It’s ten thirty in the morning. You’ve been working for an hour or two, so you decide to read your favorite blogs for a bit, and check out some web comics.
But you feel a bit guilty. After all, shouldn’t you be powering through your work?
You Need to Take Breaks
No-one can work effectively for hours at a stretch – especially on tasks which require a lot of mental energy (like writing, planning strategy, designing, and anything involving creativity).
So you need to take breaks. You’ll actually find that you get more done in a day where you stop for ten minutes out of every hour than on a day when you keep on and on working. Why? Because when you force yourself to stick with a task, you’ll slow down. You’ll end up checking your emails, getting distracted, or staring at the screen in front of you, feeling like your brain’s already gone home.If you’re getting stressed out with a particular task, or if you feel like you’re almost out of energy, then take a break. Ten minutes to walk around the office (or ideally, to get outside and grab some fresh air and sunlight) can make a surprising difference to your ability to concentrate.
If you’re self-employed, or if you’re working on personal projects at home, try some of these:
- Take a half-hour break to go for a walk
- Take twenty minutes to read a chapter of a novel
- Take fifteen minutes to tidy up your work area (decluttering is a great way to get your thoughts flowing again)
- Take ten minutes to dance around the room to some great tunes (great way to re-energize if you’re feeling sluggish!)
Ideally, you want to get away from your computer. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to let “work” and “break” times slide into one another.
Natural Resistance to a Task
Sometimes, you feel like you want a break when you’ve only just started. Perhaps you’ve sat down at nine am on a Saturday morning to work on that website you’re creating for your small business – but you feel exhausted already.
Creative tasks involve some degree of natural resistance – even when you love doing them. Most writers will tell you that, although they enjoy writing, they find themselves cleaning the house or doing the dishes when it’s writing-time – anything to delay getting started.
This sense of resistance doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you, or with the task at hand. The best way through it is simply to make a start.
Have you ever put off doing something, for months – maybe even years – because it felt like it was going to be such a pain? Cleaning the garage, sorting out the attic, getting your files organized … whatever it was, you eventually made a start, and somehow it wasn’t really that bad after all.
If you’re struggling to get going, or if you manage a half-hearted ten minutes on a task only to start thinking “I need a break”, then try:
- Just opening the document (or filing cabinet, etc). Simply looking at the task at hand can get you into the mood to do it.
- Setting a timer for fifteen minutes, and working solidly for that time. Either you’ll get on a roll and carry on – or you’ll at least make some real progress.
- Promising yourself a reward. Perhaps you’ll treat yourself to lunch out once you’ve finished that chapter, or a long bath after finally getting the garage tidy.
Beating Laziness and Working Effectively
We slide into procrastination when we let those feelings of resistance and laziness get the better of us. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean: you’ll have had days which started with great intentions, but turned into a lot of unproductive web surfing.
Even if you believe you’re just someone who procrastinates or who isn’t very focused, you can change that. Getting a good structure to your day really helps:
- Work for focused periods of time. If you’re struggling, try thirty minutes working followed by a thirty minute break to do something fun. Then experiment with different time intervals – e.g. an hour’s work followed by a thirty minute break.
- When you’re working, work. If you get stuck, don’t automatically check your emails or go onto Twitter. Go onto a different section of your work, or try brainstorming your way through the problem.
- Give yourself permission to have fun. Sure, you can use all your breaks to get the dishes done or finish your filing – but if what you really want to do is play a computer game, do that. Just make sure you stop once break-time is over.
How do you know when you need a break from your work? And how do you distinguish between genuinely needing to give your brain a rest – and simply feeling lazy?