What Elementary School Taught Me About Personal Productivity

This is a guest post by Justin Wise. He is is the social strategist for Monk Development, builders of Ekklesia 360. He is also one of the Community Leaders on this blog. Check out his personal blog and follow him on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

We live right next to an elementary school. If I’m going to an appointment, I’ll sometimes see the kids out at recess. Jumping, skipping, laughing—genuinely free.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/CEFutcher, Image #18229498

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/CEFutcher

Inevitably, the bell rings and the teachers start the impossible task of herding excitable, pint-sized people into the confines of a classroom. I can almost hear them from inside my house, “But I don’t wanna!” Such is life, I guess.

One afternoon after witnessing this scene, I started thinking how important recess is to those children. This brief break in the day provides them with the opportunity to blow off some steam, socialize with friends, and get some physical activity.

The consequences of having these basic needs unmet are dire. Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you the worst days are the ones with inside recess. Simply put, kids need this time.

It’s easy for us adults to see recess as something only for kids. But are we, in all our sophistication, that different? Could it be that long after we’ve left the crayons, hot lunches, and paper maiche projects behind we still have a deep need to recharge during our day?

Our modern workday has been heavily influenced by the Industrial Revolution. The name of the game was “efficiency” and the star of the show was the production line. Human beings became human doings.

Unfortunately, the work patterns of this era still follow many of us into our nine-to-five jobs. We’ve chained ourselves to the modern-day version of the production line (computer) and pushed ourselves past the point of productivity.

Is it any wonder that a Towers Watson study suggests that companies with a high percentage of disengaged workers (read: burned-out) reported an eleven percent decline in earnings and a thirty-two percent plummet in operating income?

I think grade school kids understand something that we grown-ups have forgotten.

Might I suggest an adult version of recess? A period of time during the day where you have the ability to clear your mind, chat with friends and co-workers, and get some physical activity?

If that sounds like something you’d want to try, here are some suggestions I’ve implemented into my own life:

  1. Have lunch with a friend or spouse. An alarming number of people eat in the same place they work: at their desk. Adding insult to injury, this “cube food” is usually highly-processed, frozen, and devoid of all nutrients. Grab a friend and go out of the office for lunch. Even if you’re an introvert, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel afterwards.
  2. Read a fiction book. For fun. Having a young family, I can’t always read as much as I’d like. My “recess” allows me the time to catch up on books I’ve been neglecting for too long. Fiction accesses a different part of the brain and gets us out of our mental ruts.
  3. Go for a walk. Have you ever wondered why solutions to some problems only come when we stop thinking about them? It’s because your brain is backlogged. Taking a breather gives it time to catch up. Taking a walk (or any physical activity) is a great way to give your brain a break!
  4. Sit in silence. This might sound goofy for uninitiated, but your mind, body, and spirit crave the chance to quiet down during the day. Turn off your monitor, cell phone, close your office door (if you can). Any place you can shut out distraction. Then, just sit. Even if it’s five minutes, you’ll feel it. In going with our analogy, think of this as “nap time” for adults. Kids need it. So do grown-up kids, i.e. “adults.”

Depending on where you work (or who you work for) your options may be limited. That doesn’t mean you can’t unplug. You’ll just have to get creative.

If you start implementing some of these changes into your workflow, you will feel a difference. It’s biologically impossible for you not to!

There is high-level research being done on the link between rest and productivity. Suffice to say that taking breaks during the day allows us to gather the mental debris floating around in our heads and get rid of it. It’s not wishful thinking; it’s science.

So the next time you see a group of elementary kids playing in the schoolyard, ask yourself the question, “Did I get my recess today?”

Questions: Do you take breaks during the day? If so, what do you do during that time? If not, why not? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    Great post. I’m learning all these things as I’ve gone back to study a Masters Degree in Education this year. The toughest thing sometimes is taking a break, but if I don’t re-energise then the work suffers. It is actually more beneficial to me to take a break, get out of the library and outdoors.

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    I do take breaks during my workday.

    Lunch time is my main “recess”. I grab leftovers from home and bring a nice, healthy meal for lunch. I then kick back in the truck and read a good book. If I’m really jonesing, I take a walk through the nice wooded area provided in the park.

    I also take small breaks throughout the day. If I have to drive down to the other plant, I’ll take a slightly different route back while rolling down the windows. Letting the cool, spring breeze flow over me.

    And sometimes it’s just getting up and walking away from my desk. Taking a stroll through the shop floor or a quick jot outside to throw something away.

  • Mary Brotherton

    I walk with the camera of my cellphone read to see what surprises await me during my lunch break. I’m physically out and seeing the world from a photographer’s perspective, which is a step into the creative world, a distinct difference from my editorial work.

    • Rachel Lance

      Great idea, Mary! Looking at the world with photography in mind erases the daily noise and is so cathartic. I hadn’t thought of using my iphone to get a mini dose of photo fix. Thanks!

  • Lisa V.

