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Why the French Are More Productive Than Americans

05/01/2015 11:41 am ET | Updated May 01, 2016

The French are more productive than us Americans. Yes, you read right. The French.

Not that I have anything against the French. But we Americans hate to lose in anything. We consider ourselves to be the hardest working, most productive, greatest nation on earth. And yet, sadly, the facts do not weigh in our favor. A new survey of more than one million anonymized sales activities (emails, calls and meetings) logged into a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software maker's sales platform by the sales teams at more than 10,000 small businesses around the world found that French small business owners are more productive than their American counterparts (especially those, like me, on the East Coast) in the afternoon.

The reason? The French take breaks. Two hour breaks for lunch. As Americans, we sometimes poke fun at the French (and other European countries) for their long lunch breaks. Perhaps we're misguided?

"What our data suggests is not surprising," says Timo Rein, President and Founder of Pipedrive, who provided the data for the survey. "Taking a proper lunch break leads to increased productivity in the afternoon. 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."

Lunch is just a start. There are other ways to step away.

For example, Ronald Reagan was known for taking naps. Even in the middle of the day. He recognized at an early age that he lagged in the afternoon hours and needed some time to re-charge. He understood that no matter what he was doing, no matter how important the job (and being President is kind of an important job) things could wait for 30 minutes while he took his nap. People made fun of him for doing this. He didn't care. He understood that his decision making abilities were negatively impacted depending on how tired he was. He knew that his mind needed to be at its sharpest because his actions were that important. The same for you. Go ahead -- shut the door and take a nap. It will probably make you more productive.

Or play some golf. President Obama plays a lot of golf. He gets criticized for this. But, like many leaders who have made it to the top of their game he's used to criticism. So he shrugs it off. That's because he knows that he not only enjoys playing golf -- he needs to play golf. He makes it a point to take time out of his very busy schedule so that he can leave the White House and the pressures of his job, go to a nice, green, relaxed place with a warm sun and just... play. Sometimes he uses the opportunity to mix a little business. But most of the time he's playing golf with friends or others that talk with him about no other subject than... golf. There is nothing wrong with this. It relaxes him. It makes him a better decision maker. It makes him more productive.

Without exception, the business owners I know who have succeeded in their lives by running profitable companies, raising families and contributing to their communities all did so because they achieved a comfortable balance. They took vacations. They coached Little League. They exercised. They spent time with their friends. They never minimized the importance of their work but they always put it into context with all the other things that make up a happy, productive life. And, like Presidents Reagan and Obama, they shrugged off the people over the years who questioned their "lack of commitment" to their responsibilities. By achieving balance between their personal and professional lives they achieved the ultimate balance, and were better leaders over the long term.

It's not just lunch. It's balance. The most successful business people I know have balance. Living a good life is all about moderating your habits and achieving a balance - in your drinking, your eating, your playing and your working. Being a "workaholic" isn't a good thing. Becoming consumed by your business never ends well. You are a human being. You need to enjoy the things that humans enjoy in life. Like the French, you need to take longer lunches, or whatever it is you do that relaxes you. Doing so will make you more productive. And happier too.

A version of this column previously appeared on Inc.com.