Take A Break
“Some folks like to get away, take a holiday from the neighborhood…” Those are the opening lines of Billy Joel’s song, New York State of Mind. Not only is that one of my favorite songs, but it brings up a good point of taking a break.
When was the last time that you took a break?
I know you are like me and that at times you can keep pushing harder and longer on tasks to hit critical deadlines and commitments. However, in the back of your mind, your understanding that the quality of your work is lessening while the frustration is increasing the longer you go without a break.
To me, a BREAK is different from a VACATION. They can at times be interchangeable, but to me, a break is a short duration. I think of vacations as being longer than 48-hours.
There is a reason that the idea of a 40-hour workweek with scheduled breaks during the day came about in the early twentieth century. Researchers found that productivity is diminished when employees work more than 8-hour days with little or no time for breaks.
Most of us no longer work in production facilities where break times are explicitly scheduled and working hours are closely monitored. We work for ourselves, a small business or even in the white-collar professional world. We have smartphones and laptops that enable us to work from anywhere at any time. What we sometimes struggle with is having a clearly defined boundary of where and when work starts and stops, and when to take a break.
I know because I have been there.
Do you know how to take a break?
Breaks can take on different forms; and no, you do not need to look up how to take a break or consult with a break guru. YOU are smart enough to know what a break is and when you need one. The trouble is that we do not always listen to our still small voice, our brain or our body when it tells us that we need a break.
A break, as I define it, is an activity that is completely different from what you are doing or thinking. It could be as simple as taking five minutes to walk down to the break room and grab a soda, coffee or water. A break could also be more involved such as taking a mid-day run or heading off to run an errand.
I think that a break can also be an activity that is more about muscle memory than thinking. For me, taking time to cut the grass or clean up the yard is more of a break than watching a 30-minute sit-com.
Benefits of taking a break
Here are some of the benefits of taking a break.
- Increased creativity – When you step back from a task, often your subconscious mind keeps chipping away at the task while your conscious mind relaxes and is open to other perspectives often resulting in the unexpected “AH-HA” moment.
- Reduces mental fatigue – Your muscles need to be worked to the point of fatigue to grow. Your mind can be worked in a similar fashion. The key to muscle growth is that as the muscle is torn down with work, it needs to have a period of rest for it to heal and then grow and strengthen. The mind also needs to have this period of rest to be able to regroup for the next round of focused work.
- Calms the emotions – Continuous focused work can cause a heightened emotional state, resulting in irritation or anger. Work is the forward movement against a resistance. It could be chewing through a long list of emails requiring detailed responses, writing proposals or deciphering building codes. Continuous work without a break can make the saintliness among us want to kick a sleeping unicorn. All work and no play does not make Jack a dull boy, it makes him a big mean grump.
Coach’s Wrap Up
Just as vacations and focused extended time away from tasks are important, taking smaller breaks are vital. We need breaks to open us up to inspiration, recharge our batteries and provide momentary rest for our minds.
I must force myself to take breaks. Now that I am working at home and in smaller groups, there is no group of work friends to stop by and invite me to a break room for coffee and to talk. I must be deliberate in scheduling a break.
Whatever your schedule, make sure you are taking breaks. It is not being lazy or unfocused to take a break, it is enabling you to increase your focus, leverage creativity and remain in a place of calm while working through your tasks.