    Definitely do some reading when I’m solo.  Try also to take a walk.  In our office with no windows it’s downright claustrophobic at times.   Sometimes taking lunch with coworkers is great but often conversation is about work which is the exact opposite of what you want to do.

    • Rachel Lance

      No windows? Yikes! Can you get out of the building for some fresh air and daylight? I have a great window but still I often find myself retreating to my car for some quiet time during the day. 

  • http://twitter.com/MarieWiere Marie Wiere

    Some lunch times I’ll take my lunch and school books and sit in Starbucks. Its nice to get out of the office and far better than the days when I eat lunch in my office. Great post Justin!

    • Rachel Lance

      Starbucks doesn’t pride themselves on being our “third place” for nothing! The change of scenery, the fresh air, the mental stimulation – they’re all doing you a world of good! (I’m guessing a tasty beverage is in there too – always helpful!)

      • http://twitter.com/MarieWiere Marie Wiere

        Oh yes the beverage and the great atmosphere are the best part!

  • Jessica Zirbes

    Justin,
    I totally agree! I never related this need to children, interesting. My mental breaks include boot camp class, yoga and cooking.

    I recently wrote an article titled: 5 ways to reduce stress
    http://www.healthnutblogger.com/5-ways-to-reduce-stress/
    Enjoy!

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      Thanks for the link, Jessica.

  • Dldnfoote

    Teachers know how important spontaneous breaks are for learning. Unfortunately recess…as well as Kindergarten play time….is fast disappearing in the current academic crunch.

  • Rashaan Mateen

    I have an amazing 5th floor lunch crew that I eat with everyday. We emphasize our lunch on this very principal. Taking a break. We tell jokes, we laugh, and we just have fun and talk everything other than work. It’s truly a diverse group too. I love it and I look forward to it everyday

  • Rsr777

    Great, great article…Thanks for caring enough to post…have already forwarded it on to some life-changers that forget to do recess!

  • http://www.laurasmithauthor.com/ Laura L. Smith

    For me running is the ultimate recess. Yes, it gives my body the physical pick me up it needs – increasing heart rate, blood flow, etc. But more importantly, it helps my mind unwind. As I run, my brain dumps all the little thoughts and problems and questions it has been storing up since my last run. They unwind, unravel, get solved and aired out. I finish my run refreshed mentally and physically – more prepared to dive back in and tackle my tasks for the day

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      I’m with you, Laura. There’s nothing quite like a midday run. Energizing!

  • Kathy

    For all the workaholics – how about a few suggestions on how to shut off thinking about work in your silence, walks, etc. Techniques to change what you’re pondering would be helpful!  Thanks.

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      IMO, the biggest tip is to not get too down on yourself. I used to beat myself up for thinking about work-related things when I was taking down time. But then I realized, “Hey, this is what I’m passionate about!”

      Second, I always carry a notebook with me to jot down ideas and get them out of my brain. This way I can unload what I’m thinking about and focus on winding down. Easier said than done, but that’s why the first tip is there ;)

  • AmericanWriter

    Also ditch your blackberry… and sacrilegiously fast your iPhone on a regular basis. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.coorts Jason Coorts

    Great blog. One book on leadership, can remember the name or author now, had a term called ‘muse time’ where you have a time in your day to read with nothing in particular you’re trying to accomplish related to your job. A sort of personal development ‘me time’. I tend to get caught up with world/local news and espn.com over my lunch hour, yes hour,  if I’m not eating lunch with someone.  I do tend to be a lot more productive in the next couple of hours following.

  • Kendall Lyons

    Excellent article here. Also, I JUST ran into the site of Justin Wise, so, definitely no coincidence.

    I did something today I haven’t done in a while. When I came home from work, I left my TV off a good grand most of the evening. I cracked open one of my books, “Not A Fan” by Kyle Idleman, and truly am better because of that time taken. 

    As for my lunch breaks, I do need to work on those!

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      Welcome aboard, Kendall!

  • http://www.pmhut.com/ PM Hut

    Hi Justin,

    When we’re kids, we are very very productive, we always want to do work, it always seems that we’re never tired of working and it always seems that there was never enough work for us (we always wanted more).

    But then, we didn’t really need to work – could it be that productivity is inversely proportional to the need of working. (That’s why rich people are more productive than poor people).

  • http://journalmissionalliving.wordpress.com/ Sharon Hoover

    Such a fun post! Thanks for the reminder to get out and play. Our illusion that efficiency means nose-to-the-grindstone reduces our ability to truly contribute. I just wrote an article about the life-changing benefits of simply opening your windows! 

  • http://www.dental-management.net/ DentalAccountant

    I really like this post. I agree that many people now a days are very stress that they forget to take a break and sometimes don’t have time for their family. Thanks for this reminder. :-)

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  • http://twitter.com/lcsper_lucas Lucas Pereira

    Ha! I’d be tempted to never come back if there was a fixed recess.

  • Len_gee

    I work on crafts. Something I can work on with my hands. Mostly paper crafts.