Creative Rest and Recovery Techniques to Improve Productivity

Posted on March 28, 2019

Being able to rest and recover effectively is key to building resilience and productivity. Many leading authors including Shawn Anchor and Arianna Huffington critique the common belief that ‘the harder we push and the more we endure, the more resilient we become’.

As Shawn Achor states, “lack of recovery — whether by disrupting sleep with thoughts of work or having continuous cognitive arousal by watching our phones — is costing our companies $62 billion a year in lost productivity.”

Arianna Huffington reinforces this notion, explaining that “we sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity, but ironically our loss of sleep, despite the extra hours we spend at work, adds up to 11 days of lost productivity per year, per worker.”

Stopping does not equal recovering.  

Lack of recovery periods holds back our ability to be resilient. As Psychologists Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz state: ‘if you have too much time in the performance zone, you need more time in the recovery zone. The value of a recovery period rises in proportion to the amount of work required from us’.

To be on peak performance and maximise our productivity, we need to give our bodies and minds sufficient rest and recovery.

Researchers Zijlstra, Cropley and Rydstedt describe two types of recovery in their 2014 paper ‘From recovery to regulation: an attempt to re-conceptualise ‘recovery from work’:

Internal Recovery: Internal recovery refers to ‘short periods of relaxation’- or ‘Strategic Stops’. where we shift our attention, change the work we are doing, and take scheduled and unscheduled breaks. 

External Recovery: External recovery refers to ‘periods of rest time outside of work’, using weekday evenings or mornings, holidays or vacations to create ‘work free zones’.

By taking ‘strategic stops’ and consciously incorporating ‘ work free zones’ into their weekly and monthly structures leaders give themselves the pauses they need to recover and recharge.

Resting is active. It is skill and it requires intentional effort. 

In sports, recovery has four components; Rest, Sleep, Relaxation (including emotional support) and Nutrition/Hydration. Here are just a few ideas from each component to help you implement and get creative with ways to relax during your ‘strategic stops’ and ‘work free zones’.


  • Take a walk outside or spend time alone in an environment that inspires you- engaging all your senses and creating space for daydreaming.
  • Engage in something that inspires creative expression like painting or journaling -connecting you to something that brings you a sense of meaning, spontaneity, play and joy.
  • Get a massage, take a bath or do light exercise – connecting you to your body and breath.


  • Create a ‘relaxing bed time ritual’; The National Sleep Foundation suggests the following: ‘make a list of tomorrow’s to-dos’, ‘take five deep breaths’, ‘tune into your senses’, ‘tense and relax your toes 10 times’.
  • While we are all different, researchers recommend we aim for between 7-9 hours of sleep for optimum rest – avoid hidden sleep stealers like alcohol and coffee before bed and turn off your electronics to get the most from your sleep.


  • Yogis say that one hour of meditation can be as effective as three hours of regular sleep. Guided mediations or certain forms of yoga such a ‘Yoga Nidra’ support you in accessing conscious relaxation. Yoga Nidra incorporates poses, guided imagery, affirmations and visualisations – enabling you to experience inner peace, presence and deep relaxation.
  • Create tech-free periods in your day by using apps like Offtime or Unplugged to go onto automatic airplane mode, and tune into the present moment beyond the screens.

Nutrition/ Hydration  

  • Researchers have found that a number of foods such as oily fish, fermented foods and high-fiber foods may help increase the beneficial bacteria in your gut – they link a healthier diet with higher levels of serotonin (the happiness hormone).
  • In the article “why cooking is the ultimate stress reliever”, HuffPost share the following: ‘the act of cooking is meditative… to put together a good meal, you have to be engaged and present. You need to taste, make snap judgments, add or subtract heat… and creatively, there’s something about losing yourself to the flow and process that’s healing.’

What will you do today to intentionally create more opportunities for rest and recovery in your week?

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