The Importance of Taking a Break


By Mira Bhimani, SCS Advising Leader

Getting burnt out is a common problem faced by college students. When we have a lot on our plate and so much to get done each day, it is difficult to maintain the same level of efficiency without taking a break to recover. Scientific studies show that taking a break has a positive relationship with wellbeing and productivity. Taking some time off from studies periodically can greatly boost performance in the long run.

I would like to share a story that I heard recently. Once upon a time, two woodcutters decided to have a competition to determine who could chop down more trees. They woke up early in the morning and began chopping as hard and fast as they could. In about an hour, the older woodcutter took a break. The younger woodcutter was naïve, and laughed about how his opponent was tired already. He continued to cut trees with maximum effort. After a while, the older woodcutter returned to cut trees. And again after an hour or so, he took a break. By the end of the day, the younger woodcutter was confident he would win the competition, having worked non-stop throughout the day. But to his astonishment, his opponent had cut more trees than him despite taking multiple breaks. The older woodcutter then revealed that every time he took a break from chopping trees, he sharpened his axe. So when he returned to work with his sharpened axe, he was able to cut trees more effectively than the younger woodcutter, who had been working hard with a worn-out axe the entire day.

The moral of this story is that people often become so engrossed in working hard to achieve their goals that they forget to take the necessary time off to renew themselves, learn, and grow – to ‘sharpen the axe’. For example, consider a student applying for summer internships who is reaching out to numerous companies. He thinks that he needs to apply to as many positions as he can, and works very hard on all his applications. With no success, he decides to take a step back and review all his materials again. He makes some changes to his resume, cover letters, and interview strategies – something he would not have been able to do if he did not take a break from the grind. Essentially he ‘sharpens his axe’. Upon returning to the internship search, he becomes a stronger candidate with an increased chance of success. The same logic can be applied to classes. Most of us get so carried away with studying and working our hardest that we don’t take a step back to recharge and think over what we can do better.

As defined by Dr. Stephen R Covey, the author of the bestselling book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, sharpening our axe involves renewing ourselves in the four aspects of life. In the physical aspect, we should be eating, sleeping, and exercising well. In the social/emotional aspect, we should have a good social life and build meaningful connections with others. In the mental aspect, we should explore our creative curiosities by learning something new, reading, and writing. Finally, in the spiritual aspect, we should meditate and spend some time relaxing outdoors. By practicing this every day, we can enhance our capacity to handle the challenges around us.

So the next time you find yourself stressed or exhausted, take a step back and review everything you are doing. Check whether your approach to whatever you are tackling has any areas of improvement. Take a break to renew yourself in the four aspects of life. Finally, upon your return, you will have restored your energy and increased your productivity.