Grownups Need Recess, Too

A New York Times story (the most emailed article for much of today and yesterday) reports on the positive impact school recess has on academic performance. Here’s how it begins: “The best way to improve children’s performance in the classroom may be to take them out of it.”

The paradoxical lesson of this story is relevant not just for school children but for us grownups, too: taking time out to restore and rejuvenate ourselves results not in reduced performance caused by less time dedicated to work, but to increased performance caused by the stronger, more focused effort you bring to work after fruitful rest.

But in the midst of this soul-crushing, terror-inducing recession, how can anyone think seriously, and without guilt, about undertaking activity that isn’t directly reducing costs or increasing revenues? The short answer is that you can’t afford not to.

Our minds, our bodies, and our spirits can only go so far without some care and feeding. So perhaps the more difficult question is this: How do I do it in a way that works and is sustainable? Here are some tips for the rejuvenation-starved:

  1. Whatever you do for your recess, try it in small steps for starters. You are much more likely to make it happen if you undertake some activity that doesn’t require a big restructuring of your life.
  2. Make a list of the benefits — direct or indirect — that your recess will have on other people in your life. Not only will you feel less guilty about doing something that at first might have seemed selfish, but you’ll actually be more likely to do it when you realize how it will benefit others.
  3. Enroll someone you trust to serve as your coach. It could be anyone, so long as they can provide both support and accountability pressure.
  4. After a week or two, get feedback from the people who matter to you to see if indeed you’re better able to serve their needs and interests as a result of taking your recess.
  5. Finally, adjust as you learn what’s working and what’s not, again, from the point of view of the people around you. There are tons of ways it might not work! But these will be many fewer if the people around you see your recess as useful for them, too.

What might this grown-up recess look like in practice? Here are a few examples:

Shut off your BlackBerry or cell phone for 30 minutes each day, whenever works best. Yes, this alone can count as recess. Just shutting off the stream can leave you feeling more focused when you turn it back on.

Take a yoga class.
One hour a week is a pretty small step. What’s the benefit to others? Well, if yoga relaxes you, maybe you’ll be a more pleasant boss, parent, partner, or friend to be around. And improving your health and posture might mean less time absent from work. Going with a friend or coworker means you’ll be less likely to skip class.

Treat yourself to a weekly food splurge at a farmer’s market or local co-op. You have to buy food anyway, so there’s little extra time involved, and if you’re someone who enjoys cooking and eating, preparing a meal can be a relaxing and creative activity. And it’s just more fun when you get to use fresher or more unusual foods. Benefits? You get to spend more time with your loved ones, and you’re less stressed and distracted at work because you feel more connected to your family.

Read a book for fun.
Try to set aside 20 minutes a day, at first. How will a little light reading on your part make things better for others? Maybe it will make you a more interesting conversationalist for your friends, or a role model for your kids. Maybe something you read for fun will give you a great idea for something at work – that random cross-pollination is a big part of creativity. Pair up with a friend and agree to swap books. Or, check the book out from the library: if you have a deadline you need to finish by, you’ll be more likely to make the time to read it.

Do a crossword during your lunch break. Studies have shown that regularly doing crossword puzzles helps strengthen the mind and may delay the onset of dementia or forgetfulness. Taking at least a 15 minute break during lunch will make you fresher for the afternoon.

If you’re stuck, post a comment and we’ll see what we can do to help. And if you’ve already found a good way to take a recess that improves your performance at work, let us know. In the meantime, let’s all keep learning from our children!

5 Responses to “Grownups Need Recess, Too”

  1. Depending on your physical condition, I highly recommend joining a local recreational sports team, e.g, basketball, volleyball, softball. It doesn’t have to be highly competitive, just enough for your age group. Recently, I started playing indoor soccer, after more than a decade hiatus. The camaraderie, exercise, routine, and fun are immeasurable. Since then, I started playing squash at the local Y with another friend. I was never one for the gym, but I’m always ready for a good game with friends.

    Paul St. Amant

  2. Dan Hou says:

    For folks with extremely busy schedules, sometimes you simply can’t commit to weekly team games and/or practices.

    A great alternative situation is to find a regular pickup game. In NYC, you can always find other players between 6-9pm at Pier 40. In Seattle, try Bobby Morris field in Capitol Hill.

    The competition is great, the exercise just as rigorous, and you save yourself on league fees. Also, most of these games have a disproportionally high percentage of non-English speaking immigrants, so you’ll get some cultural exposure to boot.

  3. Loved this list!

    Personally, Wii Fit boxing has been a real recess for me. It requires real concentration (if you want to score well) and gets your adrenaline going. Plus, if you’ve had a bad day, this is a great way to channel negative energy out of your system.

    Another great one is taking a class. Nothing heavy, but something structured in a hobby or some area of personal interest. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people with similar interests. Plus getting better at something you like to do but don’t have to do is really rewarding.

    And finally, there is nothing like an animated movie. Reminds you of the innocence of youth, the creativity potential of the mind, and is so far from reality, it should not be stressful.

  4. Tracy Simon says:

    I guess the fact that I am reading this blog at 3:30 AM means I need to take some of the great advice here to heart, huh? But seriously, I would add to this list the importance of achieving healthful sleep. It doesn’t cost anything and I think makes a world of difference in your work environment as well as outside of work. As a working mom, if this is the one thing I achieve for myself all day I know it will have major payoffs. I try to stick to a sleep routine that includes shutting down the brain at 8:30 PM every night – typically, this involves what you suggest above (light, fun reading). But, I heard a cool tip recently for those nights when you are just stuck ruminating …. write down a list (get it all out on paper) and then tuck it away in a drawer for the next day. Tell yourself that you are not allowed to think about any of those things on the list until tomorrow (they are put away for today). You won’t need to hold onto any of those thoughts b/c they are on paper and can be revisited at any time. Hmmm, I wish I would done this before bed tonight and maybe I’d be asleep right now 🙂 Anyway, I liked this blog topic a lot … keep them coming!

  5. Janet Helm says:

    Thanks Stew.
    I love recess- elementary school recess included usually skinning my knees chasing the boys around the schoolyard, playing tetherball, and sharing stories with my friends. What a blast! Recess for me now is twice a day at work, 5 deep breaths- you can’t help but stay present.
    A walk around the block for fresh air- rain, sleet or snow is rejuvenating. I’ll sometimes ask a colleague to join me. This to me is great leadership as we get back to the studio refreshed, smiling, eager to get back to work, and without skinned knees.


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