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We ambitious strivers seeking guidance from fitness pros, decluttering experts, and TED talks often find the day divided in two unequal parts. Three-quarters goes to overworking. The remaining quarter is for countering the ill effects of overworking. We do the latter not necessarily to nurture our souls but to boost performance during the working hours.

You see, overworking and stress slow our productivity. Herein lies a paradox.

Relaxation, vacations, and a good night’s sleep could be seen as key to personal well-being. But gremlins have taken a wrench to our puritanical brains and put dollar values on our inner peace and repose. They are now a means to goose our output.

Consider the advice to get eight hours of sleep a night. Good sleep leaves one feeling refreshed, less depressed, less stressed. But it also has a utilitarian purpose. It boosts our performance at work. Thus, we use apps to ensure we’re maintaining eight-hour sleep periods incorporating five REM cycles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the numbers: Sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy $63 billion a year in lost productivity.

We seek techniques to do more per unit of time. For example, there are articles on how to “optimize” a three-day weekend. (To think, Americans used to have three-week vacations.)

Our employers are famously ungenerous with paid vacation. But many of us don’t even use the time we’re given. A study commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association estimates that in 2013, Americans left 429 million paid vacation days on the table.

Why? Some said their workload is so heavy they can’t afford to get away. If they don’t complete their assignments, they may not have a job upon returning.

The travel association is now selling vacation time as a tool to raise the gross domestic product. If workers used all their available time off, the study says, U.S. business revenues would rise by $160 billion, and tax collections would rise by $21 billion.

Meditation, the great teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn tells us, is “for no purpose other than to be awake to what is actually so.”

But suppose it helps us better focus our attention. Wouldn’t that make us more useful worker bees? Sure.

A Google executive told Bloomberg TV that “wisdom traditions like yoga and meditation help us operate better.” He noted that the most important technology we have is the human body and brain. Yoga and meditation help us, he explained, “optimize this technology.”

Thanks to Google’s yoga program for its employees, he added, “there’s been a huge impact on both people’s productivity and culture.”

So yoga has become a get-ahead tool. Small wonder yoga teachers see participants aggressively jostling for mat space in their classes, according to The Wall Street Journal.

There’s also a smartphone app that lets students follow the instructors of their choice. That way, if a star yoga teacher is not going to lead a particular class, they don’t have to waste their time on a B-lister.

What healthy habits don’t do for productivity, drugs will. Many American workers are apparently taking medications for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder solely to improve their output at work.

Taking these stimulants can cause addiction, anxiety and hallucinations, but for intense competitors, they are jet fuel. As a woman in her late 20s told The New York Times, they are “necessary for survival of the best and the smartest and highest-achieving people.”

We really can’t blame health advocates for toting up the economic benefits of more relaxed living. That’s often the only argument anyone notices anymore.

Meditation improves concentration. Heck, let’s meditate — and medicate — to better meditate. It’s the American way.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com. 

Photo: Balint Földesi via Flickr

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

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Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

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“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

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