How You Can Balance Rest and Productivity | Chris Kresser

How You Can Balance Rest and Productivity

by Chris Kresser

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Rest​ ​is​ ​essential​ ​not​ ​only​ ​for​ ​our​ ​health​ ​and happiness​ ​and​ ​​relationships,​ ​but​ ​also​ ​for​ ​our​ ​productivity.​ ​In​ ​today’s​ ​always-on​ ​world,​ ​​rest​ ​is​ ​almost​ ​impossible​ ​to​ ​come​ ​by unless​ ​you​ ​intentionally​ ​set​ ​time​ ​aside​ ​for​ ​it.​ ​That’s​ ​where​ ​free​ ​days​ ​come​ ​in.​ Find out how these​ work-free periods​ ​grant you the benefits of rest without sacrificing your productivity.

benefits of rest, rest and productivity
Taking free days away from work can help you balance your rest and productivity. iStock/gradyreese

Most​ ​people​ ​I​ ​talk​ ​to​ ​these​ ​days​ feel ​stressed out and overwhelmed​ ​by​ ​​the pace​ ​of​ ​modern life.​ ​There​ ​are​ ​countless distractions​ ​and​ ​demands​ ​on​ ​our​ ​attention, ​and​ ​if​ ​you own your own business or you’re​ ​running​ ​your​ ​own​ Functional Medicine or health coaching ​practice,​ there’s ​work​ ​that never​ ​ends.​ ​

In​ ​this​ article, ​I’m​ ​going​ ​to​ ​talk about how to use ​what​ ​Dan​ ​Sullivan,​ ​founder​ ​of​ ​Strategic Coach,​ ​calls free days—24-hour periods without any work—to get​ ​more​ ​rest​ ​each​ ​week.​ ​Armed​ ​with​ ​this​ ​tool,​ ​you’ll​ ​not​ ​only​ ​feel​ ​healthier​ ​and happier​ ​and​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​spend​ ​more​ ​quality​ ​time​ ​with​ ​your​ ​loved​ ​ones,​ ​but​ ​you’ll​ ​be​ ​more productive​ ​(when​ ​you​ ​aren’t​ ​resting).​

How do you balance your productivity against your (very human) need for rest? Check out this article for one way to recharge. #healthylifestyle #wellness #chriskresser

Why Increasing Your Productivity Isn’t the Answer

Faced​ ​with​ ​the​ ​challenge of finding enough time in the day,​ ​many​ ​people​ ​have​ ​turned​ ​to​ ​strategies​ to increase their productivity so they can accomplish more.​ ​Now,​ ​that’s​ admirable,​ ​and​ ​I’m​ ​a​ ​huge​ ​productivity​ ​geek​ ​myself.​ (For more on that, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my podcast series on achieving insane productivity.) ​However,​ ​there’s something​ ​that’s​ ​even​ ​more​ ​important​ ​if​ ​you​ ​find​ ​yourself​ ​feeling​ ​constantly​ ​frazzled​ ​and overworked: ​rest.

That feeling of being pulled in 100 different directions day in and day out can lead to chronic stress and, ultimately, burnout. That’s especially true if you work in the healthcare field: anywhere between 50 and 80 percent of physicians experience burnout. (1, 2)

Here’s​ ​what’s​ ​interesting​ ​about​ ​rest.​ ​Not​ ​only​ ​is​ ​it​ ​important​ ​for​ ​its​ ​own​ ​sake​ ​as​ ​a​ ​counterweight and​ ​balance​ ​to​ ​work​ ​and​ ​other​ ​obligations,​ ​but​ ​it’s​ ​also​ ​crucial​ ​for​ ​productivity.​ ​The​ ​human​ ​mind is​ ​hardwired​ ​to​ ​need​ ​downtime,​ ​space,​ ​and​ ​unfocused​ ​time.​ ​Rest​ ​is​ ​not​ ​simply​ ​a​ ​luxury.

As​ ​the​ essayist​ ​Tim​ ​Kreider​ ​puts it:​ ​

Idleness​ ​is​ ​not​ ​just​ ​a​ ​vacation,​ ​an​ ​indulgence,​ ​or​ ​a​ ​vice.​ ​It is​ ​as​ ​indispensable​ ​to​ ​the​ ​brain​ ​as​ ​vitamin​ ​D​ ​is​ ​to​ ​the​ ​body.​ ​And​ ​deprived​ ​of​ ​it,​ ​we​ ​suffer​ ​a​ ​mental affliction​ ​as​ ​disfiguring​ ​as​ ​rickets.

While taking steps to improve your productivity can certainly lower your stress, it’s not an alternative to stepping away once in a while. You need to balance work and rest.

The Benefits of Rest

I really can’t overstate the ​importance​ ​of​ ​rest.​ Making time for leisure through activities like meditation, getting outdoors, or engaging in some kind of play can bring about a variety of health benefits—including improving your cognition and productivity.

