The prevailing wisdom used to be that if you wanted to get more done, you had to work harder, faster, and throw yourself at the problem with more force. But the paradigm of work is changing – more and more evidence is showing that if you really want to be more productive, you should take a break. Mental concentration is like a muscle – it can’t do the heavy lifting without periods of recovery. When it’s constantly under strain, it gets worn out and slows down – and both you and your work suffer. It should come as no surprise, then, that taking regular breaks improves mental clarity, helps us be more creative, and makes us healthier overall.
Taking breaks can sometimes be hard to put into practice, however. When you’re overwhelmed with things to do and tasks to manage, taking a break can feel like the last thing you want to do, an unnecessary distraction that’s going to cut into your productive time and delay your work. The old idea that taking a break is a sign of laziness dies hard in some work environments, and it can feel wrong to be the only person taking a break while your co-workers are all solidly glued to their computers. And while a there are a lot of ideas out there about the best way to take a break, some of them can seem like a luxury; the scientifically-proven benefits of a mid-day power nap are all well and good, it’s just not a realistic option for some of us. Unless of course you are a puppy, or happen to work from home.
Even if a nap or a game of foosball are out of your reach, we still think it’s worth it to try and take a break in whatever way you can. It helps to make sure that your breaks are quality ones, too, where you can really give your brain time to recover – not just a walk to the water cooler or few minutes spent surfing facebook. The folks at Wamda have some great suggestions for ways to take productive breaks the help you recharge but still stay in the zone. My favorite is to take a break by engaging with something that inspires me, like watching a TED talk or reading an article, which is a great way to feel rejuvenated without losing focus. On the other hand, I also like looking at puppies, and that also seems to work pretty well. Taking the time to get organized and set short-term goals and priorities can also help clean up some of the mental clutter that’s weighing you down.
Not everyone works in the same way, and not everyone needs to take a break in the same way, either. The optimum time or frequency for workday breaks can vary by person; sometimes, if you’re on a roll or in the middle of a creative high, you might not feel the need to take a break at all. And when your plate is full, it can be easy to scoff at the idea of stepping back – but for the sake of your own productivity, give it a shot. If you are still not convinced, start slow and spend a few minutes looking at these cute puppies.