“Taking a break can lead to breakthroughs.” – Russell Eric Dobda
You’re a hard-charger, who’s success-oriented and achievement-driven. It takes discipline not to work. You might have a tendency to emphasize quantity (sometimes at the expense of quality, whether you know it or not), and it seems like from the time you wake up until the time you hit the sheets, you’re “in the saddle”. At some point or another, you might have embraced the mindset that you can sleep when you’re dead.
Twelve- to fifteen-hour work days may be the norm, and even when you’re not at work, there’s a good chance you might still be working. Weekends are the perfect opportunity … not to unplug and unwind but to get ahead … since everyone else is finally leaving you alone.
If any of that sounds familiar, we totally get it; we’ve been there with you. If it’s virtually a daily struggle to ignore that little devil on your shoulder telling you that you need to be doing more, more, more … we know where you’re coming from.
But taking breaks – both routine, shorter breaks within days and occasional, more meaningful breaks over time – can be very beneficial for you and your work. For now, let’s talk about those “micro” within-day breaks, which would be things like lunch-time breaks and mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks, which have been shown to be positively associated with well-being and productivity.
Yes, you read that correctly, taking breaks during your workday can boost performance and productivity. That runs contrary to what many people erroneously think … that stepping away will slow you down…
When you are working on a complex project or when you feel like you have too much to do, it’s easy to convince yourself that you do not have the time to take a break. Believe me, I know the feeling, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Studies have shown that breaks can reduce or prevent stress, help maintain performance throughout the day and reduce the need for a long recovery at the end of the day.
One study, for example, found that lunchtime breaks, and detaching from work, increase energy levels at work and decrease feelings of exhaustion. And after a year, this strategy proved to increase vigor and energy levels over time.
Taking breaks can also prevent “decision fatigue”, which goes in hand with “ego depletion”, the idea that people have limited mental resources that get depleted with use. In short, when you need to make frequent decisions throughout your day, it can wear down your willpower and reasoning ability. Decision fatigue can lead to simplistic decision-making and procrastination.
Micro-breaks also increase productivity and creativity. Working for long stretches can lead to stress and exhaustion. Taking breaks, on the other hand, can help refresh the mind, replenish mental resources and help you become more creative.
Studies have shown that “aha moments” are more likely to come to those who take breaks, and the “eureka effect” – the common human experience of suddenly understanding a previously incomprehensible problem or concept – may be more likely to strike when you’ve stepped away from your work.
Here are some tips to prompt you to regularly step away from your work, replenish your energy, ignite your creativity and boost your productivity:
- Schedule break times.
- Set an alarm on your phone to prompt you.
- Plan to do something in your break that you enjoy. Combine it with some of the concepts discussed above, such as exercise snacks, taking a walk or spending time in nature.
- Pay attention to any benefits you experience when you take a break; this will provide positive reinforcement to take future breaks.
If you’re reluctant to take a break, start small, scheduling just a couple 5- or 10-minute work-free breaks into your day. As Tina Hallis, author of Sharpen Your Positive Edge: Shifting Your Thoughts for More Positivity and Success, says, “Research shows that we need to take a break and decompress so we can be our best at work – and at home. Maybe we should ask if the life we’re working so hard to create is fun to live?”
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