The proposal profession is a milestone- and deadline- driven profession. We are constantly producing documents and making decisions based on tight calendar schedules. As a result, proposal professionals often spend long – and odd hours at night and on weekends – responding to RFPs.
For many of us, these means keeping our bodies in chairs, keeping our noses to the grindstone, and keeping our fingers on the keyboard. We operate on the assumption that the more time we put in, the more we can produce.
However, this assumption may be wrong. According to an article in The New York Times by Phyllis Korkki, there is a growing body of scientific, physiological, and neurological evidence that taking “regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity,” in Korkki’s words. At the same time, the same research indicates that not taking breaks can lead to feelings of stress and exhaustion and actually lower productivity.
The reason why breaks are necessary is rather easy to explain. Intense mental concentration is similar to using a muscle. Your mind can become fatigued through constant overuse and needs rest to recover, just like your muscles in an athletic contest. Like any athlete, our ability to perform tasks at a high level diminishes over time.
Taking a break rests your mind. It also enables you to detach yourself temporarily from your work to see what you are doing from a fresh perspective.
According to researchers, the best time to take a break is before you become mentally exhausted. When you start daydreaming, drifting, and looking for distractions from your tasks – like checking your personal email or looking at pictures of cute animals on the Web – it is a good time to take a break.
Here are the best kinds of breaks: moving, walking (my favorite), talking to co-workers, and actually eating lunch in a deliberate manner, which provides you with both nutritional and cognitive support.
In fact, one study found that the best ratio of work to breaks was working 52 consecutive minutes and then leaving your desk for exactly 1,020 seconds (17 minutes). Why? Short breaks correlate directly with higher productivity in most studies.
Long hours do not always translate into good work. Productive work is more important, and to be productive we need to take frequent breaks, especially when working on proposals.
Take more breaks, and you may become a more efficient and effective proposal professional.