Taking the time to refocus and rest might be what you need to push your work to the next level.

I have to admit, I wasn’t that surprised by some of the comments I received in response to my recent What Are YOU Doing for Lunch? post. Comments like, “Lunch, what is that?” and “I’m lucky to shove a sandwich in my face while I’m working!”

I was expecting those comments, because I work in 9-to-5 corporate America myself. I’ve skipped plenty a lunch, stayed late and taken work home on the weekends. Many of us are under almost impossible workloads and expected to produce even more — preferably by yesterday. So we manage the only way we know how: by racing against the clock to cram as much work into each day as humanly possible.

Unfortunately, all doing and no pausing does not make Jack a good worker. It actually makes him a worse worker as the day wears on.

The Trouble with Always Go-Go-Going

The inescapable truth is that humans need breaks — moments to refuel, recharge and refocus — or else we end up burned out, frazzled and no good to anyone, our jobs included.

News flash: we are not machines. We don’t have endless reserves of energy (mental, physical or emotional). Sure, we can work for eight hours straight without stopping, but the quality of what we produce will inevitably take a nosedive. We get tired and irritable. We have trouble concentrating. We make careless mistakes.

Whatever our corporate culture (and our bosses) might tell us, taking a break is not a luxury. It’s a necessity, especially if we want to continue doing our jobs to the best of our ability.

Life is a Series of Sprints, Not a Marathon

My attitude towards productivity changed radically when I read The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.

It’s written by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, two executive business trainers who started their business by working with athletes to help them reach peak performance. What they learned from this work was paradigm-changing: The best athletes weren’t necessarily the ones who pushed themselves the hardest for the longest time. The best athletes were the ones who had developed effective energy management strategies that incorporated efficient periods of rest.

In other words, it was what these athletes did between exertions that made them successful. They knew that to keep performing at top level, they had to pause to recharge their batteries and regain their balance. So they developed resting routines to maximize in-between time.

Tennis players, for instance, used refocusing techniques between sets. No matter what had happened in the previous set, no matter how much pressure they were under, taking the time to disengage enabled them to shake it off and start fresh, focusing only on the moment at hand. Even something as simple as pausing to take a sip of water could be an opportunity to refocus.

It’s the same thing for worker bees. We can’t constantly push ourselves and expect consistent results if we don’t also allow our minds and bodies a chance to disengage and regroup. We have to allow ourselves time to breathe, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

“But You Don’t Understand; I Seriously Don’t Have the Time!”

Okay, so an hour-long lunch may not be feasible for you. But no matter how busy you are, you can always find a way to steal a few moments to rest and refocus. Every little bit helps.

Loehr and Schwartz were amazed to find that some sprinters they worked with had found a way to maximize the mere seconds they had as they walked back to the starting line between races. They developed a ritual of taking the same number of measured steps, breathing in the same number of deep breaths, so that when the next race started, their heart rate was lower and their focus was sharper than their competitors’. In just seconds, those sprinters gave their bodies the chance to reset as much as possible for the next push.

You, too, can find small opportunities to rest, even in the busiest of days. Maybe you can spare five minutes to walk to the break room to refill your coffee? Or pause for two minutes between one project and the next to refocus? At least take a trip to the restroom. (If you can’t afford even a bathroom stop, then seriously, please start looking for another job.)

Use any break you can find to escape and “reset.” Take some deep, yoga-worthy abdominal breaths. Do some stretches. Relax your shoulders, your jaw muscles, your mind. Sip some water. Visualize something soothing.

Allowing yourself a little time to pause in the midst of your work can do wonders for your productivity and your sanity. So do yourself — and your job — a favor, and pause with me for just a few seconds to take three deep, long breaths. One… two… three.

Now, isn’t that better?

Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do.  You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Katie

    LOVED This. I do property / office management for a Real Estate developer, and I work in his lavish home office. I have always taken a break, however have eaten at my desk and surfed the net (do we still say that?) while I did.

    As of late, I’ve been taking a lunch around 1ish PM and going to the kitchen to eat it. After than 25 mins is up, I definitely feel a new wave of energy, Additionally, that one break is better than taking a bunch of small breaks.

    The change of scenery, the ability to sit at a table and eat lunch has really made all of the difference for me.

