Sounds counter intuitive, doesn’t it? Take a break to get more done?
But you don’t understand, Stefanie, I have soooooooo much to do. I barely have time to run to the restroom.
Choosing work over going to the restroom is a bit extreme in our line of work. But, I get it, you have a ton of work to do every day. Here’s the deal: our bodies and minds weren’t designed to stay mentally focused (and physically stagnant) for hours on end. It needs a break and refueling to function at its best levels.
If you have work that you love, it’s really easy to get in the zone and work for 3 hours straight. It can be exhilarating to know you’ve accomplished so much and the time has flown by. I hope you have more of those days when you’re tempted to do that than not.
If you have a chaotic day putting out those proverbial fires where you’re feeling crunched for time, chances are you’re operating at a higher stress level, burning through glucose (sugar energy for the brain), breathing more shallowly, and have the stress hormone, cortisol, coursing through your brain causing anxiety.
At either extreme (and everywhere in between when you don’t take frequent breaks), your mind and body need a break.
Sitting is the new smoking.
You don’t need a bunch of stats on how sitting adversely affects your health. You know how you feel at the end of a day, sitting in chair. If you’re like me, your body is probably trying to curl into itself and over the keyboard.
Those who are most productive know how to leverage their day to get a lot done, stay focused, AND stay energized. I’ve seen at least three different ways to think about focusing in on work and managing one’s energy throughout the day:
- Work diligently for 25 minutes and take a 5-minute break
- Work for 50 minutes and take a 10-minute break
- Work for 90 minutes and take a small break
Regardless of the timing, the point is to focus on ONE task/project and then take a true break: walk around the building, grab a beverage, have a healthy snack, connect with a real, live human being. (Hint: email and social media are not mental breaks. Processing through email could be one of your focused activities, however.)
Use one of productivity cycles (25/5; 50/10; 90/15) to train yourself to have better mental and physical stamina too. There is a huge difference in the amount of mental energy needed to spend an hour JUST writing a report and spending 60 minutes writing a report, checking email, checking Facebook, clicking through to that cat video, researching cat sweaters, and reading a newsletter.
Every time we make a decision, our brains are using energy. We really can only make a certain limited number of decisions each day. So instead of wasting your decision making on click bait, stay focused on that one key task for the hour. Frankly, many of us need to be re-trained to have a longer attention span. By following one of the focus models above, you’ll also be developing your attention-span muscle.