Holidays should be the New Normal

This blog has been on holiday, and come back looking different - and feel refreshed. And we should all be taking more time off, if we want to be really successful in work.

Things have been a little quiet around here for two reasons:

  1. We’ve had a refurbishment. How do you like the new look of the site?
  2. I’ve been on holiday.

Sometimes admitting that you’ve been on holiday and haven’t been working while you were away feels like a shameful admissions, in today’s always-on culture. Anyone with any links to the start-up world, where working faster, harder, longer seems to be the norm will know exactly what I mean. But, if we truly want to be good at what we do, we should be taking time off, every single day.


It’s all a function of how our brains work.

The Concentration/Daydreaming cycle

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times exploring how the brain operates, and what that means for downtime:

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s a reason: The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited. This is a result of how the brain’s attentional system evolved. Our brains have two dominant modes of attention: the task-positive network and the task-negative network (they’re called networks because they comprise distributed networks of neurons, like electrical circuits within the brain). The task-positive network is active when you’re actively engaged in a task, focused on it, and undistracted; neuroscientists have taken to calling it the central executive. The task-negative network is active when your mind is wandering; this is the daydreaming mode. These two attentional networks operate like a seesaw in the brain: when one is active the other is not.

In essence, it’s arguing that the brain has two states: productivity, where you implement things, and “daydreaming”, where you come up with the ideas that allow you the execute. If you throw all your energy into the productivity cycle, and ignore the need for daydreaming states, you end up exhausting your brain without ever getting any insight.

Planning around your brain

The neuroscience underlying all this – the article was written by the director of the Laboratory for Music, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University – leads us to some great effectiveness hacks to our lives. For example:

If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day.

The same is true of e-mails.

Fundamentally, we need to be wary of the cult of productivity, because it’s not how the brain operates. We need – biologically – time off:

Taking breaks is biologically restorative. Naps are even better. In several studies, a nap of even 10 minutes improved cognitive function and vigor, and decreased sleepiness and fatigue. If we can train ourselves to take regular vacations — true vacations without work — and to set aside time for naps and contemplation, we will be in a more powerful position to start solving some of the world’s big problems.

So take some time off, read the article, and think how you could run your working life better come the autumn.