You’re facing a deadline or feeling pressure to get a project done. You feel as if you’ve been staring at your computer screen mindlessly, unable to make a dent in the work in front of you. You’ve been at this for hours, but don’t seem to be moving ahead. As the time ticks away, you grow more and more aware of the piles of things you have to do and the tasks accumulating on your to-do list.

Sound familiar? Overall, we’re faced with more and more demands on our time…and we’re often feeling less and less productive. And to make matters worse, we are also less and less sure about how to handle all of this.

I stumbled on this blog post on – 8 Non-Work Related Activities That Increase Productivity. What it tells us is simple…and counterintuitive.

For some reason, when we’re faced with more demands or impending deadlines, when we’re feeling more pressure or unable to make a dent, we hunker down and try harder. “If I stay at this longer,” we think. “If I just skip lunch or pull an all-nighter or blow off my friends, I’ll get this done.” This article tells us that actually the opposite is true.

For that matter, thought-leaders have been telling us that the opposite is true for quite some time now, but we somehow manage to not hear that or ignore it. According to the Harvard Business Review article, Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, our brains can stay focused for about 90 minutes to 2 hours, and then we need a break.

But we don’t often give ourselves a break.

Studies have shown that many if not most epiphanies happen when we’re not focused on the task at hand. When we put in the time and the thought processes and then take a walk (or a shower). In that open space our brain solves intricate problems and comes up with innovative solutions.

The title of my memoir (to the moon and back) came to a friend during a run. My blog post ideas often happen during my yoga practice or when I’m in nature. I know I feel refreshed when I connect with a friend or a colleague…and then I somehow have more oomph for the proposal I’m trying to write, the day of facilitation I’m designing, or my next book draft. When I walk away or take a break or look out the window, I come back energized.

My clients often question – and even fight – me on this concept. Or at least on the practice of it. “I don’t have time to take a break,” they tell me. “My calendar is back-to-back.” “This has to happen now.”

All of these might be true. And all of these might be excuses. I know that there probably are times when we’re in crisis mode and we have to push through no matter what, and I also know that we often act like we’re in crisis mode when we could instead take a break and come at things fresh. And when taking a break and coming at things fresh might be the best thing we could do.

I think this blog post is a call to action. I know it is for me. I challenge you to let it be one for you too.

How have you learned to be counterintuitively more productive?
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