Stop Taking Breaks!

How you can see a tenfold increase in your productivity

Posted by Jack He on August 27th, 2020

Picture this scenario: at the beginning of the day, you told yourself that you will finish all your homework, then work on your side projects, then read another productivity book, and finish the day off strong. In the morning, everything was going according to plan. You were doing your homework diligently and got to the point where you got close to 90% done. Then, you came across a difficult question that grinded your momentum to a halt. You've hit a dead end, it feels like squeezing water from stone the more you look at the problem. 30 minutes into solving it, you've decided to take a break and watch some YouTube videos and Netflix. Now you don't want to get back to work because you spent the rest of your day binging Netflix and YouTube. This has probably happened to you at one point or another. In this blog, I'd like to share a useful alternative for when you feel like taking a break after being stuck on a problem for so long.

STOP TAKING SO MANY BREAKS! So the mainstream belief is that when you get bogged down by work, taking a break will help things out. However, there is a flip-side to that coin. And that is, the more breaks you take, the less you want to do work. The more MEANINGFUL work you do, the more you want to work and the easier it becomes to tackle the next challenge. The worst possible thing you can do is to take a break when you are faced with a tough challenge. What this does is that it trains your brain to be in an "escape-hatch" mode. When your brain reaches the "escape hatch" state, that's when all work becomes another mountain you have to surmount and additional breaks becomes an addiction.

Chemistry tells us that the human brain, just like any other organ, is driven by chemical reactions. There is one such chemcial called "Dopamine" that is responsible for everything having to do with pleasure. Your brain does NOT have your best interests in mind, all it cares about is dopamine. That is why there exists people out there who would be willing to throw their entire life away for an additional hour of pleasure. Going back to my "escape hatch" analogy, when you take breaks every time there is difficulty, you train your brain to "phase out" when things get hard. Now, imagine during a job interview, you get stuck answering a tough question and all your brain wants to do is to watch Netflix.

So what's the alternative? Well, what do you usually do when you come across a tough question during a school exam? You skip the problem and do all the easy problems first and then come back to the tough problem if you have time. And I believe this approach works in real life when you tackle other issues. When you are met with a challenge, work on an easier problem first, and then get to the hard problem once you've built up enough momentum solving the easy problem. Instead of jumping to take a break when difficulty arises, pick an easier problem to solve instead and this will 10X your productivity.

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