales tip too far in one direction, and suddenly you have major problems on your hands.
However, I always had the tendency to think of work-life balance as something that had to happen outside of normal office hours. To me, it was all about disconnecting from email at a certain time each night or trying to stay away from my to-do list on the weekends. So, it never occurred to me that there were things I could do to strike a better balance during the workday.
Making time for a lunch break made me realize that work-life balance doesn’t just mean making changes to your work. No, it applies just as much to your life (you know, that thing you have when you manage to escape the office every evening).
All of my previous attempts to better manage these two halves usually involved me trying to more efficiently build my life around my work. This is the first and only time I actually adjusted work to make time for life. And, you know what? It was awesome—and nothing crashed down in a fiery blaze, either.
3. Your Brain Plays Tricks on You
Why did I eat lunch at my desk day in and day out? Well, like I mentioned before, I had assumed it was giving my productivity a nice kick in the pants. More time spent clicking away on that keyboard had to mean I was getting more accomplished, right?
However, there’s nothing like a little experiment to make you realize your brain is a dirty trickster that has a real knack for self-sabotage. Alright, maybe that’s a little dramatic—but, you get the point.
What do I mean? Too many times throughout my workday, I’d find myself thinking something like, “Well, I worked through my lunch hour so I can take a half hour to scroll through Facebook and kill some time getting lost in the internet rabbit hole.” And, that would’ve been just fine and totally justifiable if I only did that once during the day.
But, of course, I found myself reciting this convincing monologue several times throughout my workday. If I did that three times (which, embarrassingly, was likely an average day for me), suddenly I was wasting an hour and a half on completely unproductive activities—which is a whole lot more time than I would’ve spent taking a half hour or even hour long break.
So, while it seems counterintuitive, walking away for a bit actually made me more productive. Yes, it was less time spent at my desk, but it actually resulted in more time spent working. Bottom line: Don’t trust that prankster brain of yours.
I was never a big believer in lunch breaks—I thought my martyrdom and time spent chowing down at my desk truly helped to boost my productivity. However, in just a week of doing it, I can now officially say I’m a believer who will be shouting their praises from the mountaintops for years to come. It was only a week-long experiment, but you can bet I’ll continue on with my beloved breaks.
So, if you’re one of those people who feels the overwhelming urge to stay strapped to your desk at noon, I encourage you to press pause and venture away for just a little bit. Much like me, you’ll probably be surprised at how much it helps!
Photo of person eating courtesy of Seb Oliver/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author