How your brain and productivity need you to be idle

When Arianna Huffington, founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post worked herself to the bone and collapsed, it was a wake-up call which heralded, ironically, more work and two books, “Thrive” and “The Sleep Revolution”.

On the back of sound science, she stresses the importance of rest – deep, rejuvenating rest – particularly for executives whose careers demand long hours, high productivity and constant mental presence.

“The Sleep Revolution” cites the tragic case of Goldman Sachs first year analyst Sarvshreshth Gupta who jumped to his death from his office window, overwhelmed either by social or self-inflicted pressure to perform, and despite reassuring his father at 2.40am that night he‘d be home soon, he took his own life instead*.

“A true leader steps back, trusts his or her people, and allows them to succeed. By taking a break from the day-to-day operations, not only was I spending some much-needed time with my family, but also I was able to focus on the bigger picture of where we were and where our business was heading.”
Jim Moffatt

Guilt has long haunted CEOs and executives when it comes to taking time off or even admitting it is something you might desperately need.

Pausing to regenerate or look away from tasks at hand has in the past been tarred with notion that being idle is equal to being unproductive, yet it’s a presumption at odds with the documented effects of fatigue and burn out which gradually erode a person’s ability to think and act effectively.

Last year at a German motor show, BMW CEO Harald Kruger fainted during a presentation. Despite illness he opted – as many CEO’s are want to do – to soldier on, putting work first above his own health.

Former chairman and chief executive of Deloitte Consulting LLC Jim Moffatt once told Forbes he often found himself unable to unplug from work even during family holidays.

When a colleague pointed out his level of responsibility required he take time to refresh and that day to day operations were managed by good people appointed to those roles it was a light bulb moment.

In 2013 he wrote: “A true leader steps back, trusts his or her people, and allows them to succeed. By taking a break from the day-to-day operations, not only was I spending some much-needed time with my family, but also I was able to focus on the bigger picture of where we were and where our business was heading.”

Something important is also happenings to your brain during times of rest.

Our brains are still active in coordinated ways while we daydream, for example, which New Jersey Institute of Technology Cellular Neural Engineering professor and chair of Biomedical Engineering Bharat Biswal once described as our “default mode network” (DMN) and which has since been found to be one of five resting state brain networks.

Other studies have shown the mind obliquely solves tough problems while daydreaming—an experience many people have had while taking a shower!

So while you may be dipping your toes in an ocean on some far flung beach allowing your mind to wander your brain is in fact trying to and is able to solve complex problems.

Co-founder of Toronto-based Strategic Coach and co-author of “The Laws of Lifetime Growth” Dan Sullivan has built a multi-million-dollar business advising entrepreneurs to take time off.

Sullivan believes productivity and performance start with free time and is a catalyst for the energy, creativity and focus required for success.

Self-confessed workaholic Jonathan Gassman of New York’s Gassman Financial Group took one week off a year but spent most of that time checking emails. Under Sullivan’s guidance he’s expanded his breaks to six weeks a year – with no office contact – and has watched his business – plus two new businesses – grow as a result.

Gassman needed help however to turn around that internalized notion that a break is somehow detrimental.

The Energy Project CEO Tony Schwartz teaches people, including staff of client Google, how to be more productive by changing the way they think about downtime suggesting productivity does not come from finding more hours in the day to work, but tapping into that natural resource of our own energy to improve creativity and productivity.

He suggests increasing energy is as simple as using all your holiday time, getting lots of sleep, meditating and taking power naps.

As Huffington suggests, our eulogies are not filled with statements about our long hours in the office, promotions or the white papers we published, but cherished memories and moments, “acts of generosity, lifelong passions, and the things that made us laugh.”

These things occur when you’re taking a well earned break.

So, what better time than at Christmas and New Years to stop and smell the roses – or an ocean breeze from a deckchair! The time you spend being idle will set you up for a productive 2017.

For more information on taking time off, please view: