As we explore this month’s theme on stress and self-care, it’s worth discussing not just how we take breaks, but when. At times we may find ourselves in a flurry of work and not realize that our brains are begging for a small reprieve.
Similar to a racecar making a pit stop, or a runner grabbing some water, we need refreshing breaks. While it may take some time out of the “race,” we just wouldn’t go as far without them. So while it may seem counterintuitive to pull yourself away from work, you’ll actually get more done over the course of a day. Dr. Larissa Barber and Amanda Conlin from Psychology Today explain: “Breaks can replenish the psychological costs associated with working hard, improve work performance, and boost energy. … For example, researchers have shown that watching a funny eight-minute video (Cheng & Wang, 2015) or spending less than one minute looking at nature (Lee et al., 2015) improves employee performance after they return to the work task.”
While more research needs to be done on the topic, productivity experts have concluded that breaks should be taken every 50 to 90 minutes. Desktime, a productivity app by the Draugiem Group, analyzed the work patterns of the top 10% of it’s most productive users. What they found was on average, these people worked for 52 minutes, then took a 17 minute break. They also didn’t work longer hours than anyone else. This case study contrasts slightly with studies done about our natural rest-activity cycle, or ultradian rhythm. Our ultradian activity cycle lasts for 90 minutes before we dip into inactivity, so Tony Shwartz, President of The Energy Project, concludes that you should take a 15-20 minute break every 90 minutes. This seems to have worked for him; after carving his work day into 90 minute chunks, he was able to write a book in just six months!
When we don’t take regular breaks, we begin to feel it. Here are some tell-tale signs that you need a break, afternoon off, or even a vacation:
• You keep hitting a wall. Everyone does some manner of problem-solving at work, and if you’re finding that you just can’t work around an obstacle, it may be time for a break. If you keep trying to force a solution, you’re likely to get stuck and further frustrated.
• You're resilience is low. When we become stressed, tired, and burned out, even the smallest of setbacks can seem like tragedy. If you find that you’re responding more dramatically to negative news at work, it may be time for a break. Give yourself some time to recharge so you can tackle negative news with grace.
• You’re doing small unimportant tasks instead of any of your actual to-do’s. If you find yourself browsing the news, cleaning out old folders, or organizing your desk for the fifth time, it may be time for a break. Give yourself time to reset, identify what your important tasks are, and refocus.
We all need a breaks, so don’t feel bad about using vacation days or going for a short stroll - you’ll be a more productive person for it! When taking your break, make sure you fully remove yourself from what you were doing. Get up, stretch, walk around, and try not to look at a screen. This will maximize the effect and allow your brain to recharge. So take a break - you’ve earned it!
Inc - When, How, and How Often to Take a Break
Fast Company - 3 Signs You Need to take a Break from Work
Fast Company - The Exact Amount of Time You Should Work Every Day
Psychology Today - Why and How You Should Take Breaks at Work
By Aubrey Dion
Aubrey Dion is proud to be back working for the family business she grew up in. Over the years, she has performed a wide variety of jobs in both the office and factory, becoming a true "jack of all trades." Aubrey credits her quick learning ability to her strong theatre background, where memorization and attention to detail are vital. Working in the marketing department allows her to stay creative and work on exciting new projects for the company.