Paul Smith's Articles for Spotlight Magazine
Take a Break
Here's an interesting puzzle - imagine two lumberjacks cutting down trees in
a Canadian forest. The first lumberjack works for a total of 3 hours, taking
a single break of 30 minutes. The second lumberjack also works for 3 hours,
but he takes three, 10 minute breaks. Now the problem: the first lumberjack
fells 100 trees, the second lumberjack fells 150 trees. Why is the second
lumberjack more efficient?...
Answer: He stops to sharpen his saw!
We all need to sharpen our saw, both physically and mentally. Any repetitive
task carried out without breaks results in lower motivation, increased error
rates, and less productivity. Henry Ford was well aware of this fact in the
1920s - although his piece-work and assembly line workers were quite willing
to work 12 hour shifts, he forced them to take regular breaks. Ford had
happier workers, producing more cars, with less defects.
A well known English saying states that "A change is a good as a rest", and
this illustrates another saw sharpening principle. You don't always need a
break if you frequently change the activity or task. This is the logic
behind job rotation. Ford also knew this principle and made sure that his
workers constantly re-trained and rotated.
In writing e.mails, faxes or letters. Give your reader a "visual break" by
using short paragraphs and ample line spacing.
That's why numbered lists also boost efficiency:
- They are quicker to read
- They provide a welcome text break
- Lists are easier to understand
- Numbers allow accurate back referencing
- And at the end of a list, a simple "etc" allows readers to continue with
their own thoughts
You can also give your reader or listener a "psychological break" by
introducing a story, example or analogy, as in "Eloquent speaking is like
good music, the silences between the words are as important as... the words
Whether we're in the business of cutting down trees, doing business or
learning English, the principle is the exactly the same - frequently
stopping to sharpen our saw, means better results and greater satisfaction.
Now,... how about a quick break?
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