Breaks are for losers, right?
Wrong. Breaks are part of our mental and physical programming, and to ignore our instinct to grab a breather is to open the door to stress and reduced productivity.
Naturally, when you have things to get done and deadlines to hit, the old adage ‘time is money’ tends to pop up like an angry neon sign every time you feel the urge to rest. But that adage might better be said, ‘quality time is money’.
Eating lunch at your desk, neglecting to relax properly when you’re not at work, never taking a vacation – these should not be habits that you associate with success. Stress costs American business hundreds of billions of dollars each year – a Harvard study chalked $63.2bn up to sleep deprivation alone.
A key problem is that the same ‘positive’ stress that we’ve relied on to power us through some tight moments does not help us out when the situation is scaled up. The extra concentration you muster when a deadline approaches or you’re put on the spot becomes dissipated when spread over a longer time: instead of working on the job at hand, your brainpower is taken up with trying to deal with the effects of stress.
Listen to your body, which is programmed to shift from a state of alertness to one of fatigue every ninety minutes or so, and you will work more – and work better – in these shorter blocks of time. It’s easier said than done for those of us who are truly driven to succeed, and have built up a glut of bad habits over the years. Overhauling your work ethic is a job best done piecemeal: evolving a little each day and noticing the improvement as you go.
Take Regular Breaks
Find yourself an app such as Pomodoro, which you can adjust to the work pattern that is best for you, for example setting a recurring ten-minute break every ninety minutes. Setting bite-size chunks of work to achieve, instead of surveying the ocean of work you need to get done in a day, can help you get stuck in for a proper session. Rewarding yourself before and after each block of work is also scientifically proven to improve your output.
Exercise Throughout The Working Day
And what to do on those regular breaks? Move! Exercise – be it stretches, push-ups or a walk – is a great way to release endorphins and keep your morale up (not to mention the cumulative physical effect of scheduling regular mini-workouts each day).
If you don’t have the space or the privacy for push-ups, try de-tensing your body where you sit. Relax your face, your shoulders, let your legs fall apart, stretch your toes, and breathe slowly. Do it for three minutes. Really, no time has passed, but you’re ready to launch back into what you’re doing.
Make Better Use Of Your Lunch Break
On your lunch break, get out of the office to stretch your legs, take in some fresh air and be inspired by whatever you see – be it an exhibition, a new café, or simply the trees and the clouds.
You might even take a short nap to reboot your brain, or save that particular treat for your mid-afternoon break. A 20-30 minute nap can boost your alertness without leaving you feeling groggy – again, it’s working with your body’s natural rhythms.
Follow The 20-20-20 Rule
But be sure to take regular, disciplined mini-breaks, too.
Five minutes to walk to the water cooler, stretch at your desk, or just give your eyes a break (when using a computer, we’re recommended to take a twenty second break to focus on something twenty feet away every twenty minutes – remember it as the 20-20-20 rule).
Stop Postponing That Vacation
If these techniques can start to make your daily workload a bit more manageable, don’t neglect to take a vacation to prevent burnout, too. Believe it or not, every ten hours of vacation taken each year has been shown to increase performance ratings by 8% – so the 12% of us who report feeling guilty for not working on vacation can knock that guilt on the head right now.
Taking quality breaks is just the start of adjusting your body and mind to a more productive way of being.
50 Relaxation Techniques You Can Try Today
Want more? Have a look at this infographic, which gathers some of the best mini-relaxations and daily techniques for improving the working day and getting a work/life balance that can enable you to get the best of both worlds – feeling better in yourself while taking your productivity to new levels.