It might seem a little counterintuitive. Sure, you want to go to bed earlier so that you feel refreshed in the morning. Maybe you’ve been meaning to push up your bedtime for months (years!) but you’re always rushing from this to that to this all day long. If you take more breaks than usual throughout the day, you’ll need to stay up even later to finish everything that needs to get done, right?
Sociologist and author Christine Carter writes for Greater Good Magazine that we’ve got it all wrong. Answering a question from a reader who wants to get to bed earlier but says the evening hours are their coveted “me time” (i.e., Netflix and mindless social media scrolling), Carter says in order to replace the need to unwind at night, we need to unwind periodically throughout the day.
Dig into your beliefs about what leads to productivity and focus. I can tell you with certainty that never resting and not taking breaks throughout the day will not help you do your best work, get a lot done, or stay focused when you need to be.
Plenty of research has shown that taking breaks, even brief ones, dramatically improves our performance and productivity. When we don’t take breaks, our focus and the quality of our work usually suffers. But when we do rest throughout the day, we can work for much longer without the quality of our work, or our focus, suffering.
Part of our problem is that we equate “busy” with “important,” says Carter, who wrote The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. Many of us see busyness is a sign of strength and character and, over time, being busy becomes a habit.
But if we can change that belief - that busyness equates to success - then we can allow ourselves more breaks. And over the course of a day, those breaks can help us relax so that, come bedtime, we don’t feel like we haven’t had a second to ourselves all day.
The breaks don’t have to be extreme. Get out of the office for lunch, rather than eating at your desk. Take a walk between meetings. Read a book for 15 minutes when you get home before you get dinner started. Reclaim little moments to yourself and spread them throughout your day.
Then, go to bed.