Relax: Doing Less Can Help You Get More Done

Monday, productivity, relax

It’s Monday. Manic Monday, as The Bangles would say. I’m inclined to agree. For many, the first day of the work week brings deadlines, overflowing in-boxes, and usually a few fires that need putting out.

To make the transition as smooth as possible, we often allow work to creep into the weekend. Time we should be spending with family, out in nature, or just on the couch being downright lazy.

You might think that by minimizing time off, you’re getting ahead, increasing the time that you’ll be able to relax “another day”. But you’d be wrong. Somehow, another day never seems to arrive, and by shortchanging yourself on much needed R&R, you could be shooting your productivity in the foot.

As the New York Times recently reported, “a new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

This means less actual screen time, a change of scenery, and a little fun and games should be a regular part of your work week. Failing to goof off now and again can actually mean you accomplish less, and what you do complete could be of diminished quality.

manic monday

What happens to your hair when you have too many Manic Mondays.

How many hours of sleep did you get last night? Proud of the fact that you can “survive” on five hours of shut eye…or even less? While it may make you feel like the next Steve Jobs (that’s really just the caffeine talking) shortchanging yourself on sleep is the fastest way to reduced productivity.

“In a study of nearly 400 employees, published last year, researchers found that sleeping too little — defined as less than six hours each night — was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burn-out. A recent Harvard study estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.

“The Stanford researcher Cheri D. Mah found that when she got male basketball players to sleep 10 hours a night, their performances in practice dramatically improved: free-throw and three-point shooting each increased by an average of 9 percent.”

In addition to more vacations and more sleep, actually working less during the day can help keep you on your game. Sound crazy? It’s not.

“In the 1950s, the researchers William Dement and Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that we sleep in cycles of roughly 90 minutes, moving from light to deep sleep and back out again. They named this pattern the Basic-Rest Activity Cycle or BRAC. A decade later, Professor Kleitman discovered that this cycle recapitulates itself during our waking lives.

The difference is that during the day we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes. Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals and instead stoke ourselves up with caffeine, sugar and our own emergency reserves — the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.”

Working in 90 minute spurts acknowledges our body’s natural cycle, and makes us less reliant on chemical stimulants. Every hour and a half. Find a reason to get up from your desk for 5 – 10 minutes, no matter what you’re doing (ok if you’re on a call, you might want to stay put). Do a few yoga poses or pushups. Walk around the block. Ride your bike to a nearby errand. Listen to some 80’s music.

When it’s time to get back to work, you’re likely to feel like you’ve got a new set of eyes. Refreshed and ready to grind away for another 90 minutes.

Image via Robert Couse-Baker

Why You Need A Few Days Off (And Why That’s OK)

Out of office vacation

The average freelancer works almost twice as long as the average nine-to-five employee. So, why is it that we feel guilty taking some time off for the holidays?

No matter how you celebrate, the holidays are a time for sleeping ridiculously late, eating way too much, spiking the egg nog, and hugging everyone you know.

To that end, the holidays are one time of the year when traditional workers have an advantage over the freelancer: They get PTO, and we get guilt. The average 9 to 5-er waits for the clock to hit quitting time, and bolts out the door. The thought of the emails waiting to be answered or presentations to be assembled won’t cross their mind again until Monday morning.

Here’s the difference: most freelancers love what they do.

We are obsessed. We think about our business every waking moment. We’re always networking, worrying about clients, checking our published work to make sure our names are spelled correctly. While we are completely in charge of when we get work done, the thinking about it never stops. We ALWAYS feel like we should be getting work done.

Maybe it’s because we still don’t feel like our job is as legitimate as one that happens in an office. Or maybe the lack of a salary safety net makes us feel uneasy about earning a few hours less this month.

Whatever the reason, I’m here to tell you that the guilt you’re feeling is unfounded, and you totally deserve a day (or seven) to completely unplug from your business.

This is not the corporate grind. You’re not competing for the corner office. You’re building a business, a legacy. You’re in there for the long hall. The work will always be here, but your friends, family, and the opportunity to make memories with them may not.

So go ahead. Activate that “out of office” email response a few days early. I know you planned to work right up until Christmas Eve, but I’m challenging you to scrap that plan. Bake 1,500 gingerbread cookies with your kids. Craft some presents for your best friends. Stay in your pajamas and read a book all day.

I’m writing you a prescription for laziness and self-indulgence. Take daily and repeat as needed. You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel when it’s time to be brilliant. Next year.

Happy Holidays Cohere!!!

Image Credit: Flickr – Victor Bezrukov

Freelance Survival: How To Get Motivated After Taking Time Off

Tell me if this sounds familiar: (On Thursday) “Oh my god I can’t wait until the long weekend!!!!!” (On Tuesday) “Oh my god, I am so not motivated to do any of this work.”

Vacation hangover. I need a vacation from my vacation. Whatever you call it, it’s an issue for every freelancer on the planet.

Working for yourself takes mountains of motivation. Gobs of personal drive, and huge piles of determination. It’s not easy to get up and start your day early, when absolutely no one would yell at you for sleeping until noon. It’s tempting to put that to-do list off for another day when you’re still posting pictures of your beach vacation on Facebook.

If you’re coming off the long weekend and feeling like you’d rather work on your tan than your inbox, here are some motivational tips to keep in mind:

1. Leave No Loose Ends

Feeling good about returning to work starts by feeling good about how you left it. Take the time to alert your clients to your vacation time well in advance, if possible. Stop taking on new work at least a week before you’ll be away, so that you can have peace of mind that everything is well in hand before you leave.

2. Ease Into It

Plan a transition day into your vacation schedule. If you’re going away for 7 days, tell your clients that you’re leaving for eight. Take that half or quarter day as a time to slowly check emails or prioritizing your to-do list for the week ahead. Knowing that you don’t have to jump back in to your work with both feet can help reduce stress and resentment about the responsibilities ahead.

3.  Prioritize

For me, it’s the emails that make me most reluctant to return to work. After not opening my computer for two or three days, I know there will be a pile of messages to sift through. The sheer (often imagined) number, is daunting and scares me into procrastination.

Conquer the fear by setting small manageable goals for yourself: I will go through my inbox deleting spam and Twitter alerts, and filing the rest of the emails into their appropriate folders. After you’ve recovered from that task, pick one folder, and start answering the emails. You can do the same thing with any kind of task, just pick the smallest most non-threatening chunk, and go for it.

What advice can you give other freelancers about finding your mojo after taking time off? Share your ideas in a comment!


Image Credit: Flickr – joelK75

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