If other people keep improving and you don’t, you’ll fall behind. Your productivity will start to decline if you don’t become a lifelong learner, who always takes good care of yourself and do constant improvements in your life. The popular term for this life advice is called sharpening the saw (it's Franklin Covey's habit 7 of successful people).
At the same time, your productivity will drastically decline with time if you don’t take proper rest if you don't take enough recovery time. That’s called putting down the saw. You have to tackle both to achieve peak performance and maximum success.
Why is putting down the saw so important?
Research has shown over and over again, that your productivity declines if you don’t take regular time off. You might feel like your productivity levels stay the same no matter how much you work, but they don’t.
Without proper time off, your work capacity starts to decline. You start making bad choices, you become much more anxious and the list of negative effects goes on and on. You just can’t stay highly productive without proper rest.
Now, how much time off do you really need, what is the bare minimum?
First of all, you need to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Without proper sleep, your brainpower, physical fitness, mental bandwidth to make smart choices, everything goes down. In a big way.
So, go to sleep early, and make sure you get a sufficient amount of sleep. No excuses. It’s not that hard. Turn off the TV and go to sleep at 10 PM the latest.
Then we have daily breaks. After every flow, or at least after every two-hour block of work, you should take 5 – 10 minutes off. Stretch, practice deep breathing, browse funny photos of cats, take a power nap, it doesn’t matter.
Just make sure you don’t only work, work, work, but also take some time to rest. In all that, make sure your little 10-minute pauses don’t turn into hour-long time‑wasting activities.
Next, if you organize yourself properly, you should be able to finish all the important tasks in 6 to maximum 10 working hours, depending on your current life situations and goals.
An all-nighter from time to time won’t hurt you, but working long hours for months or even years on end, is a sign of workaholism that only leads to depression, anxiety and a poor quality of life. Put a cap on 8, maybe 9 hours of work per day.
And then we have the real time off. Take at least one guilt-free hour of play every day. No work, no chores, nothing, just play.
Next, take one day in a week completely off. No technology, no tasks, no meetings or even thinking about work.
Then take an extended weekend off, for four days or so, every quarter.
And last but not least, one or two big holidays per year, lasting at least a week. A whole week, without any work. Zero work, promise me.
If you follow these rules, your long-term productivity will never decline, especially if you are a workaholic. If you are one, force yourself to rest.
Never forget to sharpen the saw
Let’s now move on to sharpening the saw. While putting down the saw is about the rest, sharpening the saw is about investing in yourself.
It’s about putting yourself first and taking good care of yourself. There are four layers of human existence that you have to take good care of:
- Your physical body, and taking good care of it includes proper exercise, nutrition, stress management, getting sufficient sleep and taking proper time off as we already mentioned.
- Then you have taking care of your mental fitness, which includes reading, doing online courses, visiting seminars, visualizing, planning, writing, keeping a journal, and so on.
- In the third place, we have your emotions. You can’t be productive if you don’t feel good about yourself and your work. Reflecting on your feelings, connecting with people, being grateful, doing community service or charity work, expressing yourself, all that leads to better emotional health.
- Last but not least, we have the spiritual body, which means cultivating the notion that life is a gift, being connected to your deepest self, doing meditation or prayer, and so on. You know, being part of something larger than yourself.
These are the four layers of human existence that you have to take good care of. You will achieve your peak performance only if you nurture and invest into yourself.
So, make sure you regularly sharpen the saw but also put down the saw when it’s time to rest. Put yourself first and your productivity will skyrocket.