Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Take a Recess. Be More Productive.

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Guest post by Dave Crenshaw

Think back to when you were a kid in about third grade. You’ve been in the classroom the better part of the day and a draining feeling would start to occur. Before long, that tell-tale sign of lethargy begins to set in. You feel drained. You stare at the round, black and white clock on the wall waiting for it to strike 1:00 pm because you knew that meant it was time for recess. That’s when your heart burst free, and for 30 minutes you were able to get outside and do something you enjoyed—whether kickball, foursquare, monkey bars or just sitting and talking with friends.


Recess was a time to break away from the rigors of schoolwork. You didn’t know it at the time, but it probably helped your schoolwork as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics has repeatedly emphasized that children need to have downtime between cognitive challenges. Even the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights weighed in, recognizing the right for children to play as an essential part of their well-being.

Yet, oddly enough, so many schools have greatly reduced recess or have eliminated it altogether. According to some studies, as many as 50 percent of American kids no longer have recess. This, despite overwhelming evidence showing how it can improve performance.

This recess shortage has been making its way to the adult side as well. Employees at almost every level are taking less time off than ever before. Nearly 55 percent of all Americans fail to use up all of their vacation time. This resulted in an estimated record-setting 658 million vacation days wasted that year according to Time Off’s 2016 report.

As a nation, it seems we’re in a race to see who can get burnt-out the fastest. But, if you want to be more productive, use those vacation days. The same study showed that employees were more likely to get a raise when they took 11 or more days of vacation compared to their counterparts that took 10 or less.

The answer is obvious—if you want to get ahead you need an adult recess.

Daily Recess

For some, vacations just aren’t realistic expectations more than once a year, unless you consider family get togethers during the holidays as vacation. Many times, that can be more stressful than work, depending on your family!

That’s why it’s important to take an adult recess every day. This is essentially a 30-minute break to snack, listen to music, or engage in any kind of unstructured playtime. When you do this, you’ll improve your work performance.

When employees were encouraged to take breaks, they reported a 78 percent increase in their sense of healthiness and well-being, according to a study by the Harvard Business Review and the Energy Project. They also found that those who took breaks at least every 90 minutes reported a 40 percent increase in creative thinking and a 28 percent improvement in focus.

As an added bonus, not only do you get a little “me-time” in each work day, you are setting an amazing example to those around you. A company is a reflection of its leadership and taking time out for yourself will set a powerful and healthy example to the others around you.

As adults, too many of us have forgotten how to enjoy ourselves. We’re stuck in a perpetual cycle of sensible shoes and sensitive teeth. You had a list of things you used to do for fun, but somewhere along the way, someone stole recess from you. It’s time to steal it back and watch your productivity soar.

Questions: How important are vacations for your work? Do you take breaks during the work day? Please leave a comment in the space below.

Dave Crenshaw is the master of building productive leaders and has transformed hundreds of thousands of business leaders worldwide. He has appeared in TIME magazine, USA Today, FastCompany, and the BBC News. His courses on LinkedIn Learning have received millions of views. He has written three books and counting, including The Myth of Multitasking which was published in six languages and is a time-management bestseller. His fourth book, The Power of Having Fun, releases September 19th. Learn more about Dave at DaveCrenshaw.com.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers often get too caught up in their work; I know I do at times. Taking a ‘recess’ is a great idea to break things up a bit during the day. Even better, take some of your engineer or marketing or sales friends with you…they’ll thank you.

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