You’re thinking, “Wow, I have so much to do! No taking breaks, just a solid work lunch.” I know what you’re doing. You’re glancing at your clock, tracking how much work you just got done in the last 5 minutes.
No! Your gray matter upstairs needs a little de-mushing time. More and more people agree that taking breaks goes a long way in getting work done.
What Professionals Say About Taking Breaks
Just ask Dan Sullivan, author and co-founder of the company Strategic Coach, who has made millions teaching people the art of taking a break. He told Entrepreneur, “You can create a solution in a shorter period of time if you are rested and rejuvenated.”
Sullivan’s clients agree with him, boosting their own profit and productivity by simply getting away from the office. One of them, Jonathan Gassman, started two more businesses after he took time away. It sounds counteractive, but it works!
Clinical psychologist Francine Lederer backs this up. “Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out,” she told ABC News.
Even the New York Jets understand how important rest is. They decided to switch up their training program a little, letting sleep specialists into the team’s locker room.
When they played in London after using their new sleep strategy, head coach Todd Bowles noticed his players had more energy. They took the win in London with high hopes of future success — well–rested success.
What Studies Show on Taking Breaks
Mark Rosekind from the National Sleep Foundation researched what happens when pilots rest from the wheel during a long flight. He hooked up some nifty wires that measured when pilots started zoning out and told a few of the pilots to catch 40 minutes of z’s.
Rosekind found that pilots were much more alert toward the end of the flight than pilots who took no nap at all. They also performed 34% better than their sleep–deprived counterparts. What if we all could get over a quarter more work done each day?
Naps also keep you from pulling your hair out when the same customer calls seven times in one day. The University of Michigan studied a few nappers in action. After napping for 60 minutes, the workers said they felt less frustrated and could spend more time solving a problem than their non-napping coworkers.
How to Build Your Brain Muscle
Your brain is like a muscle. Try holding one pushup close to the floor for 5 minutes instead of doing 10 reps and resting. Chances are your arms started shaking.
“If you attempt subsequent sets without rest, you will not lift anywhere near your true max,” strength trainer Ross Enamait tells impatient athletes. He spends a whole article showing how quality time trumps quantity in fitness.
If you don’t rest throughout a workout, you’ll probably start keeling over from exhaustion. Your muscles will scream at you, and you’ll feel less motivated to do the same thing tomorrow.
Well, your brain needs rest too. In fact, taking a break from your focused work makes your brain come to life! Professor Kalina Christoff headed a study that showed how daydreaming actually increases brain activity in problem-solving areas of the mind.
That means when you’re resting, you’re really stretching out your brain flexors. You’ll be more ready to attack that complicated software problem after you give your brain a break.
What Qualifies as a Break
So now you know that you should be taking breaks, but you just can’t step away from your on-call status right now. You’d be surprised what even just a few minutes can accomplish. You don’t need a long time.
Remember that workout? All you need is a few seconds in between sets, and you’re promoting good muscle tone.
In Alejandro Lleras’s study, he saw that even distracting yourself for a few minutes improves productivity. He showed workers a few numbers and told them to respond during a 50–minute work period if they saw those numbers. The workers showed increased productivity after only two quick work interruptions to respond to the numbers.
Find a Strategy
You could try a couple different things to help you get more work done in less time:
Taking Breaks Longer
One strategy is 52/17, or working 52 minutes and then breaking for 17. Draugiem Group found this habit in their most productive employees. Those workers also spent those 17 minutes totally disengaged from work.
While this time frame might seem long, try not to feel guilty about your break. Remember, you’re actually shaking up that brain activity!
In short, this long word means timing a scheduled work session (maybe 25 minutes) followed by a short break (around 5 minutes). You can set the time frame to whatever works best for you. Then every few rounds, you should take one longer break (15–20 minutes).
You can really take this one to heart; so do your research. Many recommend creating goals for each pomodoro and taking time to evaluate how much work you got done in the last one. The point is to break regularly to ignite your focus again.
Taking Breaks Early.
Okay, so maybe you overscheduled yourself. Today, you just can’t afford to take all those breaks. Should you skip?
Try not. If you can still work them in, take them. But if you just can’t get away as frequently, don’t skip your morning break.
Baylor University says taking breaks in the morning revive your concentration even more than afternoon ones. My guess? being proactive about breaks early sets the tone for the rest of your productive day.
What to Do On Your Break
Karen Postal, who studies memory disorders and head trauma, advises people to get moving. She says that exercise stimulates the same areas of the mind that control focus, concentration, and organization.
In other words, go for a short walk when you’re on your break! Do a few stretches to lengthen those tense limbs. Even just getting up to research something can go a long way.
Listen to Music
Music connects with us emotionally. You can use it to your advantage if you’re a little unfocused or stressed. Turn on some music, close your eyes, and let your mind relax.
The type of music can affect your mood too. If you just got through with a hot situation, try classical music. Classical music improves relaxation, helping you cope with stress a little better.
If classical music is not your jam, just pick a style that reminds you of chocolate and rainbows. You shouldn’t be fuming at the music.
If you’re like me, you never find time to finish that thriller you started a month ago. But you might surprise yourself with how far you get if you read in short chunks on your break.
I love magazines in my down time. They’re easy to scan through and full of lovely pictures. Plus, the articles are usually short, meaning that I can get through a whole thought in one sitting. Great for those five minute breaks!
Bring the Funnies
Laughing is a great stress-reliever! To keep you on the bright side throughout your day, bring a comic strip or joke and tape it to your desk. Then, when you get done with a complicated problem, cackle at Garfield before your get back to your day.
My co-workers liked to download comics on their desktop and set it as their wallpaper. Who can be angry when Snoopy is imagining a battle on top of his doghouse?
Eat a Snack
Lack of energy could mean that your body just needs fuel. Opt for protein-rich, energy-boosting snacks.
Simple carbs and caffeine might work for now but could leave you drifting by the end of the day. Instead, think whole grain and healthy fats like crackers and peanut butter. They keep your stomach happy and your energy level stable.
- Help Out a Coworker
You notice those sagging eyes of the coworkers beside you. They’re desperate to get things done just like you. Why not help them out for a minute? Who knows, maybe they’ll return the favor one day.
Get them a drink, research a solution, or do some quick paperwork for them. It might technically be working, but you won’t feel the pressure since it’s not your work. You could also email them your joke of the day to lift their spirits.
You’re a busy chap; so things get tossed to and fro before a meeting or during a call. Take time to organize your desk. You might even feel your brain decluttering as you organize.
We all know those workers that joke constantly and spend half their day thumbing through Facebook. I don’t mean that you can hide from your boss in the bathroom and call it a break.
The focus here is productivity. That’s why pomodoros work well because you have to set goals and evaluate yourself a lot. If you only solve a few cases a day, you need to light a match under your tail and get to work!
There are no hard and fast rules to taking breaks. That’s why it’s an art, not a science. No matter how you choose to take your breaks or what you do with them, do remember that they’re necessary to good work.
Yes, you’ll have to stay within the boundaries set by your job. But you absolutely cannot sit behind your desk for eight or more hours and never give yourself a mental breath. So do yourself a favor today and give yourself a break!
Sarah George is a flower–sniffing, homemade–cooking wordsmith who loves pounding out breathless stories until they fill with life. In her spare time, she loves designing her home with thrilling thrift finds and challenging herself with a good workout.