We work long hours and rarely take enough breaks for our own well-being or for our productivity. Let’s explore the types of breaks we should be taking.
For a “leisure society” who has it all (let’s face it, we are spoiled in so many ways), we sure seem to be a bunch of workaholics. I won’t delve into the psychology of this contradiction. But I will make a plea for taking breaks.
- Take a lunch break (Do as I say, not as I do!).
- Take snack breaks.
- Take fitness breaks.
- Take bathroom breaks.
- Take stretching breaks.
- Try to actually break long enough to get a full night’s sleep.
It seems incredible that only one in five people actually leave their desks to take a lunch break. I admit that more often than not, I eat lunch at my desk. But at least I spend time making my lunch, which is one accidental benefit of working from home. Still, that is not much of a break. On a good day, I’ll go outside and do some weeding or just walk in our woods. What can you do to give both your body and your mind a break. A change of scenery helps your mind see possibilities. In fact, one creative trick some people use is to get out from behind their desk and sit in a chair facing their desk, because a different visual and spacial perspective gets the creative juices flowing better.
A well-fed body helps the mind concentrate better. It gives you energy. So going without eating between meals is a bad career move. Feed your brain! You’ll be more productive if you take a snack. More importantly, you’ll be more productive and live longer if you frequently remove your backside from your chair seat. A snack is as good an excuse as any to get up and move around at least for five minutes.
If you can take advantage of this time to chat for a couple minutes, you will also benefit from improved morale, a better sense of teamwork and a reduction in stress. Social contact is important for our mental wellbeing, and that also means more productive work hours..
If there is value in moving about for a few minutes, just to keep muscles nimble and blood flowing to the brain, there is equally value in occasionally taking a full-fledge fitness break. In some offices, this might have to be during your lunch hour or before or after work. If you will be working long overtime hours, a late afternoon fitness break is certainly worthwhile, and what employer would deny you that. As leadership guru Scott Berkun says:
“Sick workers are not productive, which means any sane organization will invest in keeping its workforce healthy.”
Exercise reduces stress, and that helps you think clearly.
If you can sneak out to get a couple minutes of fresh air, even better. Feeding fresh oxygen to the brain also helps a person think better and gives renewed energy. I love working from home, because there is so much fresh air around here.
This is the one type of break that most people take. Still, many people will “hold it in” so as not to break the momentum of their work. Ahem, guilty as charged. While this is in itself not the healthiest approach, it is also a missed opportunity for getting up and moving about. A bathroom break is a chance to stretch, to walk about a bit, even to find a place to skip or do a few jumping jacks.
Even if you don’t have time to go wandering about, you can stand up at your desk for at least a moment. You can do some shoulder rolls, you can stretch your arms. It’s worth doing this, even if you do take breaks, because these can be done more frequently, and you will be more productive and more healthy if you stretch and stand frequently.
This sound ridiculous, but someone in one of my Mastermind groups was bemoaning the productivity loss of having gotten eight hours of sleep. When you work from home or if you take work home with you – or if it follows you around on your mobile (I guess that pretty much includes everybody), you probably are cutting your sleep short to get work done at odd hours. Sleeping instead of putting in an extra hour might seem counter intuitive, but well-rested people outperform tired people.
Read also: How to fall asleep.
In fact, even just taking a mid-afternoon nap can boost productivity by as much as 34%. It also helps boost our memory and how we process information. Let’s face it, in our world of information overload, being able to process information well is a critical skill.
Variety is the spice of life, so moving around in different ways, using different parts of our bodies and in different intensities just makes sense. Giving our brains some variety, like giving them a break every now and then, also makes good sense.
Here is a little slide show that calls for the return of the lunch break, and includes many of the same points I have just raised:
All work makes you a dull, unproductive and sickly person. Our brains need a break, our bodies need a break – we need a break!