If you’re working behind a desk all day you’ll likely recognise the physical and mental fatigue that sets in at the end of a long day / week in the office. You’ve probably wondered how it’s possible to feel so exhausted while sitting behind a PC for hours on end.
Well think of your body like a car. You start the day with a full tank of petrol (or full charge of the battery if you’ve went all green) but as the day wears on, mentally exerting yourself, your fuel tank gradually begins to empty and tiredness sets in. Eventually, 7,8,9,12 hours in to your working day you hit the wall where your productivity flatlines. You’ve ran out of fuel.
So what is the solution?
Well if we continue with the car analogy, you’d top up your fuel tank (or battery) regularly and you’ll be able to keep on going forward. In work terms, that means you should take a break. Taking a break when you need it is an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.
The art of taking a break has a bad rap, especially in the ‘work till you drop’ culture that we have in the UK. I’ve never understood this culture of measuring yourself against others based on how many hours we’ve logged in the office instead of what really matters, living our best lives. Keep reading and you’ll understand that regular mini-breaks are an essential, science-based way to ensure that you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.
When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.
Here are some ways you can take a break and actually boost your productivity.
Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time
Perhaps you remember starting out in the working world, being eager to please the boss as most entry-level employees do. Every day, punching in at 9 AM on the dot, having your 60-minute or less lunch break, and leaving no earlier than 5 PM, (often much later).
Maybe you’ve felt so burned out at times that you question if the 40-hour work week is really the best way to work and get the most done? If you have, then you’re not the only one.
Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s created the ‘Pomodoro’ productivity technique. This technique uses a timer to split work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short 5 minute breaks. Each interval is known as a ‘pomodoro‘, from the Italian word for ‘tomato‘, after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student. Find more about Cirillo and the ‘pomodoro’ technique in the video below:
While the Pomodoro technique was a step forward, more recent research has shown a shorter burst of working followed by a longer than 5 minute pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.
The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found out that the sweet spot for productivity was an average of 52 minutes on, with a 17-minute break afterward.
These findings are explainable due to neuroscience. According to researchers, our brains naturally work in spurts of activity that last an hour. After that time we toggle to “low-activity mode.” We’ve all experienced that moment where we get distracted by a shiny object, social media or a cat video, that’s when our concentration flatlines.
Keep in mind we’re all unique. I’m not advocating work for 45 minutes and then break for 15. This might work for some, but others might be just getting started after working 6 hours straight. Also, it’s simply not realistic in some professions to take a break after an hour. I don’t think a surgeon having a 15 minute coffee break 1 hour in to a 3 hour operation would go down too well with the patient.
This is not a set in stone rule, more like best practice. When you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with a particular task, take a break to top up your fuel tank in order to keep productive for longer.
Get some fresh air, and move your body
When it comes to improving mental health, there’s nothing better than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue and improving work performance. Are you a city dweller? Parks, outdoor paths and attractive architecture can be just as effective in getting the most out of your break.
A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more effective if you combine it with physical movement to pump up your adrenaline levels. I’ve made no secret of the fact that your body wasn’t designed to be stuck in a seat the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as harmful to overall health as smoking.
It’s not always possible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. Luckily, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Research has found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.
So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Or how about rolling out a yoga mat and do some of these stretches in your home office for 60 seconds each.
Do whatever type of exercise is realistic in your workplace. I guarantee if you give it a try for a couple of weeks you’ll find yourself with sharper focus and drive to get things done.
Connect with people
It’s undeniable that humans are social creatures, so it makes sense that socialising helps recharge the batteries. When we’ve got good relationships with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.
A good way to break after a 45 minute burst is to connect with friends or family. It’s amazing how a bit of banter and emotional connection can re-energise you and get you ready for the next 45 minute to an hour burst of productivity.
Now that a lot more of us are working at home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the garden or a walk around the block.
If you live alone, call a friend or relative for a blether. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.
When you’re being productive, you’re in “get it done” mode. This can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long, especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient of success in the workplace. You also need creativity.
That’s why it’s sometimes good to have a “brain breather” every day. When my body and mind feels low in petrol, I usually begin another creative activity to exercise my brain. For me it usually comes in the form of journaling, listening to a guided meditation or listening to some of my favourite tunes. It doesn’t have to be limited to these though. You could do a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, try and level up in Candy Crush or draw a doodle in your sketch pad.
Whenever I’m really struggling to focus, sometimes I simply don’t do anything. I’ll let my brain get lost in its thoughts for a bit. This can reinforce creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.
Whether you help the kids with homework, read an awesome book, or just sit sunbathing in the garden, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think freely without a specific goal. Sometimes the big life break throughs can happen when you’re not looking for them.
Ultimately, we’ve all got bills to pay, and responsibilities to our families. However working to the point of burnout helps no one, we need to take a break once in a while. So if any of this has resonated with you, take a break from being a desk jockey and see your productivity increase.
Until next time, “Strength for Life”,
Davie McConnachie is Scotland’s leading health and wellness coach, multi-award-winning gym owner, motivational speaker, and the founder of DMC Fitness, a fitness education facility known as the premier choice for 1-2-1 personal training. He has inspired thousands of people to fall in love with fitness – his true mission in life.
In his own fitness journey, Davie has athletically competed in Mixed Martial Arts fighting for Scottish and British titles, boxed for Scotland’s top amateur boxing team, and competed internationally in Girevoy (kettlebell) Sport.
Diving into the world of sports and wellness has helped Davie to deal with his own inner demons. He. overcame many dark times using his own unique method to complete his cycle of H.E.A.L.I.N.G.