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Work, Rest, and Prayer

The way to maximum productivity and performance is through intermittent rest and spiritual renewal.

All work and no rest makes for lower productivity. 

That, at least, is the conclusion of recent social science studies, as summarized by Tony Schwartz at the Harvard Business Review blog.

Whereas we might think that the person who works, works, works straight through the day, taking minimal breaks and accomplishing as much as possible, would be the most productive, it’s just not the case.

Studies show that interspersing periods of work with periods of rest may make for less time “on task,” but it also results in better work time and more productivity. Work for 90 minutes or so, then take 15 minutes off for something else – rest, coffee, a little exercise – and your next 90 minutes of work will be more productive.

Tony Schwartz explains, “It’s not just the number of hours we sit at a desk that determines the value we generate. It’s the energy we bring to the hours we work. Human beings are designed to pulse rhythmically between spending and renewing energy. That’s how we operate at our best. Maintaining a steady reservoir of energy – physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually – requires refueling it intermittently.”

Mr. Schwartz continues, “There’s plenty of evidence that increased rest and renewal serve performance.” He cites two studies demonstrating this conclusion, as well as his own experience, and suggests, “Create a workplace that truly values a balanced relationship between intense work and real renewal, and you’ll not only get greater productivity from employees, but also higher engagement and job satisfaction.”

The “real enemy” in the workplace is not stress, he insists, but “the absence of intermittent renewal.”

I’m sure that many workers in previous generations would have welcomed knowing this information. If only someone had told us before that the way to maximum productivity and performance is through intermittent rest and spiritual renewal.

If we’d read our Bibles carefully, we might have noticed that not only does God command one day of rest in seven, but the most productive saints in the Old and New Testaments took 3-7 breaks from work every day. Whether they were prophets and scribes, prime ministers or preachers, great saints like Ezra, Daniel, Peter, and John knew the value of drawing aside from work throughout the day for intermittent periods of prayer.

The practice of the “hours of prayer” or “divine offices” derives from the example of Biblical saints and, apparently, reflects an understanding of a creational norm, inherent in human wellbeing, that promotes greater productive and a more satisfying life.

If your prayer life is struggling, and if you feel under a great deal of stress at work, why not take Tony Schwartz’s advice and schedule intermittent times of rest and renewal throughout the course of your work day? Devote those times, at least in part, to prayer, and you will extend and enrich your prayer time and make yourself a better worker at the same time.

Work and rest, work and rest: Just like the Bible says.

Additional related texts: Psalm 55.16-19; Psalm 119.164; Daniel 6.10; Acts 3.1

A conversation starter: “Did you know that we work better when we take more breaks?”

T. M. Moore, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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