    • Cordelia

      Exactly! Even walking away from your desk for a few minutes can make a difference. Anything to disconnect from “work” mode, refresh your perspective, and have a little “me” time.

      I too am a fan of the big lunch break as opposed to several smaller ones, (makes me feel more thoroughly relaxed), but I do try to remember to make an effort to stretch, breath, and rebalance for a few second between projects throughout the day.

      • best diet pills

        Great Post! A real eye-opener of sorts. We are all running against time to complete our work at hand all the time and this leads to an inevitable burn-out.

        • Cordelia

          Exactly. You can’t complete anything if you’re a frazzled mess–or at least not successfully. 😀

  2. Rashida Thompson

    I listened to the audiobook version, and it was an eye opener! It almost seems like a no-brainer because the concept is just so simple. But over the years we’ve been taught to manage TIME, and energy is just a mere expense.

    • Cordelia

      Isn’t it ridiculous how common-sense a concept it is, yet we don’t even think to consider it that way until someone else points it out to us? I definitely had a smack-myself-in-the-head moment of my own reading the book. It’s so simple a perspective shift, but it can radically change how you live your life (rather than being lived by your life).

  3. Alexis Grant

    I needed this reminder today. Thanks!

  4. Whitney Parker

    Thanks Kelly for a wonderful post!

  5. Chrysta Bairre

    I couldn’t agree more! I pondered this very topic when I wrote my blog entry, “An Argument Against Time Management”. Too often we focus on time as what limits us, but I am far more effective and happy when I manage my energy and efforts, not my time.

    I live a healthier, happier and more successful life, including professional growth and accomplishments, when I focus my energy where it matters. I must practice regular self-care, including taking breaks during the day, getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, etc. It’s also essential I spend my energy on what truly matters to me.

    Learning to differentiate between what is important (to me) and what isn’t important is a challenge. Often situations and tasks that seem urgent and important actually aren’t. In these situations I ask myself, “how important is it?” Usually if it’s something that won’t matter, or I won’t remember, in a week, month, or year, it’s probably not really that important.

    I also had to learn to set boundaries, including saying no when appropriate. I have told previous managers that I can’t work late (when I really couldn’t, other times I worked late to get the job done), or that I need a break. I don’t ask to take my lunch break- I take it. Setting appropriate boundaries has never hurt my career.

    If I need additional resources to help me do my job in a reasonable amount of time, I ask for those resources. It’s easy to get caught in a trap of thinking I must figure something out alone, but often I find other people appreciate being asked for their expertise or that a deadline is a little more flexible that I originally thought. Sometimes I need to invest in better office supplies or new equipment to manage my work more effectively. When I need something to do my job, I ask for it!

    Managing my efforts, instead of my time, allows me to work better, work happier, and sleep easier!

    Great post! Thanks for the reminder to focus on what’s important and manage my energy, not my time.

    • Cordelia

      And great tips of your own! Everyone would do well to read your comment after reading the post–it’s a great addendum of ways to do exactly what I’m proposing.

      You’re also ahead of your time in the “just ask” advice–stay tuned for one of my upcoming Brazen posts for just that topic!

  6. MyCollegesandCareers

    I love this concept of energy management, it just makes sense. I’ve been savoring my short breaks outside to appreciate the cooler temperatures and the colorful leaves instead of eating at my desk. A few minutes can make all the difference. -Sarah

    • Cordelia

      They totally can. Sometimes just taking a minute to look out the window in my office, take a few breaths, and appreciate where I am can help me get back to work with renewed energy. Breaks don’t have to be long and involved–any change to change your scenery, change your perspective, or interrupt your stressful day can make a world of difference.

  7. JC Sese-Cuneta (謝施洗)

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been telling the same thing to my friends, peers, and even the corporate people I work with but most of the time it’s falling on deaf ears. People won’t believe you unless you show some “study”. And if you show them one, they still won’t believe you and ask for “more studies”.

    They just don’t want to give people the liberty to rest. They want people to keep working for them, not knowing that the productivity and overall office environment will be put to risks. But hey, they’re the “bosses”, we’re machines only.

