It’s easy to fall into a pattern of “always working” rather than working smart. However, there are ways to avoid falling into that trap:
1. Take more breaks. In one of my favorite books, Stephen Covey tells a story about a woodcutter whose saw gets more blunt as time passes and he continues cutting down trees. If the woodcutter were to stop sawing, sharpen his saw, and go back to cutting the tree with a sharp blade, he would actually save time and effort in the long run.
The analogy is an easy one to remember but harder to put into practice. Here’s what Covey says about sharpening the saw in our lives:
Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.
Sharpening the saw is a great habit to get into in all areas of our lives, but I think it can be especially beneficial when it comes to work and helping us avoid burnout.
On average our brains are only able to remain focused for 90 minutes; then we need at least 15 minutes rest. (The phenomenon is based on ultradian rhythms.) By taking period breaks roughly every 90 minutes you allow your mind and body to renew–and be ready to fire off another 90-minute period of high activity.
For some people, 15 to 20 minute breaks might be tough to pull off, but taking short breaks throughout the day can still help you to refresh your mind and reset your attention span.
2. Take naps. Research shows naps lead to improvement in cognitive function, creative thinking, and memory performance. In particular, napping benefits the learning process by helping us take in and retain information better.
The improved learning process comes from naps actually helping our brain to solidify memories. According to Max Read, “Research indicates that when memory is first recorded in the brain–in the hippocampus, to be specific–it’s still ‘fragile’ and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is asked to memorize more things. Napping, it seems, pushes memories to the neocortex, the brain’s ‘more permanent storage,’ preventing them from being ‘overwritten.’”
One study into memory found that participants did remarkably better on a test following a nap than those who didn’t sleep at all.
Not only are naps beneficial for consolidating memories and helping us remember new information (handy if your job includes a lot of research during the day!), they’re also useful in helping us to avoid burnout, since research shows burnout is a signal that says you can’t take in more information in this part of your brain until you’ve had a chance to sleep.
3. Spend time in nature. Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Power of Excellence,