How to Take a Break

These findings aren’t just limited to academic studies. In his recent book “ Richer, Wiser, Happier ,” the veteran financial journalist W...


These findings aren’t just limited to academic studies. In his recent book “Richer, Wiser, Happier,” the veteran financial journalist William Green draws on many hours of interviews with highly successful investors, and, as you’d expect, a recurring theme is that these people tend to work hard, and outthink, out-research and out-hustle the crowd.

But a counterintuitive subtheme also emerges: how seriously his subjects tend to take breaks, time off and make space in their lives for definitive distance from the all-day, every-day 21st century work cycle. Many — including Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s longtime collaborator — make a point to carve out time for quiet and contemplation. For Mr. Munger, that means ignoring up-to-the-second market news and crowd noise and instead exercising extreme patience.

For another one of Mr. Green’s interviewees, Laura Geritz, the chief executive at Rondure Global Advisors, it means taking time to sit by a stream and journal. Developing “a regular meditation practice,” Mr. Green notes, has become “a mission-critical habit for many successful investors.”

This isn’t an afterthought or a hobby or a personal wellness tactic, Mr. Green said in an interview. It’s a reflection of the “ruthless pragmatism” that made his subjects successful in the first place — in the eternal hunt for an edge, they found their rest ethic. It’s almost a “countercultural” move, Mr. Green said. “I don’t think you have deep thought without structuring your life this way,” he said, at a time when everybody is constantly pinged and reacting to short-term stimuli.

Similarly, Mr. Fitch and Mr. Frenzel point out in their book that famous athletes like LeBron James take rest and recovery quite seriously, treating it as part of their regimen, not as an escape from it. The same should be true for many professionals and knowledge workers, Mr. Fitch said. Too many managers and workers are stuck in a dated mind-set that prizes long hours over all else. “Quantity of input doesn’t matter,” Mr. Fitch argues. “It’s quality of output.”

The good news is that at least some companies are starting to take breaks seriously. For starters, Mr. Fitch said, some are acknowledging that unlimited paid time off, a popular gesture among employers who have tried to address the issue, doesn’t really do the trick. It can end up feeling like just another responsibility, and nobody wants to be the employee who takes the most days off.

Lately, companies including LinkedIn and Roblox have experimented with mandatory vacation for all or most employees in the form of “spring break” periods. Actions like these that emphasize the value of time off represent a “profound” shift, Mr. Fitch said. He and Mr. Frenzel, both tech entrepreneurs, are tinkering with a software tool that would help human resources departments prod workers to take days off.

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