The Importance of Rest for Productivity

Rest more for productivity? That seems like the exact opposite of what the business world believes in. Rest is usually seen as the opposite of work in many organizations. The common wisdom is that either an employee can rest or be productive. But this is due to a convoluted definition of work.

“Work” shouldn’t be seen as something that you do from a desk from 9 to 5. It needs to be understood as something that encompasses all productive and creative functions. And rest is an integral part of it. That’s when you understand why you should rest more for productivity.

Admittedly, this isn’t easy. We live in an age that worships the “grind culture.” The media celebrates business leaders who put in 100-plus hours a week. But as businesses are finding out, this can be hugely counterproductive to organizations.

How a lack of rest affects you

These are some of the ways in which inadequate rest can seriously affect your productivity, focus, and potential, thereby damaging your health.

1. You’ll lose focus

Why should you rest more for productivity? Because a lack of sleep can negatively affect your ability to focus. Important mental abilities such as memory start to degrade and your body gets into autopilot mode. You’ll be lethargic and unable to concentrate on the task at hand.

There’s a reason pilots aren’t allowed to fly for more than 60 hours a week and medical residents are only allowed to work for a maximum of 80 hours a week. According to a study, after 17 to 19 hours without sleep, our bodies start to function as if we were drunk.

2. You’ll fall sick and reduce your lifespan

Experts estimate that an average adult requires between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. If you don’t take adequate rest, you’ll compromise your ability to easily fall asleep. Frequent turning and waking don’t leave your body with any chance to recharge and repair itself. All these make you fall sick more often.

Sleep deprivation has been found to increase blood pressure. It could increase the risk of prostate cancer in older men. Not getting adequate sleep for a long period can also lead to cognitive disorders including Alzheimer’s and dementia.

3. You’ll be less productive

Forgoing sleep has been found to lower productivity. All organizations want productive employees and encouraging employees to have adequate rest and sleep is one of the most effective ways to boost your productivity.

People who reduce their routine sleep by even two hours see a demonstrable decrease in their ability to critically process data. They also drop their reaction times. For companies that want their employees to be analytical, agile, and creative, this is bad news.

4. You’ll rely on short-term solutions

When people don’t rest more for productivity they start using short-term fixes. Since they realize that their ability to focus is being affected, people may start using caffeine or certain drugs to boost productivity. These will be effective in the short term but can lead to dependence and other long-term problems.

Even a temporary boost in productivity won’t equip people with the ability to make executive decisions. A better solution is to incorporate rest in your routine and get your body used to a schedule. Consistently waking up and going to sleep at the same time will go a long way to boost your productivity.

5. You’ll become an inefficient leader

Leaders who are sleep deprived tend to be fatigued. They also end up making suboptimal decisions. Although they could be working hard – and encouraging their team members to follow suit – their actions won’t produce the right results. That’s because they could be hustling hard but going in the wrong direction.

This goes against conventional wisdom and is never properly understood in the business world. Irrespective of how hard you might be working, without adequate rest, you won’t be making progress. While creating a culture that demonizes rest and celebrates hard work, it also ironically makes individuals and organizations unproductive.

How to prioritize rest to boost productivity

Here’s what organizations can do to allow individuals to take more rest and increase productivity.

1. Make it an organizational priority

The first step is to address the lack of rest as a problem. This needs to be done at the leadership level. Leaders themselves should set an example and resist the urge to either work long hours and weekends or needlessly praise the culture of grind. If employees see that their leaders take rest, they will be more encouraged to do so.

2. Assess current working hours

To get employees to rest more for productivity, you need to know how many hours they’re putting in right now. Instead of other metrics such as the number of tasks completed, it would be worthwhile to assess the number of hours they work every week. This is more important for remote and hybrid employees since their hours can easily get overlooked.

3. Encourage “rest goals”

The easiest way to take the stigma out of rest is by establishing “rest goals” for your team and encouraging employees to achieve those. This could include the maximum number of hours an employee is allowed to work or schedules that include rest periods during the day. Even short breaks between work can be made mandatory goals.

4. Understand that rest is restorative

An employee taking a nap isn’t being lazy. A team member on vacation isn’t being irresponsible. The most important thing an organization can do to integrate rest is to stop associating it with lethargy. Rest should be seen as restorative. It should be seen as a vital activity to refresh and recharge an individual’s physical and mental health.

5. Treat rest as non-contingent

It would be tempting to make rest contingent on projects or tasks. This can be counterproductive as everyone needs rest irrespective of the results they produce. Rest shouldn’t be a reward for a task well done. It should be part of the routine. Nobody should have to go out of their way to earn rest. Everyone should be able to do it.

How to rest more for productivity

Just like organizations, individuals too can take several actions to rest more and boost their productivity.

1. Set a routine that integrates rest

Rest shouldn’t be a luxury confined to weekends. It should be part of your routine. To make it effective, you need to know when you’re most productive and when you feel exhausted during the day.

A schedule ensures that you don’t end up working hard when you know you’re not at your best. With an established routine, you can take adequate rest when you need it the most. This also attunes your body to work and rest at predetermined time zones.

2. Be more active

Regular physical activity can help us be more energetic and focused. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend hours in the gym every day. Something as simple as walking for ten minutes or a two-minute plank can do wonders.

A post-lunch walk outside the office can be easily incorporated into your routine. Other than the obvious effects, it also takes you out of your work environment, which will brighten up your mood.

3. Nap more

Napping is important for everyone but it’s particularly relevant for those involved in imaginative and creative tasks. Even short naps can help restore your energy. It also decreases fatigue and increases alertness.

Researchers have found that napping is more effective than caffeine in improving performance. A 15 to 20-minute nap can elevate your mood and boost your productivity.

4. Stop when you have to

Working long hours not only reduces focus and productivity but can also lead to disengagement, stress, and burnout. Overworked individuals tend to create systems that become less innovative and creative.

The solution is not to stop when you’re tired. It’s to stop when you have a little energy left. Consciously leaving things undone can prompt your mind to work on them without you being aware of it. By mentally switching off your workday, you’re also separating your work and personal lives.

5. Get adequate sleep

Sleep is when a body gets into its maintenance mode to fix or replace damaged cells, clean toxins, and process the day’s experiences. It’s also when the mind can solve problems. In short, sleep is vital to maintain our cognitive functions and keep us alert and focused when we’re awake.

Sleep deficit can lead to severe health issues in the long term. By prioritizing sleep, you’re not just prioritizing your well-being. You’re also taking a significant step to boost your productivity.

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