When it comes to productivity, natural logic might lead you to believe that to increase it, all you need to do is work more. In some cases, this is true — the more you work, the more you’ll produce.

The age of high technology helps to facilitate this, encouraging people to be always “always on”, never missing an email message, able to work from anywhere at any time as long as there’s an internet connection. This is great for remote work, bringing together international teams, and allowing professionals to work when and how they want. Unfortunately, it’s also blurred the lines between when work ends and when the rest of life begins, leading to work-life imbalances and the negativity that comes with.

A recent study by Workfront surveyed over 2,000 adults, finding that while most employees feel like have a good work-life balance, they also have recognized that work seems to intrude on their personal lives more than they’d like. The survey found that:

  • 2 in 5 employees say that a bad work/life balance ruins the time that is spent with family and friends.
  • 60 percent of employees believe bad bosses can have the most negative impact on work/life balance.
  • More than 50 percent of employees think technology has ruined the modern family dinner

Some might say that these are admirable sacrifices in return for increased productivity — however, the truth is that giving up personal time to work more doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get more done, or that the work you get done will be of acceptable quality.

Brain Breaks and shower moments

Brady Hahn, writing for Intuit’s Firm of the Future blog, published a post titled “5 Clever Ways to Increase Your Productivity and Save Time”. In it, she advocates block scheduling your calendar, utilizing phone calls instead of just using emails to communicate, and even staying hydrated throughout the day. However, one piece of advice sticks out in this context:

“Take regular brain breaks,” she writes. “Most people wrongly assume that staying chained to their desk means they are more productive, when, in reality, your brain is running a marathon, and it’s fatigued, making you less efficient.”

These brain breaks, she explains, means putting aside work, including your phone and other work devices, and doing something — anything — that’s creative. Meditation, a quick walk around the office, light reading. Hahn likens these breaks to walking between sprints, allowing you to rest and recharge for a moment before you get back into your hard work.

Workout analogies aside, there’s evidence that changeups in routine and brain function can actually increase creative output, even though you may be working less. In an interview with Time Magazine, Washington University psychologist R. Keith Sawyer explains:

“In creativity research, we refer to the three Bs—for the bathtub, the bed and the bus—places where ideas have famously and suddenly emerged. When we take time off from working on a problem, we change what we’re doing and our context, and that can activate different areas of our brain. If the answer wasn’t in the part of the brain we were using, it might be in another.”

Lack of balance leads to burnout

Maybe you feel fine with all of the work that you do. There are plenty of entrepreneurs who eat, sleep and breathe their work, with a ore personal stake in the businesses they run than perhaps the average employee. However, the majority of employees and business professionals can’t afford to be this invested, even if they want to be.

Nevertheless, the reality is that, with the prevalence of remote work in today’s society, not only has the work place essentially entered  our homes, but we’re working more because of it. Villanova University reports that 3.3 million people in America alone are currently working remotely and that remote employees work an average of four more hours a week, doing 13 percent more work than on-site employees. They make a point to recommend that successful managers of remote workers guard against overworking.

The result of overwork is stress, both to the individual and to the organization they’re working for. Individual stress leads to poor job performance, absenteeism, strained relationships with management, and eventually burnout, which ends up costing the organization as a whole via high staff turnover rates and profit loss. Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management reports that these factors end up costing American businesses roughly $300 billion per year. That’s a pretty penny.

The takeaway? A little less work might make you a little more productive

While it may sound like a logical fallacy, it’s the truth. Sure, work won’t get done unless you’re toiling in the trenches and digging the ditches — but if you don’t allow yourself the time to climb out, have lunch, and breath in the fresh air, it’s likely that the trench itself will suffer for it. Your tired arms will move slower, and your blistered hands will make it harder to grip that shovel. Over time you might forget what you’re digging that trench for in the first place and decide you just don’t want to do it anymore.

Taking a little more time for yourself, on the other hand, will allow you to reflect on your work with a bird’s eye view. Maybe you’ll realize there’s a faster way to do things, or that you’re going to have to change direction to avoid an obstacle. Maybe you’ll just feel more refreshed and relaxed after a breather, or maybe you’ll become re-energized by considering that your work is one part of a larger whole. While there’s no getting around the fact that ditches need dug, one thing is for certain: nobody should spend their every waking moment digging one.

Andrew Heikkila is an entrepreneur, artist, and writer from Idaho. He likes to cover global issues in business, the Millennial workforce, and leadership topics. When he’s not enjoying habanero pizza and craft beer, you can find him on a run in the beautiful foothills above Boise. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndyO_TheHammer

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