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7 Tips for Taking Breaks that Improve Your Productivity

Taking breaks is the counter-intuitive approach to improving productivity.

Breaks should be a priority, not a reward for completing your to-do list. Listen to your body and know when to stop. Taking a break will help you perform better, get better ideas, and feel good about yourself.

WHAT IS A BREAK?

A break is a brief pause of work or physical activity. You decide to give it a rest with the intention of getting back to your task within a reasonable amount of time.

But do you fear you’ll never get back on task?

Here are 4 ways to ensure you’ll get back on task:

One: Set 2 alarms – one on your phone that you take with you on break. That is the only thing you do with your phone on break. And a second alarm in your work area that will force you to go back to turn it off – once you’re in the space, you’re more likely to start again.

Two: Tell someone what time you need to get back to work.

Three: Write on a post-it where you stopped and where you’ll start when you get back.

Four: Work for 2 Minutes – Telling yourself you only need to work for 2 minutes will get you started. Before you know it, you’ll realize you’ve been working for 20 minutes.

TWO COMMON MYTHS ABOUT BREAKS

Myth 1: Scrolling on your phone, watching You Tube videos, playing video games, essentially anything on a screen is a great way to take a break.

Truth 1: Anything on a screen is a big no-no. As this survey by Huffington Post suggests, activities like social networking can significantly increase stress. When you’re on a screen you’re more likely to lose track of time. It is also more difficult to get your brain off the screen and it does not give your brain the break it needs.

Myth 2: Breaks take too much time. It’s better to push through without one.

Truth 2: You think you don’t have time for breaks? Truth is, you don’t have time to NOT take breaks. Read on. You’ll find out why.

5 REASONS WHY BREAKS ARE INCREDIBLY VALUABLE:

One: Breaks are essential for your physical and emotional health.

Movement breaks, specifically, lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity. Getting up from your chair to walk, stretch, do yoga, etc. can reduce the negative health effects from too much sitting. Just a 5 minute walk every hour can improve your health and well-being.

Two: Breaks can prevent “decision fatigue.”

Author S.J. Scott points out the need to make frequent decisions throughout the day can wear down your willpower and reasoning ability. Decision fatigue can lead to simplistic decision-making and procrastination.

Three: Breaks restore motivation, especially for long-term goals.

When we work, our prefrontal cortex makes every effort to help us execute our goals. But for a challenging task that requires our sustained attention, research shows briefly taking our minds off the goal can renew and strengthen motivation later.

A small study summarized here even suggests that prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance.

Four: Breaks increase productivity and creativity.

Working for long stretches without breaks leads to stress and exhaustion. Taking breaks refreshes the mind, replenishes your mental resources, and helps you become more creative. “Aha moments” came more often to those who took breaks, according to research.

Five: Breaks called “Waking Rest”, AKA resting while awake, helps consolidate memories and improve learning.

Scientists have known that one purpose of sleep is to consolidate memories. However, there is also evidence that resting while awake likewise improves memory formation. During a rest period, it appears the brain reviews and ingrains what it previously learned.

WHEN NOT TO TAKE A BREAK

If you are in a state of “flow” it does not make sense to take a break. Flow is characterized by complete absorption in the task, seemingly effortless concentration, and pleasure in the task itself. Simply enjoying what you are doing may be a sign that you still have plenty of energy for your current activity.

In short, if it ain’t broke, don’t “break” it.

7 TIPS FOR TAKING BREAKS SO YOU COME BACK RECHARGED, REENERGIZED, AND MORE PRODUCTIVE.

One: Walk or exercise.

Get moving. A walking break leads to more creative ideas than a sitting break.

Two: Get Outside

Staying in an artificially lit, stuffy office or home, all day might be a necessity for getting things done. But escaping that space for even a few minutes during the day can have huge benefits. Fresh air helps clear the brain fog allowing you to focus with a clear head. Choose where you go wisely. Walking in nature tends to calm, while city streets amp up engagement.

Three: Change your environment

Briefly leaving your work space and going to another area will help your brain rest and switch gears.

Four: Hydrate and have a healthy snack.

Opt for high protein, low sugar snacks. And always, always, be drinking water!

Five: Take a few deep breaths.

They don’t call a rest “taking a breather” for nothing. Deliberately taking slow, deep breaths and focusing on your breathing for just 30 seconds is a mini-meditation that can relax your mind and body.

Six: Daydream

Daydreaming gives the prefrontal cortex a break, taking you on a brief journey to your unconscious mind where chaos and creativity reign.

A report published in Science Magazine found that simply letting our minds wander by zoning out or daydreaming has similar benefits to meditation.

Letting your mind drift can help you come up with more creative ideas and help you problem-solve.

Seven: Have some coffee or tea.

Coffee could be a great way to bring your brain to focus on the task at hand. A study conducted on 2010 concluded that employees who take regular coffee breaks are more efficient and productive. A dose of caffeine can keep you alert, reduce stress, and help you stay active.

HOW OFTEN TO TAKE BREAKS

While the rule of thumb is simple: take a break when your brain feels saturated, different researchers have come up with different options.

  • A post published in Inc. Magazine suggests a break every 60-90 minutes.
  • The Pomodoro Technique advises working for 25 minutes followed by a 3 to 5-minute break, and then a 15 to 30-minute break every 90 minutes or so.

While it’s true that different durations work for different people, you should decide how often to take a break depending on the type of work you need to do. Keep the momentum for as long as you can and take a break after 90 minutes. However, if your thoughts start to wander more frequently, a short break every 20 minutes might be helpful.

MONITOR YOURSELF AND LEARN

As you take breaks, be mindful of the results. Which kind of breaks seem to help you become more creative, motivated and productive? Which kind of breaks just seem disruptive to your work? Notice what works and what doesn’t. Research on breaks is a generalization; only you can decide what particular strategies work best for you.

WRAPPING IT UP

By knowing you have a break coming up, you’re more likely to stay focused and work with purpose.

Breaks are an enriching way of giving your brain that much-needed rest. According to Forbes, taking breaks as self-care can literally save your life.

In our culture of doing, taking regular breaks can be seen as lazy or unproductive. But when done correctly, breaks are the ultimate productivity hack, because they let us do more in less time. So, stop glorifying long days and burnout-inducing hours and take a break.

You deserve it!

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