The Power of Recess

Date: Friday, June 19, 2009 by GTD Times Staff

A community contribution by self-professed productivity expert Mike Vardy

We’ve all heard the benefits of taking naps or practicing meditation during your workday can result in one being more productive. We’ve also heard how these things aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive – sometimes (often by accident) they go hand in hand. However, depending on your work environment these suggestions may not be applicable…or even possible.

I’m certain that many employers wouldn’t take it too kindly  if you were seen napping – break or otherwise – on site. That may not be fair, but welcome to life.  I also know that achieving a meditative state can be difficult, unless you work in a church, monastery or perhaps a library. What I would suggest to replace napping and/or meditation is that you look back to your youth, back when you were in grade school. Remember what it was like to have recess.

I had two short recesses and one long recess each day, the latter being sandwiched between the two (amongst classes, of course). The shorter ones were fifteen minutes long and they allowed for quick escapes into the outdoors and away from the rigors of schoolwork. We played foot hockey (only needing a tennis ball and a “borrowed” piece of chalk from the classroom to mark the goal posts at either end of the blacktop), role played our favorite television shows of the era (ours was V, and I generally played as Ham Tyler – Michael Ironside is the Canadian Clint Eastwood) or simply read a Choose Your Own Adventure book. No matter what we did, recess gave us a chance to recharge – and often that is the best way to get refocused.

Fast forward to today. We’re given (or giving ourselves) very little time to take breaks and recharge. Many of us eat lunch at our desks while working, while some don’t rest at all. The old saying “no rest for the wicked” may apply here, but I think it applies to the habit as opposed to the individual. In grade school we used to get a long recess that would accommodate both our lunch break and “mind break.” If you calculate the combined forces of both the short recesses and the long one, that’s an hour of recharging right there. Some of us barely get thirty minutes to eat in our daily routine. It’s amazing how our past recess has become today’s “regress.”

It even started as we moved along the educational chain.

As we moved from grade school into high school, short recesses became abandoned for a simple long lunch hour. This is when skipping class became a popular hobby for most students, myself included. Intense study began to replace interaction between studying. No more foot hockey (unless you happened to go to a school where they had a varsity team – highly unlikely), no more role playing (unless you were in the Dramatic Arts or spending time in the school psychologist’s office) and the only choosing you did during breaks was what you were going to major in.
Then came college or university. This is when the places you went to learn were described as “institutions.” Some made it through, some dropped out and some are still there – or go back because there’s always more to learn. There’s nothing wrong with learning and challenging yourself to be the best you can be. But even the best need breaks to reflect, recharge and refocus. Even Michael Jordan got a break between quarters (and a larger one between halves).

You see, recess equals progress.

We need to take breaks, and we need to take them often. I can’t say how many or how long you may need to take, but you need to take them. I don’t think anyone could – or should – try to absorb something that is vital in a short amount of time. David Allen has suggested that even if you “get” GTD after reading the book, you should read it again. And again. And again some more.

So I’ll leave you with the following “choices.” Now that you’ve absorbed the idea of reintroducing recess into your life, do you:

a) Increase the amount of work you do to offset the recesses you’re now going to take? If so, go to #1.

b) Dismiss this article as mere fantasy and continue on as usual? If so, go to #2.

c) Start your first recess right away? If so, go to #3.

Your adventure has been chosen…

1) You find it impossible to balance more stuff and your co-workers find you weeks later buried amongst papers in your inbox.

2) I’m surprised you took the time to read this. Think about that.

3) You bring the tennis ball; I’ve still got the chalk.



4 Responses to “The Power of Recess”

  1. OogieM says:

    I like it. I took your advice and invited a few friends over to play anytime this afternoon. If they come we’ll knit, spin, weave, tat, naalbind and chat. If not I think I’ll do one or more of the above myself.

    We all have to take time to play.

    Thanks for the reminder

  2. Patricia says:

    very good reminder. thanks Mike and GTD Times!

  3. Glenn Mandelkern says:

    My line of work is in Sales & Marketing, with special emphasis in promotions. This can be a very creative line of work at times, and you really need to concentrate while paradoxically also having a free flow of ideas.

    Many of us creative types suffer from the tyranny of the blank page. It doesn’t matter if we’ve written 10 songs before or 100 ads, it’s that next one that drives us crazy. Sometimes, getting started merely consists of knowing and embracing that Next Action from GTD, especially its physical components.

    Then there’s other times that it just doesn’t come. Alas, some employers even in this unwired age still insist only face time counts. Yet I know from personal experience that some of my best ideas have actually come when I just walk away.

    “Let me sleep on it” from Meat Loaf is great advice. You’re not slacking off, you’re engaging in background processing. Even that is worth charging for!

  4. ForceDotMom says:

    Ah – if only that time WERE truly billable. I think that there must be something in the way our brains work that allows stuck things to get rattled loose when we step away. I think that’s probably why all the good ideas come when you’re in the shower or washing dishes.

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