Acommon misconception among Americans: When weve got a lot to do, we just need to work harder.
But according to experts, working harder may possibly be the worst thing we can do, both for professional productivity and personal lives.
Overworking leads to burn out, and burn out is not good for productivity, creativity, physical or mental health.
Jory Bowen, a mental health practitioner and integrative health coach at MAP Behavioral Health Center, located in Duluths Medical Arts Building, sees the proof in the science and in her clients sitting across from her.
Working more goes against creativity, she says. Thats the nature of the problem. It seems logical to most people if I work more, if I work harder, I will get more results. But the research shows that having that healthy work life balance, not working too much, having a flexible work environment and partaking in recreation enhances creativity, energy, physical and mental health. Studies show that it actually makes people a more efficient and proficient employee.
Bowen names a long list of negative effects from overworking: poor physical and mental health, disturbed sleep, poor diet, anxiety and depression, obesity and diabetes, chronic pain and relationship issues. So many of those negative health outcomes have been tied to individuals working too much, not taking time off work. Our health suffers if we arent being accountable and conscientious about taking those breaks for ourselves.
In other words, recreation is good for us.
But to work better by working less, we have to go against our culture and maybe even our basic wiring. It may be human nature to believe that when we have a lot to do, the answer is to do more.
In apaper recently published in Nature, University of Virginia researchers show trends in how humans look at a situation or object that needs improvement. Overall, people believe adding an element is a better solution than removing one. However, the studys findings show, peoples compulsion to add can be so habitual its done to our detriment. We miss an opportunity to make a situation or object better by subtracting.
The benefits of subtraction can also apply to companies and organizations.
The pandemics forced pause has led many companies to re-examine their missions and priorities.
Like Duluths Zeitgeist Arts Caf. At a Greater Downtown Council Table Talk virtual discussion in April, Zeitgeist Business Director Sara Rolfson described how the pandemic has inspired some serious introspection for the local restaurant favorite.
Its been anopportunity for us to slow down and think about how we can best serve the community, said Rolfson. We never had the opportunity to slow down before.
Considering how to reinvigorate and do things differently has inspired Zeitgeist to change its model by opening its kitchen to successful restaurant pop-ups Gumbo Boi and Duluth HotBox. Currently, Zeitgeist is seeking community input on its future direction and has requested proposals from potential partners open to anyone with ideas for how they would want to serve the community through Zeigeist Arts restaurant, said Rolfson.
Even renowned workaholic Steve Jobs turned off his phone once in a while, according to his former assistant, Naz Beheshti, in the new book Pause. Breathe. Choose: Become the CEO of Your Well-Being. Jobs reportedly turned off his phone while hanging out with Apple design chief Jony Ive. Granted, he was looking at future Apple products mockups and models, which the tech giant called toys. But as Beheshti describes, His time with Jony gave him the space and occasion to laugh, imagine, create and feel a renewed sense of freedom. Beheshti also told CNBC that Jobs also meditated daily and had regular physical activity.
So its good business to take breaks. But if youre already over your head at work, how do you even begin making changes? Especially among the many employees sent home to work during the pandemic, who now find themselves checking email at 2 a.m. and working weekends since theyre home anyway?
Start small, said Bowen, with realistic, achievable changes. It all comes down to science. Its neuroplasticity, helping our brain to create new neuropathways in ways that are sustainable. In other words, dont set yourself up for failure by trying to do too much, too fast.
Bowen recommends her clients make changes on two levels.
First, find ways to take breaks while at work. Take a lunch break away from your workspace. Drink enough water, laugh, get some sunshine and fresh air. Build those into your workday without affecting your efficiency and productivity, she said. If youre working late until 8 oclock every night, set a goal to finish at 7 p.m., which is more manageable and less shocking than trying to finish at 3.
Second, look at your life outside of work. Are you eating healthfully, are you sleeping well, do you have social connections, are you getting fresh air on a daily basis, are you doing something that gets your mind off the hamster wheel?
For many, succeeding at small changes and seeing the results jumpstarts the trajectory.
Once that starts to feel a bit impactful, said Bowen, the domino effect takes place. People notice the discernable difference and they want to make these changes in life.
Most local businesses arent going to build nap rooms like a West Coast tech company might, but employers can follow the lead of innovative companies by thinking outside the box and making small changes.
I just spoke to a former colleague who started leading a very short mindfulness meditation in the middle the workday for her colleagues, said Bowen. Everyone had 10 to 15 minutes to step away from their desks and get off the hamster wheel.
And how about having a meeting while walking outside?
Outside recess works so well for kids and the same applies to adults. Taking a break outside restores focus and energy. One statistic Bowen repeatedly sees is that 20 minutes of outdoor movement can equal a cup of coffee for its energy boost.
Being outside in fresh air is possibly the best recreation of all, she said. If we look to the research and the statistics, the benefits abound. Usually if were outside were getting some kind of movement, theres often joy and laughter and activities with others that checks that social interaction box.
I often say if there is a miracle drug out there for every mental and physical health ailment, it is outdoor exercise. It is so powerful. The stats on helping to manage stress, improving mental and physical health it boosts energy, prevents burnout.
Bowen emphasized that living in the Upper Midwest, its important to find ways to get outside or get movement at all times of the year. Many individuals suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) because we have such long winters and lack of daylight, she said. It makes it doubly important to have that form of recreation and building blocks year-round, not just for the three nice months we have. We have to be intentional. We have to find what speaks to us and were motivated to do.
The pandemic has shown that some people may be more productive when working from home or with a more flexible work schedule.
Are there some of those concessions you can offer employees depending on what their personal life looks like? Bowen asked. It ends up being a win-win for the employer and employee.
Employers can also model the positive effects of downtime by practicing it themselves. Taking breaks, laughing and chatting at work, and taking vacations are all important ways to positively affect the workplace culture.
Employers fear should not be implementing these changes, said Bowen. It should be not implementing these. Overworking is whats contributing to undo stress and burnout.
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