Sitting at the desk all day, even through needing to pee because you just want to get that report done and sent? (Been there!) Head down all day not talking to anyone because you are so busy, not taking lunch breaks or even a water and walk break? Sound Familiar …..
Life and work can be like that and its ok if it is from time to time but for so many of us this is the daily grind of our work life. And it’s not good for us at all. The science behind how our brain works shows that taking breaks is essential to being able to work at your best, build your baseline resilience, reduce stress, make better decisions, think more creatively and anyhow spending workday constantly in lockdown in front of your laptop is pretty miserable – right? And we spend at least 1/3 of our day working so how about making sure you are making the best of what you are doing while you are doing it?
Why take a break?
I think most of us would agree that constantly working without taking proper breaks is pretty miserable, it is also stressful on the body, we know that sitting down for long periods of time is detrimental to our physical health but our emotional health and our executive functioning (using our brain) are also affected. Higher levels of obesity, heart disease, type II diabetes are associated with sedentary jobs, higher levels of depression are associated with social isolation which is what happens when you sit on your own all day not taking the time to talk to someone, give your brain and your body a rest from working.
It’s also not that productive – diminishing marginal returns usually set in and our clarity of thought, speed, cognition levels and memory all decline the longer we go without a break and here’s the thing, most of us think that we are being MORE PRODUCTIVE BY DOING THIS. This beings me to lunch - Take your lunch break because unless you are actually in the middle of doing surgery, there are few jobs which are that important that you can’t take a break. I have done this myself often but research shows that your Cortisol (Key Stress Hormone) stays elevated when you sit in front of your laptop even if you are eating your lunch, reading about your favourite celebrity. You need to get away from your work area, get outside if you can and connect with someone, all will help those hormones get back in balance.
Remember when you were studying and you were told to take regular breaks – Its true, our body and our brain works better when given short regular breaks.
Breaks improve your creativity and problem solving and help you to see things more objectively. Taking time out from what you are doing often results in those unexpected eureka moments when everything drops into place and the answer seemingly appears out of the blue.
Easy Habits for taking Breaks
1. Put a visual cue somewhere on your desk to remind you to take a break
2. Emails – see how many emails can actually turn into a quick face to face chat rather than sending an email. It might seem more productive to quickly send the mail but all the studies show that taking breaks contribute to work productivity and speaking face to face with someone- lets face it, its much nicer to have some human contact and interaction… course there will always be some people and emails you would rather not meet the person for 😊
3. Do you work from home or by yourself? This is me and some days I realise I have sat down for hours without a break – the answer for me is to make sure I get outside at least twice during the day and always at lunchtime. Being outside naturally boosts physical and mental wellbeing as well as giving me exposure to light which can be really lacking in modern offices or when you are cooped up inside.
4. Put something on your desk which reminds you of the things you love to do or the people you love. I have a few pebbles from the beach in Wexford and it reminds me of time with my family and my friends. This helps link what I do to me sense of joy and this boost of positive emotions helps with better decision making and improve memory – so even if you are too busy to take a break, a small micro break to focus on what ever it is you have put on your desk will make a difference. I take this time to practice my heart focused breathing which is an amazing replenishing activity to build my resilience and boost my energy.
5. Micro Breaks – it doesn’t have to be a formal break even micro breaks when you chat with colleagues, check in on family or walk to the water cooler all help give your brain and your body a break. Taking a moment to stretch and stand up will also help give you a micro break.
6. Coffee meetings – When I was working in a large office and had meetings with just 1 person, I loved to make them a coffee meeting, Walking away from the desk, walking up the street with the person all contributed to the feeling of having a break, sitting with someone and chatting to them over coffee was an all together more useful productive meeting than sitting in a sterile office.
I give the last word to checking in on how you are feeling – if you are really on a roll, and loving what you are doing at the moment then chances are you don’t need to take a break and are actually mid flow which is that perfect balance where what you are doing, thinking and feeling are all aligned and you are completely absorbed in your work at a high degree of performance. When this is the case, you don’t need a break, keep going but remember when you are done you have to recharge to get back to 100% so that you can get back to that feeling once more.