Whether aiming to excel at work or simply survive, breaks are essential.
Brahams, Napolean and Churchill had one thing in common – they all had a habit of napping. These famous high achievers demonstrated that the secret to success isn’t just about whether you can go long and hard, but also whether you can let up.
Today we know that strategically timed pauses, from annual holidays through to micro-breaks, can be life giving: reducing injuries and errors, improving mood and concentration, alleviating stress and fatigue while putting some bounce back into your days.
“Think of breaks as the space between the notes in a song; without these rests, the song becomes a screech or a wail.” David Kundtz
The trick to taking regular breaks is learning how to interrupt the momentum of your day and your life, so you can stop. Even in the face of deadlines and ‘urgent’ requests. To do this you’ll need some supportive self-talk to counter the dominant ‘too busy’thinking. Remind yourself that stopping to restore your energy and focus is not a lazy thing to do, but a highly intelligent and responsible act.
How to break up your day
Brief rest periods (eg 30 seconds every 10 minutes) reduce the risks of muscle fatigue and injury during intensive computer work. They also cut keyboard error rates by up to 59%, according to research conducted at Cornell University. Making a phone call in between computer work counts as a micro-break as it allows the muscles involved in typing and mouse use, to have a rest.
If there’s one thing the body’s designed to do, it’s to move. So, at a minimum, change your posture every 15-30 minutes, before you experience discomfort. Get off your bottom and onto your feet. Or, if you’re on your feet all day, do some stretches. It’s the best protection from the joint strain and muscle fatigue that results from holding one posture for long periods.
Morning and Afternoon Tea Breaks
Remember them? They are perfectly timed to give you a break every 2 hours, when your concentration is likely to start drifting. Many workers are entitled to a 10 minute break every four hours – so use the time to re-energise, and not just with more caffeine. Try a short walk outside instead.
Like any other muscle your eyes need a break to reduce strain, especially if your work requires lots of close-up focus. Close your eyes for one to two minutes, placing the palms of your hands over your eyes for extra darkness. Take another break by looking out into the distance and changing focus between near and far several times.
A nap as brief as ten minutes can improve your mood and productivity, alleviate tiredness, reduce errors made at work, and give you up to three hours of increased afternoon alertness. Lie down in a park, in your car or in a chill-out room at work – a delicious cure for the afternoon slump. (If you would like your workplace to become nap-friendly, get in touch NapNow can provide the strategy.)
Midday is for re-fuelling, not more multi-masking. So leave your workstation behind and take all of your allocated lunchtime to eat, re-hydrate and get some fresh air.
“End’ is the important bit here. Refrain from checking work-related emails if you can or at least set some limits. If you are the boss, don’t send emails to your staff out of hours. If you do, signal that they do not have to respond until their next shift.
Not taking regular holidays increases the risk of dying, especially from a heart attack according to a study of 12,000 middle-aged men followed for 9 years published in Psychosomatic Medicine. So if you don’t know when your next holiday is going to be, start planning now.