Take a Rest and Boost Your Productivity

August 8, 2012

That’s what I’m doing this week, taking some vacation time. I’m not traveling during this vacation, it’s a staycation. We have short summers in Maine, and there are plenty of outdoor activities and other attractions that can make a staycation in Maine quite enjoyable. Heck, thousands of people pay good money to come here every week for their vacations.

It’s my first real time off this year, and I find that disconnecting from the day-to-day grind to be a good thing. You need to recharge every now and then. You come back fresher and more productive. Americans are particularly bad at taking their vacation time, but it is detrimental to long-term performance and productivity.

I find this to be true in my own experience, and it is supported by a 2006 study of employees at Ernst & Young which found that for each ten hours of vacation employees took each month, their performance reviews were 8 percent higher the following year. (As reported in the book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.)

Aside from a day trip or two and eating some lobster with my wife, I’m also doing some reading, some writing, and watching the Olympics. And in between, my wife and I are also doing some of those projects around the house that need to be done. One of mine was to pressure-wash our back deck – which wraps around a pool that I’ve finally managed to jump into!

My pressure-washing experience also reinforced another lesson in productivity. Tired people make mistakes... My deck isn’t small; we have an above-ground, 30x15 oval-shaped pool and needless to say that between pressure-washing the patio furniture, our gas grill, the deck, stairs and railings, it was a long afternoon. And I got started late because I had other things going in the morning.

I was in a hurry to get started because I was starting late. I didn’t take any breaks because I felt time pressure (I wanted to complete the job before I lost the sunlight). I didn’t bother to change my shoes, keeping my good sneakers on – and they ended up getting wet so I took them off. And because I felt confident in myself and because I didn’t want to lose any time, I kept going – barefoot.

It’s not hard to guess what happened, is it? As I was getting close to finishing up, the hose snagged and I didn’t let up on the trigger. I kept the high-pressure streaming out while I looked back and allowed my concentration to wander – and ran the pressure-washer over the top of my left foot.

Let’s just say that a pressure-washer can wreak havoc on exposed skin! It raised a welt and cut the skin in a split second. I knew better than this, and I knew that I was taking a risk when I took my shoes off. To add insult to injury, my wife was home. She knew better, too.

After I bandaged myself up and put on an old pair of shoes, she just had to say, “Now you’re getting smart” as I walked past her to go out and finish the job.

If I hadn’t put myself under time pressure, if I had just taken a short break to change my shoes, if…

Breaks are good. Rest is good. Vacations are good. Tired people who aren’t taking time off to recharge simply won‘t be as sharp or productive as they could be. And even when we’re on vacation we need to take care and not overdo things.