I’m sure you’ve heard that ‘less is more.’ I’m also sure you’ve realized how often that theory is completely ridiculous. It’s not like you’ve ever said, “Oh please, give me less cheesecake, for that shall be so much more filling.” When it comes to cheesecake, more is definitely more, and usually more isn’t even enough.
So ‘less is more’ is a dumb philosophy when it comes to delicious pastries. However, when it comes to your own productivity, you might be surprised how important it is to do nothing.
And let me show you why. In one study of nearly 400 employees, sleeping fewer than six hours a night was found to be one of the best predictors of on-the-job burn-out. A Stanford study of basketball players discovered that when athletes slept 10 hours a night, their free-throw and three-point shooting percentages each increased by 9 percent. A 2006 Ernst & Young internal study of its employees revealed that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors improved by 8 percent. Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.
But suppose you can’t take a vacation or get an extra few hours of sleep every night. No problem. Anders Ericsson (the guy whose research Malcolm Gladwell made famous with his 10,000-rule) found that elite performers tend to practice for no more than 90 minutes at a time and no more than 4.5 hours a day. Repeat: these people are better than I am, and they’re working about half as much time.
Most of us have grown up thinking that we rest or sleep in order to repair our bodies physically, but it turns out that rest and relaxation are far more important for how they clear our minds. To quote the Sunday Review, “in a series of new studies, published this fall in the journal of Science, the Nedergaard lab may at last be shedding light on just what it is that would be important enough. Sleep, it turns out, may play a crucial role in our brain’s physiological maintenance. As your body sleeps, your brain is quite actively playing the part of mental janitor: It’s clearing out all of the junk that has accumulated as a result of your daily thinking.”
The same is true for young people as well. When it comes to academic achievement, the best students in the world come from Finland, not the United States. Yet students in Finland have less homework, take fewer classes, and typically receive a 15-minute recess after each class – not so they can participate in an organized sport, but rather so they can recover and refocus before attending a class on their next subject.
Bottom line – if you’re not taking enough breaks, you’re not doing as good a job as you could be. If your children are rushing from one activity to the next with no end in sight, they might not ever gain the skills they would have if they slowed down and concentrated their attention on a smaller number of endeavors. That should be music to the ears of any parent who feels overwhelmed by the pressure of filling their children’s social and physical calendars.
So remember, sometimes less really is more. Keep that in mind today when you start to get worn out. Your brain is trying to tell you to take a break so that it can get back to performing at its peak level. So listen to it! Besides, naps are awesome.