Why working ourselves to burnout is ruining our lives.


In our world of fast-paced, stressful work, many of us think we cannot take a break and must push ourselves to our breaking point. Working ourselves until we want to quit our jobs or have an emotional or mental breakdown.

But this isn’t true.

We needed to stop sacrificing ourselves on the altar of productivity.

We need to take a break, learn how to rest.

Rest is part of our everyday life. It is a naturally occurring cycle we need, but so often deny ourselves. And it comes in the form of Ultradian Rhythms.


Ultradian Rhythms and The Basic Rest-Activity Cycle

In the 1960s there was a psychologist by the name of Nathaniel Kreitman who, by most accounts, is the father of sleep research. He, before many others, began research in understanding our sleep and how it benefits us.

After he began his research he started seeing rhythms which seemed to be naturally happening in the sleep cycle as well as during waking hours. What he began to see were ultradian rhythms. 

He found a natural cycle which he called the basic rest-activity cycle. The premise is how we have basic cycling of rest and activity, specifically a focus on activity levels for about 90 minutes or so before our body naturally wants to rest.

Most people today have these natural cycles occurring every 60 to 120 minutes. And it is in these times we are able to do exceptional work before we need to take a break and rest our minds.

And when we learn to take advantage of this naturally occurring rhythm to our day we can begin to experience less stress and more energy in our productivity.

But how do we take advantage of these natural occurring rhythms?


The Pomodoro Technique

In the 1980s is the first time we really see someone start to take advantage of naturally occurring focus cycles in our lives and work. Francisco Cirillo begins to share with the world his technique as to how he is productive by taking advantage of ultradian rhythms.

He coined the Pomodoro Technique after the Italian word for tomato, which was the shape of the kitchen timer he would use in college to help him with productivity.

The basic tenants of his technique describe using the kitchen time to keep track of the time one needs to do specific pre-decided tasks. Here is what he did:

  1. He would pick his tasks, set the timer for 25 minutes. 
  2. Then get to work. 
  3. Once the timer went off, he would take a three to five-minute break.
  4.  Then he would go back to work. 
  5. He would repeat this four times and then take a 15 to 30-minute break.

He would break up his day into smaller pieces in an effort to make getting through his work focused and timely. The goal was to increase focus and workflow and reduce interruptions during work.

After trying this technique I found the traditional 25 minutes was not long enough for me to get many tasks done. And I found it more difficult to stop and go to get through my workflow.

There needed to be some sort of adaptation which actually worked better with our ultradian rhythms.


Activity-Rest Productivity Technique

After being frustrated with the Pomodoro Technique not quite fitting my needs and knowing that my body naturally works on a cycle, I created my own technique based on both ideas. 

Since we have this natural need for rest but are able to focus all on our own for an extended amount of time, one to two hour, what if we used that time frame as our focus and workflow window. 

And then take a longer break then three to five minutes?

The activity-rest productivity technique is born. This has worked wonders for me and others. Here are the basic tenants of the technique:

  1. Choose what tasks or projects you intend to work on for 60, 90, or 120 minutes. 
  2. Set a timer on your phone. Attempt to make sure you are not disturbed by coworkers and get to work.
  3. Once the timer goes off, create a quick note on where you are at and what needs to be done next if you haven’t completed the task or project. If you have completed your task or project, put away everything.
  4. Set your timer for 10, 15, or 20 minutes and take a break and chose a predetermined rest option and start your timer.
  5. Once the timer goes off on rest, go back to work.

This technique has helped me to actually get more done in a short amount of time. And it helps me to use my energy as I have it instead of trying to power through.

It also provides specific times to rest, which we take advantage of by predetermined rest activities, more on this later.

Sometimes our tasks or projects don’t actually take this long, maybe it is only 15 or 30 minutes long. Adjust your rest time accordingly. Maybe you only take five minutes to rest after 30 minutes of work. This is perfectly normal. 

Now, we know we need to rest, and how best to focus on work and find time to rest? But how do we have quality rest?


Find the Best Ways to Rest

Photo by Angelina Kichukova on Unsplash

After we figure out how to best complete focus worked and workflow in our productive days, we also need to know how we can best experience rest. 

Many times we just try to stop working and chit chat with coworkers or surf the web for a little bit, and then go back to work not feeling ready to work at all.

This is because we don’t intentionally rest. We don’t engage rest in the areas we best experience it.

Rest is how it applies to four major aspects of who we are as people. When we choose to rest, we need to focus on spirit, soul, body, and relationships.

