Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime.
A 2010 LexisNexis survey of 1,700 white collar workers in the U.S., China, South Africa, the U.K. and Australia revealed that on average employees spend more than half their workdays receiving and managing information rather than using it to do their jobs; half of the surveyed workers also confessed that they were reaching a breaking point after which they would not be able to accommodate the deluge of data.
Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity
To summarize, Americans and their brains are preoccupied with work much of the time. Throughout history people have intuited that such puritanical devotion to perpetual busyness does not in fact translate to greater productivity and is not particularly healthy. What if the brain requires substantial downtime to remain industrious and generate its most innovative ideas? "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets," essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. "The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration--it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."
a recent comprehensive meta-analysis by Jessica de Bloom, now at the University of Tampere in Finland, demonstrates that these benefits generally fade within two to four weeks. In one of de Bloom's own studies 96 Dutch workers reported feeling more energetic, happier, less tense and more satisfied with their lives than usual during a winter sports vacation between seven and nine days long. Within one week of returning to work, however, all the feelings of renewal dissipated. A second experiment on four and five days of respite came to essentially the same conclusion. A short vacation is like a cool shower on an oppressively muggy summer day--a refreshing yet fleeting escape.
Instead of limiting people to a single weeklong vacation each year or a few three-day vacations here and there, companies should also allow their employees to take a day or two off during the workweek and encourage workers to banish all work-related tasks from their evenings. In a four-year study, Leslie Perlow of the Harvard Business School and her colleagues tracked the work habits of employees at the Boston Consulting Group. Each year they insisted that employees take regular time off, even when they did not think they should be away from the office. In one experiment each of five consultants on a team took a break from work one day a week. In a second experiment every member of a team scheduled one weekly night of uninterrupted personal time, even though they were accustomed to working from home in the evenings.