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A Realistic Approach to Taking Breaks to Get More Done

Rushing around with your hair on fire lowers productivity. Take breaks to get more done.


The idea that top leaders are burning the candle at both ends is a myth according to research by Harvard Business Review. (Reported by Rasmus Hougarrd)

The worlds top CEO’s get enough sleep.


Effective work – over the long-term – requires rest.

The deception of frantic schedules and stress-filled days is the myth that extraordinary effort can be maintained over the long-term.

If you were a cell phone battery, you wouldn’t be able to cheat yourself. You’d shut down when you ran out of juice. Your problem is you can run on empty for a while.

Take breaks:

The most productive people take breaks.

Research shows the optimal ratio of work to rest is 52 minutes of concentrated work and 17 minutes or rest. (Reported in The Atlantic.)

I find the ratio of 52 minutes to 17 minutes unrealistic for most businesses. But there are alternatives.

Set a countdown timer for 55 minutes. My experience shows that setting a timer:

  1. Increases time on task.
  2. Strengthens concentration.
  3. Fuels urgency.

When the timer goes off, get up and take a break. Walk around the building. Get coffee. Close the door and lay on the floor or stretch.

My experience shows that concentrated work followed by short breaks enables high performance.

Honor the finish line:

After completing a task, don’t rush to the next item on your list, honor the finish line.

Create a clear Stop Point before stepping up to a new Start Line.

Have you ever gone home wondering what you got done? You didn’t honor your finish lines. When you honor finish lines, you break your day into discrete units.

Tip: Keep a to-done list.  

What suggestions do you have for taking breaks?

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