Stop Working So Hard! Why You’ve Gotta Take a Break

We’re toiling away in modern society, and there’s nobody to tell us to stop working so hard.

Not only our bosses, but everyone else has bought into the virtue of working hard above all else, even mental health.

The idea of taking a break, resting, and relaxing are oddly controversial. If you stop working so hard, for once…you may only feel comfortable doing so after you’ve almost broken your back (maybe even literally)!

Some people value hard work so much that the idea of a person wearing his or her fingers to the bone is admirable.

“I Work Harder Than You”

The Facebook post was showing Amazon factory workers who were falling asleep on their feet, having to process an item every 30 seconds, 55 hours per week, and rarely if ever being able to stop working so hard and sit down.

What was your first thought just then? “Ouch”? “That’s wrong”?

Or…”I have it worse?”

Because most of the Facebook comments I read were definitely not outraged or concern for workers’ rights. Instead, they were angry that 55 hours of manual labor was even “newsworthy” enough to put on Facebook.

“I work 110 hours a week,” wrote one commenter. The consensus was “55 hours is nothing. Get over it.”

While the idea of the tireless worker is probably the factory’s dream, it shouldn’t be the dream of these people trying to one-up one another. It’s important to be grateful for what you have, and focus on what’s ahead of you, instead of getting spiteful or jealous.

More Tired, Less Productive

We all know that living to work instead of working to live takes a health toll, but what about a productivity toll? Aren’t you less productive if you have to work that long without taking breaks?

The answer is: YES!

A Stanford study showed that, after 50 hours of work a week, worker productivity dropped so much that working 70 hours a week versus working 50 was shown to provide no additional value! Your brain slows down so much (despite how much healthy beneficial black coffee you might try to drink…) that nothing else gets done.

So, how and when exactly should we take breaks?

When we don’t even remember what it looks like to stop working so hard, we need tips on what exactly a break should be, because there are good ways and bad ways to spend ’em.

First of all, you might have heard before that you should take a 15-minute break every hour. (And that’s true; we’ll explain why with just a tad bit of science in a sec.) Also, if you’re at a computer, you should look 20 feet away from your screen every 20 minutes, and you should look away for at least 20 seconds.

This is because of your brain’s “circadian rhythm” (a.k.a., biological clock), meaning that it understands sleeping and eating patterns on a 24-hour scale.

Your brain gets used to when stuff usually happens…and then it expects those things to happen at the same time every day!

Your rhythm can be disrupted by not eating or sleeping when your brain expects, and also by thinking for longer than your brain expects…This is because it takes about an hour for your brain to use up all the glucose (energy) you’ve got stored, if you work for an hour straight.

So, you’ve got it: that 15-minute break every hour is a good way to keep your brain from running on empty!

Because, let’s say it louder for the people in the back, a tired brain isn’t going to be able to do what you want it to do, no matter how much you push and push! Florida State professor Anders Ericsson studied violinists who practiced for 90 minutes, and violinists who practiced for 3 hours per day.

Guess which group got more skilled, faster? You got it, the 90-minute group! Just like our earlier observation that 70 working 70 hours per week instead of 50 just doesn’t get more stuff done.

We all know that drinking in life and living it to the fullest is better than, say, bragging over Facebook about hours worked…but we can also find it difficult to justify relaxing.

Hopefully, now that you know frequent breaks are necessary to accomplish more, not less, you’ll feel a little less guilty when you stop working so hard!


A Life of Productivity



The Independent