No matter how busy work and the holiday activities get, don’t forget to take a little time to do nothing.

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It’s that busy time of year again — time to finalize your department’s 2018 strategic plan and budget and then write end-of-year performance appraisals for your employees (to name just a few).

While work activities often tend to increase in December, so do personal activities. There’s Christmas shopping, holiday parties, preparing for out-of-town relatives and guests … making a list and checking it twice, as the old saying goes.

With increased work activities and more personal activities during December, don’t forget to take a little time to do nothing … because taking breaks could make you more productive.

Have you ever sat at your desk working on a task for a prolonged period? There have been days lately when I’ve stared at my computer screen typing away until I felt like my brain had gone numb.

According to a study led by University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, that feeling of zoning out on long tasks is because the human brain is built to detect and respond to change, so prolonged attention on a single task can hinder performance. To remain productive, Lleras recommends taking breaks during long tasks.

How long should those breaks be? Robert Pozen, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, says it isn’t about how long your breaks should be. “The real question is what is the appropriate time of concentrated work you can do before taking a break?” says Pozen.

According to Pozen’s research, it’s best to take a break every 75 and 90 minutes. That break time gives your brain a rest and allows it to consolidate the information on which you’ve been concentrating.

Reading about Pozen’s research made me think about two-hour meetings at work. I usually start out feeling good at the beginning of a long meeting, but then my mental energy seems to decrease at about the 60-minute mark. And by around 90-minutes, my body feels like it’s screaming for a break.

It’s nice to know that research reinforces that humans work better with periods of concentrated effort broken up with breaks, to give our brains (and bodies) a chance to recover. This work-really-hard-and-then-take-a-break pattern is called “pulse and pause” by Tony Schwartz, the founder of the Energy Project.

“Human beings are not machines,” says Schwartz. “We’re designed to move rhythmically between spending and renewing energy. By doing so, we can get more done, in less time, at a higher level of quality, in a more sustainable way.”

Even though December can be a busy month, don’t forget to take time out to rest and rejuvenate. Work hard for 90 minutes on that project, and then take a coffee or tea break and catch up with a colleague. Power shop for an hour, and then take a break to grab lunch or dinner with your family or friends.

Don’t let continuous work activities lead to burnout. We all deserve (and need) to take a little time to relax, renew and do nothing.

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at