The Importance of Time Away and How It Can Improve Performance

I travel whenever I get the chance. During my trips, I usually work remotely, but at other times I disconnect entirely. Occasionally, just because of the time difference, I do both. What I have discovered from my experiments in travel is how critical distance from the office is for strategic thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. It is during these trips that I have had some of the most important insights for my company.

It is not necessarily the travel that makes the most difference in my work quality, although it helps. What does make the most difference is taking time away from the office to let the mind rest, whether it’s to relax or to do a completely different activity. Deliberate rest is critical for growth and fulfillment. It is just as important as the actual work that gets done, and it is a practice we need to cultivate.

[Photo: Manuel Moreno/Unsplash]

[Photo: Manuel Moreno/Unsplash]

Benefits

It is impossible to see the forest when you are in the middle of the trees. One advantage of taking time off is the ability to think strategically. Although hard work and constant dedication are admirable qualities, if taken to the extreme, these traits can start to harm us. At best, we can become less productive, and at worst, we can burn out. Time away from work is critical to be able to see where we are going and how we are doing as we move forward.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang describes another critical benefit of rest in his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less (public library):

"...deliberate rest stimulates and sustains creativity."

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

In the day-to-day of our work, we go from one thing to the next, working incessantly. Time away from this work can help restore and expand our creativity according to Pang.

“The steadiness and consistency that deliberate rest enforces helps explain why those who discover it have longer creative lives, pursue careers as artists or writers while holding down other jobs, and may even discover completely new interests or produce new works when the rest of us are ready to retire.”

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Rest provides our mind time to process information and create the insights necessary for creativity. It also helps us recover energy.

Finally, time away can help us feel more fulfilled as individuals. Whether we spend the time engaged in hobbies, with others, relaxing, or a combination of these, the balance between work and time off is necessary for personal satisfaction. Otherwise, life is just not enjoyable in the long-run.

[Photo: Ana Gabriel/Unsplash]

[Photo: Ana Gabriel/Unsplash]

How It Works

Pang encourages us to develop a routine that integrates both work and rest. The routine’s design, however, must be deliberate. Between all of our many responsibilities at work, at home, and in our communities, time off won’t just happen. We have to make it happen.

"Creative people who discover deliberate rest don’t just spend a few focused hours each day working or prefer to concentrate their effort in the morning. They work the same hours of the day, every day, often seven days a week. Stephen King exemplifies the attitude that routine is critical to creative production. He hasn’t written dozens of books in transcendent, days-long blazes. King works methodically, he explains in On Writing, putting in ‘four to six hours a day, every day.’”

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Rest doesn’t just mean sleep. It can include anything that makes your mind or body happy, like exercise, hobbies, and vacation. This time away should be scheduled in our calendars and protected. Only then will it yield the results we are seeking.

[Photo: Fabian Moller/Unsplash]

[Photo: Fabian Moller/Unsplash]

Practice Makes Perfect

Time away must be cultivated and practiced. We are not usually trained to develop methods that foster rest, so it is not going to occur instantly. It should be seen as a new tool in our growth. Pang says

“...we should treat rest as a skill.”

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

I find this quote quite insightful because I have considered time off as something that happens automatically. As my responsibilities have grown over the years, though, I find that taking time off has become more difficult. I can’t seem to unplug; whenever I go on vacation, it takes me a week to disconnect. That is why practice is vital.

As this time away becomes part of our life, the benefits will start accruing to a life that is productive and also well-lived. Pang refers to rest quite eloquently:

“It helps you craft a life in which you can discover what challenges you’re meant to take on and what hard tasks are most rewarding, and gather the energy and have the time and freedom to face them. It creates a life that’s rewarding while it’s lived, a life that has purpose and pleasure, work and reward, in equal measure. And that life feels complete and well-spent at the end.”

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Soojung-Kim Pang, Alex. Rest: Why You Get Done When You Work Less. Basic Books, 2016, E-book.