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:

  1. They are quicker to read
  2. They provide a welcome text break
  3. Lists are easier to understand
  4. Numbers allow accurate back referencing
  5. And at the end of a list, a simple "etc" allows readers to continue with their own thoughts
  6. etc.

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 themselves."

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?

Paul Smith

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