    • Cordelia

      I completely feel where you’re coming from. I feel guilty every time someone walks by my desk and I’m not looking immediately “productive.” Working all the time frantically is definitely a “value” that’s been ingrained in our corporate culture for so long that shifting that perspective will be an uphill battle. But the best “study results” you can show is how much more productive and effective an employee you are by allowing yourself time to recharge and renew. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. 😀

  8. Stasbbs

    I love this concept

  9. OfficeTime Software

    This is a beautiful article. One thing I might share, if you feel completely worn out and look at the “to do list” and can’t even get started, is to try setting micro-deadlines. This is a very short time frame, such as ten or even five minutes, where you tackle small tasks to get yourself moving and break past the overwhelm, or even accomplish small portions of larger projects. And of course I always remind people to use a time tracker to really SEE where their time is going. (I love ours best, and I’ll post a link to the free version of our App, but even an egg timer can help someone stay on track.) http://bit.ly/OfficeTimeFree

    Thanks! Definitely posting this article to Facebook to share with the OfficeTime Tribe!

    • Cordelia

      Micro-deadline and time tracking are both great ways to be productive without feeling completely overwhelmed (and to figure out how your time is really being used). Combined with periods of rest and recovery, a good work management system can be infinitely more successful.

      Thanks so much for sharing the post!

  10. David Josh

    Very catchy title there, must say it caught all my attention the moment i landed on the homepage, good read and I agree energy management is very useful for productive outcomes.

  11. Zsa Zsa

    Energy management. Love the term! It’s officially my favorite term for the week! You raise some really important points here, twas a great read! Thanks!

  12. Deena McClusky

    Great piece. As a corporate trainer I work one on one with people to show them how to do an extremely mentally taxing job in the calmest and most efficient way possible. I find that left to their own devices people find it hard to cope with stressful jobs and do actually make the job harder by not taking breaks, over multi-tasking, and worrying too much about deadlines. In most companies you are taught how to do the job, but not how to do the job well. A little corporate consulting with efficiency managers (ie energy managers) would make the world run a lot smoother, and more stress free.

    • Cordelia

      Thank you for getting people to see the important of energy management! It’s just not something we naturally think of–our corporate culture is too focused on multitasking, cramming for deadlines, and looking super-busy all the time. It’s so important that people be reminded that they can only do their best work when they take care of themselves, too. I wish more workplaces had trainers like you!

  13. sivilce nasıl geçer

    i think time management is very important too…

    • Cordelia

      Oh, it absolutely is. If you have poor time management, your circumstances will be chaotic and you won’t have the liberty to focus on energy management. You’ll just be chasing after deadlines you’re about to miss and projects you forgot about.

      Rather, time management and energy management should go hand in hand: You should know how to prioritize and schedule your work, and you should *also* know how to keep yourself going in order to do that work at your best performance level.

  14. septic tank

    The title itself looks interesting. Yeah I agree more of an energy management rather than time.

  15. Dr Scot Gray

    I completely agree with you as a business owner. I have considered giving my staff short nap breaks during the day…there is research that proves that it increases productivity. I think Stephen Covey calls it “Sharpening Your Saw.” He points out that someone cutting down a tree must stop to sharpen their saw to complete his/her job more efficiently. Great article!!

  16. Eosworldwide

    Great article. Goes back to the old saying “work smarter, not harder”.

  17. Adam Perkins

    I think that is a great concept. Life is a series of sprints. At least I think anything that we work towards is. I think it could be broken down into all sorts of segments. Your sprints for the day, the week, the month, the year, and etc. All varying levels of activity and intensity.

    • Cordelia

      Exactly. One bit at a time, allow yourself time to breathe, then the next bit. I believe that’s the “how do you eat an elephant?” philosophy (answer: “one bite at a time”). 🙂

  18. teeth whitening kits

    The world and business will not stop if you take a break for a sandwich!

  19. teeth whitening kits

    The world won’t fall apart if you stop for a sandwich. But you will if you don’t!

  20. SteffL

    Hi Kelly, I truly enjoy this article, and it is very relevant to my quest of improving productivity. I tend to break my work time into segments and ompartmentalize the the tasks in my head so I don’t get overwhelmed.

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    yes, i think as our lives get busier, keeping on schedule is more important that the healthy eating plan. Same with fast food, its the quick fix that does the damage in the long run!

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