“Why do you speak about the Power of the Pause?” someone recently asked me. At first glance it does seem a little funny. Pausing, taking breaks, and slowing down seem to go against conventional wisdom. We need to work harder, faster, and longer to achieve more, right? Actually, the opposite is really true.

There’s a law in economics called the law of diminishing marginal productivity or diminishing marginal returns.

The law states that all else equal, as production increases, the marginal return (or benefit) derived from each additional factor of production declines.

In simple terms, applying the law of diminishing marginal productivity to the workday means that the more hours you work you get out of each singular hour. And this is clear—we are humans, and we get tired. After 10 hours of work, the eleventh hour won’t be nearly as productive as the first.

Therefore, if you want efficient productivity, you should pause more.

Consider the following:

  • Before surgery, medical professionals take a pause – what they call a “pre-incision time out,” to make sure everyone is prepared. This process has greatly decreased errors during surgery. This practice started at University of Michigan Medical Center several years ago, but now it is common practice at hospitals across the country.
  • If you are a musician, try to play a piece of music with no pause. I’ve tried it and it’s very difficult to do without mistakes, it’s very pleasing to hear, and it’s not as much fun to play.
  • After the two-minute warning in football games, a period where each team has a two-minute break, there are more points scored than any other point in the game. What happens during that two-minute period of time? A brief rest and strategy.

When to pause in the workday:

  • When working on a project with a pending deadline. Gather your team together and have a quick assessment of where you are, what next steps need to be addressed, and who is responsible for those next steps.
  • Before a presentation. Every time before I speak, I take a pause to do a few things: think about the key components of my message, interact with the audience, and get my mindset right. The mindset piece, as I wrote about last week, is critical. I accomplish that by reliving in my mind a day where I accomplished something really big. I try to invoke the feeling I had on that day.
  • Before you respond to a question or criticism. If you are like me, you experience a physiological reaction when someone challenges you. Taking a breath, gathering your thoughts and even temporarily delaying a response are all effective in that moment.

In the cases above, pausing can bring increased strategy, confidence, direction, and self-control. All will help you be more productive.

Learned economists will note that the law of diminishing marginal returns hides a scary possibility—negative returns. Negative returns happen when continuing productive activity reaches the point where each additional hour of work causes a loss of output. That’s a scary place to be.

I write and speak about pausing as I believe that pausing is underutilized yet a critical component in almost everything we do. It keeps us far away from negative returns and helps us be as productive and efficient with our work as possible.

How about you? When do you pause? Why do you pause? How do you pause? How does it make a difference for you?#Pausitivity #LeadershipDevelopment #Rest

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