Train yourself to take Energy Breaks

Have you ever had the sneaking suspicion that you might be over-relying on caffeine, chocolate or sugar to get you through the afternoon slump? You realise that while these things might taste or feel great initially, they can leave you with the strange sensation of being wired and tired, only to ‘dump’ you later on. Or maybe they keep you buzzing at night when you really want to be sleeping.

NapNow speaks here to Sydney-based Behaviour Design Consultant Tsung Xu for some key pointers that can be applied when trying to cultivate any new habit, including embedding regular ‘renewable energy breaks’ into your day. We hope these pointers will make it a bit easier for aspiring nappers to turn their fantasy into a reality.

MOTIVATION: “Ask yourself if you have enough motivation,” says Tsung.
“Unless you have a baseline level of motivation, enough of a spark, it’s really hard to make the change.” So consider – what are the negative effects of excess caffeine and sugar on how you feel, on your afternoon performance, on your overall stress levels? What are the benefits of power-naps that are meaningful for you? Such as up to 3 hours more energy to get you through the afternoon, less stress, clearer thinking, relief from the cloud of tiredness that descends mid-afternoon, or inoculation from burnout. Are these enough to fuel sustained effort over time?

Motivation is necessary but it’s not sufficient to make lasting change. “You can have all motivation in the world but it won’t count for anything unless you have a plan that focuses on the specific behaviour you want to change,” advises Tsung.

A SPECIFIC PLAN: “Get crystal clear on the trigger (aka cue) in your day that normally leads to a less healthy choice,” says Tsung.
Tiredness for example, is often the cue to reach for the next coffee, bar of chocolate or RedBull. You could pay attention to the specific physical and mental sensations that alert you to tiredness such as drooping eyes, slower thinking, yawning, being less productive. You can then learn to use these sensations as the cue for your new behaviour of choice.

“Then get really clear on the details of the behaviour you want to adopt.” When, where are how will you nap? Really go into detail. For example, when I feel tired, I’ll get up from my desk, walk to the couch, park, car or chill out room, or put my head on my desk, divert my phone, set the alarm for 15- 20 minutes, and tell myself I’ll be a better worker and cheerier person if I take a few minutes to unplug, defrag and recharge.

Start small. “We often think that if we want to make a change, we have to start with a bang,” says Tsung. “Just suspend that belief for a bit and instead make the initial behaviour as small and easy as possible. That way you’ll more likely to do it often.” Repeating the new behaviour increases the chances it’ll eventually feel natural and effortless.

An easy way to starting napping, or taking mini-meditations, could be that whenever you feel tired, you simply stop your work, adjust your posture and close your eyes for a few minutes, giving your eyes and brain a rest.

Get in training. Old habits die hard so it pays to strengthen the new pattern and accompanying neural pathway you want to develop. “You can get in training without having to leave your room,” says Tsung. “Visualise yourself experiencing the ‘cue’ ie tiredness, then taking a quick walk, a power-nap or practicing mindfulness meditation. Bring it alive in your mind, including all the sensory details to make it more powerful.” How your body feels before hand, the peace and relief you feel on lying down and closing your eyes, the sensations of drifting off, how you feel on waking, then returning to work refreshed.

Prepare for challenging situations. “Planning becomes even more important when you face situations that’ll make it challenging to practice your new habit,” says Tsung. “Being under high stress levels or pressure to meet a deadline, for example, is when people are least likely to take an energy break. But if you know you are going to need that break to keep your performance up, then plan ahead of time how you are going to justify taking the break, get support to do so, and prepare the logistics involved.”

What if I feel guilty for taking a nap? “Remember what your motivation was for napping? And starting small? They will really help with the first few naps,” says Tsung. “After each one, just ask yourself how different you feel after it. Then, self-check in later in the day to gauge how the nap impacted your focus and productivity. Enough beneficial naps can soon have you forgetting about those guilty feelings.” As one entrepreneur who manages to nap despite inner resistance, says “I do feel guilty but I take one anyway because know it’s going to have a great effect.”

Tsung Xu is a Behaviour Design Consultant who is passionate about enabling habits for better focus, productivity and less distraction. “I nap when I need it,” says Tsung, who works out of HubSydney. “That tends to be when I haven’t had a lot of sleep the night before and I’ll hit a bit of a wall about 2 to 4 pm. Then I’ll go and find a quiet space, (such as the Hub’s work cubicle pictured here), and lie down for 30 minutes. I don’t always sleep but it still refreshes me.”
Contact: or @tsungxu
Read More by Tsung: how to stay focused when your motivation is lowest.