Play, specifically, seems to bring about big benefits for your productivity and work performance. It’s been shown to improve brain function, which could stave off age-related cognitive decline. (3) Studies have also shown that play relieves boredom, increases creativity, and improves your ability to deal with stress. (4, 5, 6) Those benefits are likely the reason why some organizations have begun implementing “play breaks” during the work day. (7)

Spending your free day outside in nature also appears to confer benefits. Aside from strengthening your immune function and reducing your risk for several chronic illnesses, being outdoors has also been shown to reduce your stress levels. (8, 9, 10)

Meditation has also been shown to mitigate stress (and it has a beneficial effect on anxiety and depression). (11) Meditation is also associated with:

  • Better focus (12)
  • Improved cognitive function (13)
  • Changes in the areas of your brain responsible for memory, awareness, and self-regulation (14)

What Happens to Your Body during Rest

Our​ ​brain​ ​activity​ ​doesn’t​ ​stop​ ​when we’re​ ​resting.​ ​Instead,​ ​it​ ​engages our parasympathetic nervous system, or the body’s “rest and digest” response. The parasympathetic nervous system lowers heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and stress hormones, balancing out the effects the fight-or-flight response has on your body. (15) Meditation, spending time outdoors, massage, and exercise have all been shown to trigger the rest and digest response. (16, 17, 18, 19, 20)

The need for rest makes sense when you consider how our ancestors lived. They didn’t busy themselves for eight-hour stretches of time (or even longer) day in and day out. Instead, they experienced brief moments of stress or danger, coupled with ample time to relax with their family and peers. The rhythm of their lives naturally allowed for periods of rest.

Where Sleep Fits In

When I say “rest,” I’m not necessarily talking about sleep. Getting enough sleep is also a major part of managing your stress, living a healthy lifestyle, and, ultimately, improving your productivity, but it’s not the whole picture. If all you do is work and sleep—even if you’re getting enough hours of sleep—you’re missing out on the great things that restful free days can spark.

Getting rest means making time to do things you enjoy (that aren’t work related). That could be something active and outdoors, like going for a walk or visiting an amusement park, or it could be passive and quiet, like sitting down with a good book or heading to the spa. The key is making time for activities you enjoy.

How to Balance Rest and Productivity: Make Room for Free Days

Whether​ ​you​ ​value​ ​balanced​ ​life​ ​or​ ​you’re​ ​simply​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​maximize​ ​your​ ​productivity​ ​and performance,​ ​you​ ​need​ ​to​ ​rest.​ ​It’s​ ​that​ ​simple.​ ​

One of the most powerful ways ​to​ ​incorporate​ ​more​ ​rest into​ ​your​ ​life ​is​ ​​a​ ​free​ ​day.​ ​A​ ​free​ ​day​ ​is​ ​a​ ​24-hour​ ​period​ ​that’s​ ​completely​ ​free​ ​from​ ​work, work-related​ ​problem-solving,​ ​communication,​ ​and​ ​action.​ ​In​ ​other​ ​words,​ ​you’re​ ​100​ ​percent off​ ​work.​ ​This​ ​means​ ​not​ ​even​ ​reading​ ​books​ ​that​ ​might​ ​be​ ​related​ ​to​ ​work​ ​or​ ​spur​ ​thoughts about​ ​work.​ ​Most​ ​entrepreneurs​ ​and​ ​business​ ​owners​ ​find​ ​this​ ​almost​ ​impossible​ ​to​ ​conceive​ ​of, especially​ ​today,​ ​when​ ​the​ ​boundary​ ​between​ ​work​ ​and​ ​personal​ ​life​ ​has​ ​been​ ​blurred​ ​beyond recognition.​ ​And​ ​how​ ​can​ ​you​ ​take​ ​free​ ​time​ ​when​ ​there’s​ ​work​ ​to​ ​be​ ​done,​ ​money​ ​to​ ​make, commitments​ ​to​ ​be​ ​kept?​

​But​ ​as​ ​I’ve​ ​mentioned,​ ​rest,​ ​rejuvenation,​ ​and​ ​play​ ​are​ ​absolutely essential​ ​to​ ​getting​ ​more​ ​done.​ ​It’s​ ​tempting​ ​to​ ​think​ ​that​ ​skipping​ ​free​ ​days​ ​and​ ​working​ ​a​ ​little more​ ​would​ ​lead​ ​to​ ​better​ ​results.​ ​But​ ​in​ ​fact,​ ​the​ ​opposite​ ​is​ ​true.​ ​And​ ​I​ ​know​ ​this​ ​from​ ​personal experience.

Now​ ​that​ ​I’m​ ​taking​ ​regular​ ​free​ ​days,​ ​I​ ​find​ ​it​ ​difficult​ ​to​ ​imagine​ ​how​ ​I​ ​would​ ​even​ ​function without​ ​them.​ ​I​ ​look​ ​forward​ ​to​ ​them​ ​throughout​ ​the​ ​week,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​so​ ​much​ ​better​ ​at​ ​the​ ​end​ ​of them.

