Want to Succeed in Business? Be More French.

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

Okay, Americans, get ready. I know we like to think of ourselves as the most productive people around, with our fast pace, take-no-prisoners sales tactics, and our unparalleled ambition. The American Dream comes with toil, sweat, and then…achievement. But guess what? It turns out that the French—you know, the French, whom we mock while secretly envying their fine wine and delicious baguettes—are actually more productive. D’oh!

Let’s be more specific: Small businesses in France are more productive than small businesses in America, according to a new survey, and it’s not because they put in longer hours or work harder. It’s actually the opposite: It’s because they take breaks.

Lots of successful Americans know this already. President Obama, like him or not, is clearly successful. When you’re the President of the United States of America, you’re the most successful guy around. And while his detractors take issue with the frequency of his golf games, the President just keeps playing. According to people who’ve played with him, he doesn’t talk politics when he’s on the golf course, and he keeps the Secret Service a fair distance away. He knows that if he wants to be focused and decisive and do his job, he needs some time for golf.

Not a fan? Maybe you prefer Ronald Reagan, who was known not for golfing, but for his afternoon naps. Another successful, hard worker (and another two-termer), Reagan knew that he needed to rejuvenate in the afternoons, and while he was mocked for napping, he did it anyway. And now there’s a lot of pro-nap research out there, with some even calling it a “power nap.”

For small businesses in France, the key to productivity is a good, long lunch. Not a business lunch, but a real lunch, where they take an actual break from what they’re doing for as long as two hours. They’re dawdling over cheese and coffee while we’re scarfing down salads at our desks, and they’re getting more done, because when mid-afternoon hits, they’re refreshed and going strong, while our energy is flagging.

That elusive work-life balance Americans like to talk about usually manifests itself through our electronics, which is how we remain tethered to our workplaces even when we’re not there. I confess that I always found it more freeing than restraining; yeah, I’ve got my smartphone on the playground, but at least I’m actually at the playground. But the point isn’t to keep working through our breaks, it’s to remember to take them.

“Taking a proper lunch break leads to increased productivity in the afternoon,” says Timo Rein, who runs the company that did the survey. “This isn’t about eating a lot or eating for a long time—it’s more about stepping away from your work and taking a complete mental break. And for those business owners who can’t easily step away for lunch, you might try to build in some routine, shorter breaks into your day.”

If it’s not lunch that relaxes you, try something else. But all that bluster about working through lunch is not going to save you from the 3:00 slump.

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