Monthly Archives: April 2010

(Don’t) work until you drop

A colleague of mine just sent me a quick email. She said, "I skipped lunch and now it's 2pm and I'm just going to keep on crunching until 7 to just get this thing done and get home."  I asked her what she was planning on doing once she arrived home.  She replied - "Nothing - I can never get anything done after work because I'm too tired."

Do you recognize this pattern of "work until you drop"? Most recent grads and a lot of young employees forget to stretch, take breaks, and refresh.  You work insanely hard for 7 or 8 hours or longer, and find yourself burned out by the end of the workday.  Fried to a crisp.  Employees walk in on Thursday morning with double-tall lattes and bags under their eyes and barely make it until Friday. Saturday is shot because you sleep in until noon, trying to recover from the work week.  Is this the right way to make it through the work week?

Research shows that for every hour we spend working (especially in front of the computer), we need a 5 minute lull or rest. Checking your email once every hour? You're giving your brain that creative break, the light rest it needs to recharge and start up again. Taking a break away from the computer (or whatever task you are working on) is a better idea, but if you''re chained to your desk, even that email break can be crucial.  (Of course, if you spending more than 5 minutes per hour procrastinating or relaxing, you're not living up to your full work potential, and perhaps boredom or burnout are the issues at hand.)

Another colleague of mine is a firm believer in the 2-hour stretch break. Every two hours - and on the more stressful days, sometimes as much as once every hour - he gets up, walks out of the building, and takes 2 laps around the building.  He says by the end of the day, he's done 15-20 laps and he's getting his walking miles in.  On the days when he has to stay late, 7pm doesn't hit him like a brick on his shoulders, and when he gets home, he's happy and refreshed.

NPR published a report that corroborates this idea, demonstrating that workers who take 10 minute exercise breaks end up being more productive for the company than their peers. The article suggests that employees should get up out of their chairs for 10 minutes at least 2-3 times a day to move around, take a break from work, and increase the blood flow through your body.

Our bodies and our minds need rest, fuel, and recuperation.  The 5 minute brain break (that's required by our bodies each hour, whether we acknowledge it or not), the 2 hour stretch break, and the 8 hour workday are all part of the system that keeps employees recharged enough to make it through the work week.  What are your work habits? And what are you like at the end of the day? If you're exhausted, tired, and it's hard to get anything else done in the week, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your work habits. It might even make you a better worker, too.

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