Today’s culture is so much about working hard and not enough about working smart.
Signs of working too hard and not smart enough might be that you’re often losing focus, your motivation is fading and you’re making a lot of mistakes.
And the simple solution? Take better breaks.
You might feel like you’re taking plenty of breaks. After all, in the last two hours you spent half an hour on Twitter and went for coffee twice…
The art of taking effective breaks is finding a balance between high concentration and full relaxation. When you’re on, you’re on 100%. When you’re off, you really rest.
If this sounds like exactly how you want your work day to flow, check out these techniques and suggestions to get the most out of your break time.
Take more short breaks – and be consistent with them
Is it better to take one long break or many short ones?
No-one has yet found a magic number for how many breaks you should take or how long they should be. However, most experts agree that stopping regularly to refresh yourself, even for just a few minutes, is more effective than powering through your work for hours.
In the long run, taking frequent breaks helps us build concentration, enjoy our work more and avoid burn-out.
Studies have shown that even a “micro-break” of less than one minute can help you mentally recharge and (if you get out of your chair) protect your body from the tolls of sitting all day at a desk.
So at least every half hour or so, get up and stretch, walk around for a minute and look out the window. You’ll be amazed how much more efficient and productive you are afterwards.
There are many systems and schedules for integrating break time into your work flow.
The Pomodoro Technique is one of the best and most popular ways to stay focused and break any task into manageable chunks. The method itself is quite simple.
- Choose a task to accomplish.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Work exclusively on the task during this time. No checking your phone for messages, planning other work or grabbing a cup of coffee: just concentrate on what’s in front of you. There’s very little that can’t wait 25 minutes for you to take care of it!
- When the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break. Do this even if you feel like you’re in a “flow” and want to keep working.
- Repeat. Every four cycles, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
This method was developed in the 90’s by Francisco Cirillo, an Italian entrepreneur, developer, and author. The frequent breaks help you keep up your focus and motivation. It also enforces “single-tasking,” which is much more effective than the constant multitasking that many of us fall into.
Take care of your body
If your work is on the computer, don’t spend your break staring at a screen!
It’s been said that sitting is the new smoking. The health risks of a sedentary lifestyle are well documented: higher chances of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, digestive problems, depression and anxiety, not to mention back problems and loss of muscle. ( another article that focuses on health and productivity as well as using chrome newtab for wellness can be found here)
Hitting the gym for an hour after work isn’t going to offset a whole day at the desk.
To keep your body happy and healthy, bring as much movement as you can into your day.
Try to be on your feet during your whole break, even if it’s just walking around the office and staring out the window. Of course, the ideal is to get out and breathe some fresh air.
A vigorous 10-minute walk will also do wonders for your focus and productivity.
Many people benefit from doing exercises or even some quick yoga while at work. Try to focus on the parts that suffer the most from long periods of sitting. Do backbends to reverse the common desk slump, touch your toes, and stretch your shoulders, hips and wrists.
Most importantly, don’t forget your eyes!
Hours of focusing on artificial lights will take their toll on your vision over time. This can also cause headaches and difficulty sleeping.
Eye doctors recommend the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, spend at least 20 seconds staring at an object at least 20 feet away.
Staring at the horizon or the open sky are probably the best ways to rest your eyes.
You can also try some simple eye exercises:
- Imagine a giant clock face across your entire field of vision. Bring your eyes up to 12 o’clock, then 1, 2, etc. Start slow, increasing the speed until you are rolling in a full circle. Come back to center and rest with eyes closed, then repeat in the other direction. This puts your eyes through their full range of motion, relaxing them and opening up blood flow.
- Hold your arms straight out in front of you, hands together and thumbs up. Slowly move your hands apart while trying to see both thumbs at the same time. When you can’t anymore, bring them slowly back together.
- Rub your hands together until there’s heat. Place the palms cupped over your closed eyes and hold for 10-20 seconds.
Take care of your mind
Just as important as exercising your body is to take care of your mind.
Just 15 minutes of meditation can have a huge effect on your mental state. It’s been shown scientifically to boost focus and creativity, and reduce stress. When you make a habit of it, meditating regularly can bring positive changes into your entire life.
Try a few simple practices whenever you have a little free time:
- Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Whenever you get distracted by thoughts or sensations, simply come back to the breath and stay with it as long as you can. If you want more relaxation, feel your breath moving in your belly. If you’re looking for more focus, try to feel the movement of air through your nostrils.
- Practice the “inner smile.” Imagine that you’re smiling on the inside, with your face and body totally relaxed. Send this smile to every part of your body, one at a time, until you feel like your whole body is smiling.
- Count your breaths from 1 to 7. When you reach 7, go back to 1 and count to 14, then 21, 28, etc. When you get distracted, lose track of numbers or forget which round you’re on, go back to the first round of 1-7.
- Walking meditation is good for your body and mind at the same time. Find a place to walk in a circle. You will walk slowly, timing your breath your steps. Take small steps. Breathe in when you step with the left foot and breathe out when with the right foot. This is a very relaxing and refreshing practice that helps a lot with stress and intense emotions.
Get back to nature
The best way to recharge yourself is to let Mother Nature do it for you.
If at all possible, go out and spend your break in a park. Walk barefoot, sit on the ground, look at trees and stare at the sky.
If that’s not available to you, consider getting a plant for your workspace, just to have some green around.
And at the very least, look at pictures of nature during your break.
One recent study showed that people who saw images of lush foliage for just 40 seconds had higher concentration and made fewer mistakes when they returned to work.
A great way to make this a part of your work process is to download Limestone, a free Chrome dashboard extension. With this app, every new tab you open has a beautiful, inspiring background image. It’s a wonderful tool for bringing moments of refreshment into every task.
With all these suggestions and techniques for taking the best breaks, it all comes down to experimentation, with yourself as the subject. Try out different times, lengths and activities during your breaks.
Be systematic so you can see what really helps you and what doesn’t.
Just don’t fall into a pattern of pushing yourself for too long and burning out. Always keep in mind that resting well is the most important part of working well!