Do more by doing less

Spirit

March GO Challenge:

Take a break.

Want to be more productive? Take more time off. Odd as that may seem, it’s absolutely true. Research shows that working continuously without a break not only reduces your productivity, it can actually hurt your health.

Why? Because when you stay on task too long without relief, you invite stress, cognitive fatigue, physical tiredness and emotional burnout. Did you know that your brain’s ability to stay focused actually grows weaker after a certain point (usually 50 to 90 minutes)?

That’s why it’s a good idea to take a break periodically to recharge. Go for a walk, chat with a friend, step out for lunch, read a book, close your eyes and relax — anything that gives you a breather from work. The irony is, even though you’re spending less time on the job, you’re actually getting more done! People who take breaks tend to have more energy, stamina, creativity and focus.

And don’t forget the importance of vacations. While you may feel guilty taking time off, you’re not doing yourself (or your company) any favors by skipping vacations. A stressed, overworked employee may be physically present but mentally checked out, driving down productivity and morale while increasing their own risk for health problems.

Here are just some of the benefits of taking vacation and relaxation breaks:

  • Reduced stress
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Higher productivity at work
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better decision-making
  • Less risk of depression
  • Closer ties with family
  • Less chance of catching a cold
  • Increased mental power and creativity
  • Less chance of burnout

7 different ways to take a break.

We all know that taking periodic breaks is good for us. But how long should a break last? Are there specific rules to follow? What kind of break is best? Here’s the lowdown on 7 of the most common types of breaks you can take.  

  • Work break — Also known as a “coffee break,” this is a 10-20 minute time-out from whatever you’ve been doing. If you work at a computer, stand up and move around. If your job is physical, sit down and rest. Spend your break doing the opposite of whatever you do for work.
  • Mini-break — Studies suggest that frequent, short breaks may be the most effective of all. Get up and refill your water bottle, spend a minute or two checking social media, do a sun salutation beside your desk. Even short respites like these can help you feel refreshed and ready to get back to work.
  • Micro-break — There’s always time for a micro-break, which is nothing more than a 20-30 second pause in what you’re doing. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Relax your shoulders, unkink your neck, and look at the clouds for a few seconds. Your body (and mind) will thank you!
  • Lunch break — The 10 minutes you spend scarfing down a sandwich at your desk is not a lunch break. A true lunch break takes you away from your workplace so you can enjoy a change of scenery. Studies show that staying inside, in the same location, is harmful to creativity and innovation.
  • Nap — If you’re a napper, you already know how refreshing a little snooze can be. And researchers agree. Numerous studies have found that catnaps of just 20 minutes can significantly boost productivity. Some companies like Google and Zappos even allow napping on the job.
  • Vacation — Taking time off from work is a great way to relax and recharge.  Can’t afford two weeks in the Caribbean? You can still benefit from a long weekend or a mental health day now and then. Even a “staycation” at home can be extremely restorative.
  • Spirit booster — A break doesn’t have to be a break from work. Sometimes you need a breather from your own personal problems. When you’re feeling down, worried or upset about something, don’t stress out — do something to relax and lift your spirits. Take a hot bath. Listen to music. Sit under a tree. Read poetry. Go to the movies.

Tips for making your breaks more refreshing.

The process of relaxing, like anything else, takes practice. The more you do it, the easier it is feel calm and refreshed. Conversely, if you don’t take enough time off, your body may find it more difficult to relax in the future. 

According to clinical psychologist Deborah Mulhern, interviewed in U.S. News & World Report, when people don't take enough downtime, “the neural connections that produce feelings of calm and peacefulness become weaker, making it actually more difficult to shift into less-stressed modes.”

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your breaks and vacations:

  • Don’t feel guilty. It’s hard to relax if you’re worried that others will think you’re lazy. If breaks are uncommon where you work, talk your boss and explain why breaks are important to your health and productivity. Once you have permission, you can feel good about the example you’re setting.
  • Schedule your breaks. Make breaks a priority by scheduling them like any other item on your to-do list. Set a timer if necessary. You can download free timer apps like Scirocco or Stand Up! to help you remember to take time-outs during your workday. 
  • Pause often. Try to take a break at least once an hour, even if it only involves closing your eyes and doing a few neck and shoulder rolls. Remember, your brain may start losing its ability to focus after just 50 minutes. So rather than powering through an unproductive afternoon, pause and hit refresh.
  • Use a different part of your brain. To truly benefit from a break, you need to do the opposite of whatever you were just doing. By engaging a different part of your brain, you give the other hemisphere a rest. Ever notice how your best ideas often come to you in the shower?
  • Do something you enjoy. You’ll get more out of your break if you choose an activity that brings you pleasure. If you like exercise, wear a pedometer and do some laps around the building. If you’re into music, pop in your ear buds and zone out.  
  • Don’t overschedule your vacation. Remember, vacation is a time to relax and take it easy. It’s not about cramming in as many sights as possible in 7 days. Be sure to leave your laptop (and any work) at home, too. You don’t want to return from vacation more exhausted than when you left.

So, are you ready for a little recess? There are literally hundreds of different ways to relax and give yourself a break. Here are just a few:

  • Fun ways to take a break. Go for a stroll. Draw a picture. Spend time in nature. Dance. Get a massage. Call a friend. Stargaze. Go to a bookstore. Ride your bike. Pet someone furry. Memorize a poem. Doodle. Watch the sun set. Visit a museum. Do yoga. Go bird watching. Play a board game. Meditate. Light a candle. Plant something. Do a puzzle. Bake cookies. Nap.