A lot of people think that they will be successful if they work all the time.
After all, if you’re on the clock 24/7, you’re being productive right? How can your employer not love an employee who works so much?
Notice I said, “works so much” not “gets so much done.” The two are not one and the same. During the first few years of my career as a software engineer, I thought working incessantly was the answer. Other factors (like not realizing the importance of forming relationships with my coworkers) also contributed to my desire to work all the time, but mostly I thought, “My success is in my hands. If I work really hard all the time, I’ll be promoted, and I’ll be successful in my field.”
It took me a while to realize how wrong I was. Working non-stop was not the secret to success.
The reason I’m telling you this story today is that many people think if they never take a break from work, they’ll get more done, they’ll be promoted, and that means they’ve succeeded.
The problem with this theoretically perfect plan is that we aren’t meant to work 24/7. Our bodies and our brains are not designed to function optimally all the time. So you might be working all the time, but you’re not functioning at 100% a lot of that time.
Disconnecting from our work actually allows us to come back better. I think most of us know this in the back of our mind. But disconnecting is hard when we are used to always being on email, always checking our social media accounts, and always attempting to work on a project.
I can’t make you disconnect from work every now and then, but I can tell you why it’s so important for you to take breaks:
Recharging allows the brain to rest and make new connections
When we are “go-go-go” all the time, the hippocampus (our “temporary” memory storage) gets cluttered with useless information we’ve collected all day. Resting is also vital to “resetting” our memory and clearing out irrelevant information in our memory.
The human brain creates new ideas by combining old elements of information that we already possess in new ways. When we sleep, our brain takes memories we’ve accumulated during the day and “permanently” saves the important stuff. Those memories are then worked and reworked with new and old memories; somewhere in that process, ideas are born!
So if you want to form new ideas, you have to rest and give your brain time to complete this memory saving process.
We also just get worn out. Most of us are familiar with that “burnt out” feeling at the end of a long day. Unplugging from work (and electronics!) allows us to recharge our brains.
When you disconnect, you have the opportunity to connect with people
Even if you work as part of a team, “working” itself is an isolating experience. We typically end up alone at our desks, in front of our computers, clicking away.
When we take ourselves out of work mode and make it a point NOT to work that gives us time to engage with other people. Connecting with people is important for our personal and professional lives.
Taking the time to engage with your co-workers also provides the benefit of allowing you to talk through ideas with people who have different perspectives and can help you see new ways of approaching problems.
And let’s not forget: disconnecting from work means more leisure time and family time. Two things that will make you happier; which is important because happy workers are productive workers!
Do things to de-stress
When we’re not stressed and anxious, we are much more efficient at our jobs. But, working all the time is unavoidable invitation for stress and anxiety.
Taking some time to meditate, go for a walk, enjoy some quiet downtime, or exercise can help you relieve the ill effects of stress, and recharge for productive work time later.
It’s proven that helping others, going outside, and spending time with family/friends can make you happier (and in turn, more productive).
But all these things require time!
Disconnecting allows you to kill two birds with one stone: decreasing the ill effects that accompany work, like stress, AND being recharged for ultra-productivity when you do go back to work.
Absence from work will make your heart grow fonder
Taking some time off from work is more likely to make you actually enjoy your work. We end up resentful and grumpy when we’re always “on.”
Taking a weekend off or a short vacation allows us to come back fresh! Instead of harboring a negative attitude about work, you’re likely to bounce back re-energized and excited about getting to do something that you’d forgotten you really enjoy.
You’re in this job because at some point you fell in love with it; taking a break can remind us of that!
You want to prioritize quality over quantity
If you’re always on, sure, maybe you get everything done, but are you putting your best foot forward on each and every task?
Chances are, you’re not. Being always “on” allows us to focus on quantity, rather than quality.
When you start prioritizing time off, you are also forced to prioritize quality over quantity. Simply because you’re forced to chose what the most important work is and do those things well. You figure out how to delegate or deprioritize all the other stuff. When you can’t do it all, you learn how to do what you can really, really well.
If our goal is to get more done, it might feel weird to go about that by not doing work but it actually works. When you’re working, you want to be giving 110% (thus maximizing your productivity during the hours you work) and you can’t do that if you’re working all the time. None of us can.
Don’t get bogged down in a cycle of working but not getting anything done and working more in an attempt to get ahead but just winding up frustrated instead. You might actually get more done by doing the opposite.
Disconnecting is really just an opportunity to reconnect and recharge in other ways. Everything has an opportunity cost and the cost of disconnecting is far outweighed by the benefits of being rested, happier, and ultimately more productive when you do go back to work.