Why is re-charging important?

In the second of a third part series, Nick Humphrey takes a look at the importance of re-charging.


Re-charging is important for a range of reasons:


Manage decision fatigue: Your brain has a limited decision-making ability (“mental energy pool”). Every decision you make uses up a bit of that finite resource and eventually you will have depleted your pool and get decision fatigue. You’ll then make poor decisions, find it hard to weigh up consequences or become unable to make a decision (“decision paralysis”).

Passive problem solving: Don’t under-estimate the power of passive problem solving. When you put an issue to one side and take a break your brain is still sub-consciously contemplating, cogitating and computating.

Have you ever noticed you do your best thinking when you are not at your desk? It might be when you having a walk or in the shower or in the car or on the bus. You had probably been working on a problem for some time and had the equivalent of writer’s block. You had no clarity on the problem. You were indecisive, confused. By taking a break, your brain was able to passively solve.

Your brain has two modes, “focus” and “diffuse”. The latter is a more relaxed, daydream state where you are not thinking hard. Studies show that your mind is better at solving new complex problems whilst in diffuse mode.

Adam Grant conducted some experiments to assess the correlation between procrastination and creativity.[1] One of his students had said “I have my most creative ideas when I’m procrastinating.” To test the idea, they did surveys at a number of companies. They asked the staff about how often they procrastinated. Then they got their supervisors to rate how creative and innovative they were.

They found that the “precrastinators” who rush in and do everything early are rated as less creative than people who procrastinate moderately. The chronic procrastinators were also poor innovators:

“You actually do see that the people who wait until the last minute are so busy goofing off that they don’t have any new ideas. And on the flip side, the people who race in are in such a frenzy of anxiety that they don’t have original thoughts either. There’s a sweet spot where originals seem to live. Why is this?”[2]

To find out, Grant designed some further experiments. He asked people to generate new business ideas, and then got independent readers to evaluate how creative and useful the ideas were.

Some of the test subjects were asked to do the task right away. Others were randomly assign to procrastinate by offering the game Minesweeper in front of them for either five or 10 minutes.

Grant found that the moderate procrastinators were 16 percent more creative than the other two groups.

“Now, Minesweeper is awesome, but it’s not the driver of the effect, because if you play the game first before you learn about the task, there’s no creativity boost. It’s only when you’re told that you’re going to be working on this problem, and then you start procrastinating, but the task is still active in the back of your mind, that you start to incubate. Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.”[3]

Facilitate flow: There are four phases of the flow cycle – frustration, release, flow, and consolidation. The science of flow shows that re-charging is in two important parts of the cycle (both release and consolidation). After accumulating chunks of data in the “frustration” phase you need to take a break and reset (the “release” phase). Then again after you have experienced flow, you will need to re-charge again in the consolidation phase. The peak experience of flow is a demanding process for the body and mind to trigger and maintain. During this phase you will also commit the experience of flow into your sub-conscious, your knowledge is augmented with information moving into long-term memory.[4]

Stress release: If you take time out to re-balance your life, spending time with friends, time to exercise and time to learn, you can regain some perspective on your problems. If you cannot get away from the office, your stress will be amplified.

Re-charging is certainly a “quadrant two” activity in the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s important but not urgent. The urgent activities in quadrant one and three overtake us, demanding all our time and energies. Re-charging requires us to be proactive, so is easier to ignore when faced with a pressing demand.

Reduce boredom: Taking a break helps you from getting bored and unfocused. Our brains are simply not designed to be focused for extensive periods of time. Sometimes you just need to take a break and even a relatively short time is enough.

Goal re-evaluation: Taking breaks is also important to ensure you are still on track with your goals. It can be easy to lose perspective of the big picture when you are focused on the details. A break can help you to get perspective on a project and ensure you are doing the important tasks.

Stay tuned for part three of this series, which looks at the strategies you can use to re-charge.


About the author

Nick Humphrey is the managing partner of Hamilton Locke. He is the Chairman of the Australian Growth Company Awards and author of a number of best-selling books on business and leadership. His latest book is Maverick Executive: strategies for Driving Clarity, Effectiveness and Focus, published by Wolters Kluwer.


[1] Adam Grant, “The surprising habits of original thinkers,” TED Talk, April 2016


[2] Adam Grant, “The surprising habits of original thinkers,” TED Talk, April 2016


[3] Adam Grant, “The surprising habits of original thinkers,” TED Talk, April 2016


[4] Kotler, page 121