Taking breakes has been hard for me. In many ways it’s been so hard that I’ve been trying to avoid them at all costs. Easier to just keep working, since at least I know how to do that. But, through some reading, conversations, and reflecting it has recently occurred to me that I could be much more productive if I took proper breaks. So I started thinking about how I could do so in a meaningful way. Here are some things that I found useful:
(I should probably also say that this is much easier in an office or studio environment that is goal oriented rather than a workplace that is clocking you in and out by the minute.)
Schedule your breaks
It’s hard to know when to take a break, and it’s all too tempting to tell yourself “Just one more little task”. So I found it more effective to schedule my breaks. That way I can make sure the break actually happens, but I also free up that part of my mind that’s constantly asking “Should I do it now?”. I found the 60/10 rule by Robin Sharma has worked well for me. The gist of it is do 60 minutes of focused work and then take a 10 minute rejuvenating break.
Plan how to spend your break
So I’ve scheduled my break, my 10 minutes start now! Go! … Total deer in the headlights moment for me. What do I do? Do I just sit here? Should I go to the store? Get coffee? Do I have enough time? Maybe it’s better if I stay? Aaand time is up! Now I feel like a failure. The best way to avoid this is to know ahead of time what you’re going to do during those 10 minutes. Possible activities could be getting up and doing some stretches, going for a quick walk, or even meditating. One of my favorites is to walk over to the office art book collection and look at my favorite books. 10 minutes later I feel more relaxed and motivated to continue my work.
Avoid Social Media
It’s super tempting to just go and check social media for 10 minutes, and I myself used to think that that is a form of relaxation. But it’s not really. Being on social media actually takes focus and energy away from us as we become distracted and our mind goes off in different directions. The other problem with social media is that' it’s so unpredictable. If I walk over to the shelf and grab one of my books I know what I’m exposing myself to and I can be deliberate about how I want to influence my mind over the next 10 minutes. With social media, sure there’s a chance I might see something awesome and inspiring, but there’s also a good chance I’ll see something useless, draining, or even depressing. My 10 minute rejuvenation break is not the right time for that.
Keep your break free of task
It’s also tempting, to me anyways, to say, “well I’ll just do this easy task, that will be a good break”. Or having a work related discussion with a co-worker, or answering a few emails, or even going to the bathroom. Those are all part of the regular workflow and should not count as your break. None of those things are going to replenish or refocus you. You’re better off doing something that will and then getting back into the deep focus work. If you have a bunch of easy tasks and emails, consider leaving them for the end of the day or even the end of a 60 minute work period when your focus starts to become more elusive.
So set aside that 10 minutes for yourself and really make it count. Don’t feel bad about it. Maybe your overall work hours will be down slightly, but your overall productivity will be up :)