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Easy New Year’s Resolutions, Part 1: Resolve to Rest

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by Ryan Anderson

on 01 January, 2015

Welcome to the New Year, the holy day for our patron saint Willpower. This is the time we look to willpower to fix our lives, including our work performance. But this year, we invite you to use that willpower for something other than outlandish tasks like giving up sugar or sculpting washboard abs. Here we’re suggesting the first of three soft ‘n easy workplace resolutions for 2015.

 Resolve to Rest

While everyone in your life is telling you to work harder, we inviting you to indulge in some high-quality rest.

This is especially true if you’re doing difficult, taxing work. Humans appear to have natural rhythms which govern both their ability to focus and their need for breaks. Peak productivity appears to come in ninety-minute lumps, followed by a twenty-minute recovery period. The research shows that those who schedule ninety-minute no-distraction bouts of work, followed by refreshing, twenty-minute breaks, get more accomplished than those who try to go non-stop all day.

Humans appear to have natural rhythms which govern both their ability to focus and their need for breaks.

So tackle your big project for ninety minutes (and in those ninety minutes, put aside your urges to get another cup of coffee, organize your desk, or watch out the window — you know you’ll have time for those things in just a little while). When the ninety minutes are up, ignore the looks of your harried, breakless coworkers and go outside for a breath of fresh air. Indulge for the full twenty minutes and then dive back into the next wave of productivity.

After all those breaks (and, yes, also work), resolve to enjoy ample sleep. Research following top athletes and performers show that they get around two hours more sleep a day than the average American — levels that most of us might consider indecently indulgent.

But there are good reasons to indulge. Chronic sleep deprivation can be as bad for your cognition as drinking so much you can no longer legally drive. If you’re not sleeping enough, it’s like you’re showing up to work tipsy every day. If you think you’re immune, remember that like the drunk guy at the party, the sleep-deprived person typically has no idea how impaired his or her function actually is.

Qualitatively, this means less patience, a blurred focus, depleted energy, and weak memory. Quantitatively, one hour less of sleep lost nightly has been found to correlate with an average of 16% decreased wages, the equivalent of losing one year of schooling. Collectively, sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.

Chronic sleep deprivation can be as bad for your cognition as drinking so much you can no longer legally drive.

In an article which refers to sleep deprivation as “the performance killer,” Dr. Charles A. Czeisler from Harvard Medical School notes that even corporations which have strict policies to prevent “employee endangerment — rules against workplace smoking, drinking, drugs, sexual harassment, and so on,” will push employees to levels of sleeplessness that are disastrous for their personal lives and workplace performance.

There are a lot of resources out there for improving your sleep quality. One of the most interesting (or worrying) concerns new research on our penchant to stare at screens late into the night. About 95% of us look at a screen of some kind in the hour before we go to bed — whether we’re watching TV, playing video games, or working on laptops or cell phones. But the bright light from these screens wrecks havoc on our circadian rhythms, making falling asleep more difficult and the resulting sleep less restful. If you’re looking for a place to start improving your sleep quality, reach for a newspaper or book next time you’re looking for a way to relax before bed.

And while everyone else this first week of January is waking up early to get to the gym and staying up late to finish that novel they always hoped to write, we hope that you are sticking to your resolution and snoozing away, allowing your body and brain rest and renew themselves.