What does this mean?

There are activities which help us to rest more effectively. They are experienced in different parts of our being and when we focus on one rest-activity for a specific part of us.

№1 — Give Your Spirit a Break

For many of us, we have some sort of spiritual background. And this plays a role in our lives daily. One important way to experience rest is by taking a break for our spirits. If we have a fast-paced, stressful, and conflict-high profession, this will be important for us.

When we rest focusing on our spirit, we spend our break times reading spiritual texts, praying, meditating, and journaling. We focus our attention to something greater than us and how we can connect to this part of the world.

In resting like this, it helps us gain perspective on the work we do and the people we are interacting with at any given time. And it provides centering of our identity other than one prescribed by work or others.

Here are some ways we can rest our spirit:

  1. Read the Bible or Spiritual Text
  2. Pray or Meditate
  3. Journal
  4. Sing Worship Music
  5. Listen to a sermon or spiritual teaching.

№2 — Learn to Feed Your Soul

Our souls or minds are who we are emotionally and intellectually. And when we learn to rest, we need to focus on how we can build up, slow down, and even out our souls. We need to feed our souls.

When we are looking to feed our souls, we are in search of restful ways to stimulate emotions and our intellect. We can do this by learning, being inspired or motivated by outside forces, or thinking of our future.

And in these ways, it gives our souls something to hold onto if we are emotionally frazzled or intellectually bored. Which both of these things happen with our work. And so it is a good restful activity to do after doing tedious tasks.

Here are some ways we can rest our souls:

  1. Read a book.
  2. Read Inspirational Stories or Articles
  3. Review inspirational or motivational quotes.
  4. Daydream about your future.
  5. Learn or develop a new skill.

№3— Move Your Body to Find Experience Rest

Most of us work in sedentary conditions. Sitting at a desk or table where everything is at our fingertips. And if we are not careful, we can find ourselves only moving a few times throughout the day. Especially if we are behind or have heavy workloads.

To find rest sometimes, we need to get up and move around. Get the blood flowing through our bodies and help release endorphins to help us regulate our physical being. Moving our bodies relieves pain we begin to experience due to stress or from sitting all day long.

Simply getting our heart rate up by moving helps us deal with stressful conversation or situations. And sometimes we need to stretch our muscles to feel a little bit better to go back to work.

Here are some ways we can rest our bodies:

  1. Go for a brisk walk.
  2. Do some stretching or yoga.
  3. Complete some light exercise at the gym.
  4. Drink a glass of water slowly.
  5. Eat a healthy snack while on your walk.

№4 — Cultivate Your Relationships to Find Rest

Lastly, our relationships are important to us. And the best way to rest is connecting with those who we love or care about. This may be family, friends, a mentor or a colleague.

These are the people who build us up and encourage us too. Stay away from those who bring us down or can be negative in nature. These people will not bring rest, but make you feel more exhausted.

However, it is always good to have a few people or relationships which you can call upon when you are taking a break. They will allow you to think of something else which isn’t working and help you deepen those connections a little bit every day.

Here are some ways we can rest with relationships:

  1. Call your family.
  2. Text a friend.
  3. Connect with a mentor.
  4. Write a letter or email to a friend.
  5. Grab coffee with a coworker and don’t talk about work.


We Need to Take Breaks to Create Margin and Be Productive

Our bodies naturally follow in a cycle which helps us get things done and to rest.

Though many of us force ourselves to push through this natural need for rest. We think we can rest later, once we are caught up, or ahead. But the truth is, we need to rest now.

We know all about the natural cycle of our need for rest and we have a technique to make it work for us. Knowing how to work within this natural cycle will help us automatically be more focused and take rest when we need it.

We also know how to take a break more effectively. Saying it this way doesn’t sound much like a break, but the idea is that we don’t need to choose at the moment what we will do or make up options on the fly. We have a list of ways to rest right away.

When we learn to rest, even when we are behind or busy, it will help us get caught up and slow our work down. When we can do this, we experience less stress and exhaustion from work.

And we can truly begin to enjoy the productivity success we are starting to experience.

Do you follow something similar to this now? Does this sound useful for your workflow? Share in the responses below.


J.R. Heimbigner is husband, father, writer, and committed to seeing people live their best lives. He writes about intentional living, productivity, and the journey of writing.
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J.R. Heimbigner is husband, father, writer, and committed to seeing people live their best lives. He writes about intentional living, productivity, and the journey of writing.

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