Applied Psychology

The Importance of Taking Time Out

Jul 29, 2021
The Importance of Taking Time Out

Often, we think that taking time out from the business of life is wasting time. However, it turns out that downtime has important health benefits that should get us into wasting more time, not less. Research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Psychiatry, shows that down-time improves physical health. Using 9 years of data they tracked more than 12 000 men who were at risk of heart disease. Results showed that those who went on annual holidays had a lower risk of death relative to those who didn’t.

Why Companies should Encourage Downtime

The Boston Consulting Group – one of the world’s elite management consulting firms – conducted an initial experiment on a six-person team. This triggered a global initiative spanning more than 900 teams in 30 countries across 5 continents. The challenge to teams was to change the way they worked. Each person needed to confront their nonstop workweeks and create a better work-life balance. What they found was that by doing this each person became more efficient and effective.

5 Results of a Better Work-Life Balance:

  1. Happier team members
  2. Higher work satisfaction
  3. Greater productivity
  4. Easier recruitment of new staff
  5. Better employee retention

Similarly, research conducted by Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project and author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, shows that “Human beings perform best and are most productive when they alternate between periods of intense focus and intermittent renewal.” He concludes that in order to energise great long run performance, there is a core need for rest and rejuvenation. Essentially, we are at our best when we alternate between expending and regularly renewing energy through downtime.

“Scheduled downtime can lead to increased productivity and efficiency.”

Making Space to “Waste Time”

Within an era of increased working from home and online meetings, unplugging and leaving the office can seem like a long-forgotten concept. Add in smartphones and offices spread across multiple time zones and switching off for many has become a guilty indulgence. However, psychologists have repeatedly shown that there is clear productivity as well as mental and physical advantages to taking time-off. Thus, scheduling in outdoor activities and even good old-fashioned daydreaming, should be a self-care priority not a potentially nice-to-have thought.

5 Tips for Better Downtime

1. Schedule it in: Plan to take time out. During the week, schedule a few evenings off. Then, over the weekends take at least a day to timeout and annually plan weeklong chunks of holidays. Once you’ve done this, prioritise your downtime schedule in the same way you would your work schedule and meetings.

2. Take Ad-hoc Time Outs: Big corporate companies have increasingly recognised the need for head-space breaks. Google headquarters, for example, has a games room, gym, restaurants and on-site massage areas. So, next time you feel stuck, frustrated or tired of sitting down don’t try to push through it. Rather, take ten minutes to grab a coffee or have a quick walk as a way to up your productivity.

3. Actively Unplug: Constant interconnectedness is a stressor as well as a bad habit. It’s important to find ways to create clear boundaries between work and life. This may mean leaving your laptop at work, or in a home cupboard, at night. Alternatively, you may need to have two phones. A work phone that can be left in your bag after hours and a personal phone for family and friends. If work requires you to be on call, then mentally “shut-off” the phone and don’t check it unless it rings.

4. Make a Daily List: Coach and Management Consultant, David Allen, likens our minds to using the RAM on a computer. Essentially, our short-term memory has a limited capacity. Thus, instead of going through the day on mental overload, distracted by fleeting to-dos, make a list of priority tasks. Feeling organised and knowing you get through things enables worry-free downtime.

“Being mindful of scheduling downtime is key to it happening.”

5. Create Routines: Scientists have long recommended developing routines for better sleep. Similarly, you should create rituals and routines that relate to switching between tasks and activities. This will better empower you to jump into work mode and focus. As well as to leave work, when the day’s done, and fully engage with family or friends without being distracted.

How to Help Others Create Work-Life Balance

You can help others create and maintain a better work-life balance by studying a Psychology Course. Through it you will find out more about the inner workings of the human mind. As well as upskill yourself in preparation for a range of possible careers. Contact SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology) for more information.

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