Why you should slow down and adopt a 24/6 schedule
Want to be more productive and happier? ‘The Hard Break’ author Aaron Edelheit recommends taking one day a week to do nothing but relax. Here’s how to make it work for your busy lifestyle.
With summer in the rearview mirror, the kids are back in school, your vacation (if you took one) is just a nice memory, and work is picking up speed. Your to-do list is starting to look endless. So, the best way to keep up is to put in more hours, work harder, and never stop checking your cell phone—right?
That’s what Aaron Edelheit, author of The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle, used to think. A serial entrepreneur who is now chief strategy officer of FLO Technologies and founder of investment firm Mindset Capital, Edelheit used to work nonstop. It wasn’t until he experienced a series of setbacks, including emergency surgery and a string of stock-market losses, that made him rethink the work concept of always being “on.”
“Working all the time wasn’t working,” he told Monster. “I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I didn’t have the energy, or the ideas, that I knew I was capable of. I needed to make a big change.”
Eventually, he began to take one day off every week. To his surprise, he found that stashing his cell phone in a drawer and dedicating an entire day to quality time with family and friends, doing things just for fun, actually makes him more productive on the other six days. “It renews my energy and my passion,” Edelheit says. “I can do my best work, knowing I have a real break coming up.”
For his book, Edelheit gathered evidence for the benefits of taking time off, finding that chronic overwork leads to sharp declines in judgment and reasoning—and a notable rise in preventable mistakes. “Our brains need time to decompress in order to work properly,” he says.
While the idea of the Sabbath as a once-weekly day of rest is far from a new concept, Edelheit says that with the way we live today, we need to practice it now more than ever.
Monster recently spoke with Edelheit about how to carve out a “hard break” in even the busiest schedule.
Q. Why do so many Americans resist taking time off—even paid vacation days?
A. One travel-industry study found that Americans leave 705 million vacation days unused every year and, even if we do leave work for a few days, surveys show that more than half of us work at least part of the time while we’re supposedly on vacation. Generally, this comes from good intentions. We want to achieve more! It’s the American “can-do” spirit.
But there’s also an element of ego involved. One thing I realized when I started taking a weekly day off is that, guess what, the world keeps spinning without you. No one is indispensable. It’s humbling—but it also takes a huge amount of pressure off.
Q. How does working nonstop actually make us less productive?
A. Ever had a good idea or a solution to a problem while in the shower or taking a walk? It turns out that something called the “default mode network” kicks in when we’re relaxed and not thinking too hard about anything in particular.
The default mode network is what processes information and makes connections between disparate facts and ideas. It’s what makes us creative and innovative. But when we’re constantly “on call,” responding to our cell phones and never allowing the default mode network to kick in, it’s impossible to do that kind of thinking, which, ironically, is what it takes to succeed today.
Q. You note that professional sports teams offer a useful example of how to approach work and rest. Could you explain?
A. For a long time, teams used to push athletes to their absolute limits of endurance. Even if they were injured, coaches told players to “rub some dirt in it” and keep going. Pitchers who pitched entire games were prized. Now, there’s so much more hard data available on performance, showing, for example, that after a certain number of throws, the quality of those pitches goes way down.
That has led to a revolution in the sports world, which now follows a strict regimen of playing hard and then taking a total break. Unfortunately, the acknowledgment that peak performance requires periods of real rest hasn’t carried over to the business world just yet.
Q. In The Hard Break, you recommend taking “baby steps” toward a weekly day of complete rest. Why?
A. We often like to take big leaps, which is why crash diets are so popular—but starting a big change with small, incremental steps usually sticks better. In my own case, I began by shutting off my cell phone for less than 24 hours, from late Friday until 3 p.m. Saturday. Then, once I saw that I could do that, I added a few more hours, where I spent time playing with my daughter or enjoying a meal with friends with no distractions, which was wonderful. The idea is to get comfortable with one step before you take the next one, until you’re there.
Q. How do you avoid tackling errands and chores on your day off?
A. The notion that weekends are when you catch up on chores and errands is kind of like thinking you have to eat all of your vegetables before you can have ice cream—that is, you have to finish all of your tasks before you can relax. The trouble is, that to-do list is never finished, is it? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently did a survey that found 83% of Americans said they spend no time—zero time, ever!—“relaxing or thinking.” That’s startling, and it’s incredibly stressful.
Get in the habit of telling yourself that, on this one day, you’re not allowed to do errands or chores. Write down a list of the things that need to get done. Then, put away the list. You won’t forget any since they’re all written down, and you can fit them in later. All those chores and errands will get done. They just won’t get done today.
How to job search on your day off
As a job seeker, you might think taking even just one day off could mean missing out on plum job opportunities. Want to make sure you don’t miss anything? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you not only get job alerts emailed right to your inbox, which cuts down on the amount of time you’d spend combing through ads, but you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to different types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. So, sit back and let Monster do the hard work for you.
Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics since 1996. She is a columnist for Fortune.com and the author of If My Career’s on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?