Four Tips to Make the Most of Your Free Days

If your calendar is regularly booked solid, finding a free can sound pretty impossible. While it does take some effort, it is entirely feasible to add work-free days into your schedule. Here’s how.

1. Schedule Free Days Ahead of Time

If​ ​you’re​ ​just​ ​getting​ ​started with​ free days,​ ​I​ ​think​ ​it’s​ ​helpful​ ​to​ ​schedule​ ​and​ ​plan​ ​them​ ​out​ ​in​ ​advance.​ ​That​ ​way​ ​you​ ​won’t​ ​be tempted​ ​to​ ​fall​ ​into​ ​old​ ​habits​ ​and​ ​start​ ​working​ ​because​ ​you’re not sure​ ​what​ ​else​ ​to​ ​do.

2. Go Outside

It​ ​might​ ​be​ ​easier​ ​for​ ​you​ ​to​ ​initially​ ​do​ ​free​ ​days​ ​outside​ ​the​ ​house​ ​so​ ​that​ ​you​ ​don’t​ ​get sucked​ ​into​ ​familiar​ ​distractions.​

3. Get Support

Enlist​ ​the​ ​support​ ​of​ ​your​ ​team,​ ​your​ ​family,​ ​or​ ​your​ ​friends to​ ​hold​ ​you​ ​accountable.​ ​Ask​ ​them​ ​to​ ​gently​ ​remind​ ​you​ ​that​ ​you’re​ ​on​ ​a​ ​free​ ​day​ ​if​ ​you​ ​begin​ ​to slip​ ​into​ ​work​ ​mode​ ​again.​ ​

4. Set Boundaries

Train​ ​your​ ​patients,​ ​clients,​ ​colleagues,​ ​and​ ​anyone​ ​else​ ​not​ ​to expect​ ​any​ ​interaction​ ​with​ ​you​ ​that​ ​is​ ​work related​ ​on​ ​those​ ​free​ ​days.​ ​Consider​ ​using​ ​an​ ​email auto-reply​ ​saying​ ​you’re​ ​unavailable​ ​and​ ​turn​ ​off​ ​your​ ​phone,​ ​or​ ​at​ ​least​ ​turn​ ​off​ ​notifications.

What to Do on Your Rest Days

In​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​what​ ​you​ ​actually​ ​do​ ​on​ ​your​ ​free​ ​days,​ ​that​ ​depends​ ​on​ ​what​ ​helps​ ​you​ ​best rejuvenate.​ ​Some​ ​people​ ​do​ ​that​ ​with​ ​energetic​ ​activities.​ ​They​ ​need​ ​to​ ​be​ ​out​ ​and​ ​about​ ​and​ ​on the​ ​go​ ​all​ ​the​ ​time,​ ​whereas​ ​others​ ​are​ ​just​ ​the​ ​opposite.​ ​They​ ​want​ ​to​ ​relax,​ listen​ ​to​ ​music,​ ​lie​ ​on​ ​a​ ​beach,​ ​or​ ​have​ ​a​ ​good​ ​conversation.​ ​Some​ ​people​ ​want​ ​to​ ​be​ ​indoors; others​ ​want​ ​to​ ​be​ ​outside​ ​in​ ​the​ ​natural​ ​environment.​ ​And​ ​of​ ​course,​ ​most​ ​people​ ​like​ ​a combination​ ​of​ ​passive​ ​and​ ​active​ ​activities.​ If you’re not sure what to schedule on your free days, experiment a little! Balance out a few passive activities with more active ones. Try out some new hobbies, or pick up the pastimes you haven’t had the bandwidth for. The important thing is to choose activities that appeal to you.

Keep​ ​in​ ​mind​ ​that​ ​if​ ​you’re​ ​not​ ​used​ ​to​ ​free​ ​days, they’ll​ ​probably​ ​be​ ​challenging​ ​to​ ​implement​ ​at​ ​first,​ ​especially​ ​because​ ​so​ ​few​ ​people​ ​actually take​ ​them.​ ​But​ ​like​ ​anything​ ​else,​ ​the​ ​more​ ​you​ ​do​ ​them,​ ​the​ ​more​ ​practice​ ​you​ ​get, the​ ​easier​ ​they’ll​ ​be​ ​and​ ​the​ ​more​ ​satisfying.

​I​ ​suggest​ ​starting​ ​with​ ​one​ ​free​ ​day​ ​a​ ​week.​ ​Eventually​ ​you​ ​may​ ​want​ ​to​ ​move​ ​to​ ​two—or even more—​because you’ll​ ​enjoy​ ​them​ ​so​ ​much.​ ​My​ ​goal​ ​is​ ​eventually​ ​to​ ​have​ ​three​ ​free​ ​days​ ​per​ ​week,​ ​or 150​ ​per​ ​year.​ ​I​ ​started​ ​with​ ​one,​ ​and​ ​I’m​ ​at​ ​one​ ​and​ ​a​ ​half​ ​right​ ​now.​ ​So​ ​I’m​ ​definitely​ ​making progress.