Scheduling Regular Breaks During the Workday
Although it may seem counterintuitive when attempting to slog through your stack of work each day, scheduling regular breaks can actually make you more productive overall and will help you feel better physically as well. In truth, forcing ourselves to keep working when we are literally running on empty can be the worst thing to do, not only for our health, but for our work as well.
Researchers have found that our minds follow activity and rest patterns throughout the day, switching back and forth between periods of intense focusing and recovery phases. Our biological programming actually tells us to take breaks and rest from time to time, whether we feel we have the time or not. There are many who believe that the downtimes actually cleanse our body of waste, restoring our natural energy balance, and that if we consistently ignore the need for rest-or at the very least a short break-can lead to chronic stress and ill health.
More and more, our work lives are simply manic. We have bosses to keep happy, deadlines to meet and goals to achieve, along with a myriad of other duties which require the most delicate of balancing acts. You may wonder when you could possibly find time for regular breaks, but the bottom line may be that if you don't find the time you could pay in illness and time off from work.
A study at Cambridge University found that the average adult's attention span is around 45 minutes, at most. This means that at least once per hour, you need to get up from your desk, take a short walk, stretch, get a glass of water, or simply do anything other than what you've been doing for at least 5-10 minutes. You may be surprised at how refreshed you feel when you return to your desk. Many people must actually schedule these breaks, with a timer, or they will look up from their desk and it's suddenly time to go home. It's then they will feel the tension in their neck and back, as well as possible headaches and high levels of stress.
One of the techniques which can be helpful in teaching you to take regular breaks is known as the Pomodoro Technique, which advocates a break every 25 minutes of 3-5 minutes. The idea behind such frequent breaks, however, is to make sure they are effective breaks, just long enough to allow your mind to recuperate and regroup. The Results Curve recommends a 10-30 minute break every 40 minutes, advocating you go full steam ahead for forty minutes, then take a longer, more refreshing break.
If you tend to lose focus easily, the Pomodoro Technique is probably better for you, however the point behind both techniques is to not do anything during your break which relates to work or induces stress. Take a walk, clear your mind, and return to work fresh. Especially for those who do most of their work inside in a closed-up atmosphere, try going outside for some sun and fresh air when it's time for a break. If there's a nearby park, walk around the park, or use your lunch break for walking, running, or even yoga-whatever takes your mind off your work.
Multi-tasking and Other Break Ideas
While multi-tasking is the buzzword of the times, you can be pulled in too many different directions, meaning you are not really focusing on any of them. In other words, when you work, focus exclusively on what you are working on, and when you take a break, really take a break.
When you need a snack, skip the sweet and salty, and eat some fresh fruit along with a tall glass of water-the long term energy benefits will be much higher. Read a chapter in a book, or an article in a magazine that has nothing to do with your work. If you work in a high rise, jog up and down the stairs a few times.
If the whole idea of taking regular breaks is foreign to you, start small. Take one break every two hours. If you don't regularly take a lunch break, try it out and see if you notice changes in your energy-not to mention your mood. Conventional wisdom says it takes thirty days to change a habit, so don't give up on taking breaks.