Too busy, a deadline, stressed out, I’m really in the zone, I took a vacation last week, I’ll take tomorrow off… There’s always a reason not to take a break. But we often don’t see all the good reasons to take a break. Like the fact that taking breaks actually improves your performance and helps you to get more done. In this article, we’ll explain how that works and how to actually take those breaks.
It might not feel like it, but when you take breaks, you’re doing yourself and your productivity a favour – genuinely. It all comes down to the following reasons:
1. Switching off creates space for new ideas
Imagine: You’re working on a difficult task and you just can’t get it done. After a break or the following morning, you flip open your laptop again and suddenly the solution is right there.
Breaks – whether they’re long or short – lead to more creativity, increasing your problem-solving abilities. You’ll see new patterns that you didn’t see before when you were buried in work.
When we take breaks, our brains shift from a “focussed” to a “diffuse” mode of thinking. That means that our minds open up again to all sorts of new information. We’re able to relax, daydream, and act on autopilot. Research shows that it’s when we’re in this diffuse state that we have new ideas. That’s why you have so many great ideas in the shower or when you’re cycling home.
2. Your stress levels drop
We’re often stressed when we’re busy. And when we’re busy, we tend to skip our breaks. This is a shame because, in the short term, breaks reduce our stress levels and, in the long term, they reduce our risk of developing burnout.
Taking breaks allows you to reflect on your feelings (of stress) and create some distance from them. This then helps you to relax again.
Tip: This guided mindfulness meditation will help you to let go of your thoughts and reduce your stress levels.
3. You get better at making decisions
Do you have a job that requires you to make lots of decisions? Then you might develop decision fatigue during the day. You become worse at making decisions. This is related to the diffuse state of mind, which you’ll struggle to get into if you haven’t taken a break in a long time. This state is necessary when you’re trying to take in the information you need to make a decision. By taking breaks, you recharge your battery and increase your ability to make good choices.
4. You become more productive
Research shows that microbreaks are good for our concentration levels and that this makes us more productive. A microbreak doesn’t have to be more than a few minutes to have a positive effect. You could compare yourself to a rubber band: if you keep pulling it tight all the time, it will eventually break. Even briefly releasing the tension makes all the difference.
A microbreak could take the form of a walk around the office, daydreaming for a few minutes, getting a snack, talking to a colleague, watching a cat video, or reading a few pages of a book.
5. Your memory improves
Do you have to absorb a lot of information while you’re working? Or are you taking a class after work? Then alternating between short learning sessions and breaks will help you to concentrate and remember new information better.
Try out the Pomodoro technique, make a list of tasks and write down how many Pomodoros (one Pomodoro equals 25 minutes) you need per task. Set your timer for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, take a five-minute break. No cheating! Then move on to your next Pomodoro. After three Pomodoros, take a long break.
6. You have more energy
Taking breaks isn’t just good for your mood, creativity and productivity during the day. Academics have discovered that taking a lunch break is good for you in the long run. Employees who take lunch breaks have more strength and energy. See it as a battery you need to recharge. If you keep going without a break, your battery will die and it will take even longer to recharge it.
7. Taking breaks with others creates stronger social bonds
If your break consists of a conversation, a group lunch, or going for a walk with someone, then you’ll get double the benefit: You’ll relax and get closer to your colleagues.
You can share experiences of difficult times at work or choose to not talk or think about work at all for a while. By strengthening your bonds with your colleagues, you’ll feel part of a group, which is good for your mental health.
8. Breaks promote healthy habits
If you’re busy and stressed, your good habits, like eating healthy, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep are more likely to fall by the wayside. That’s because your focus tends to shift when you’re busy (for example, to your work). Since you’re so focused, you forget to think about your health.
By taking a proper lunch break, you’re explicitly making time and space for these healthy habits: For preparing a healthy meal, taking a short walk, doing some exercise, and resting.
How can you take enough (good) breaks?
Breaks are good for you and good for your performance at work. But how can you make sure that you’re actually taking them? We’ll now provide a round-up of tips that we apply ourselves in our daily lives:
1. Set a daily alarm for your lunch break and block out time in your schedule. When it goes off, finish the sentence you are working on and start your break.
2. Use the Pomodoro Technique with the help of this TomatoTimer to manage your microbreaks: every 25 minutes you’ll get a notification that it’s time for a short break. After three cycles, it’s time for a longer break.
3. Use your breaks to do activities that are far removed from your work activities. Do you spend a lot of your working hours sitting in front of a screen? Then go for a walk (and leave your smartphone in your pocket). Do you move a lot while you’re working? Then go and sit or lie in the grass in the sunshine for a while.
4. Do a coffee run for all of your colleagues. By spending ten minutes making coffee, you’ll give your brain time to rest. And your colleagues are sure to be pleased with you.
5. Ask your colleagues if they’d like to go for a walk or have lunch with you at a set time each day. This way you can hold each other to your walking or lunch appointments.
6. Place a post-it on your screen with a reminder to take a microbreak. Even a microbreak where you just breathe in and out quietly ten times has a range of benefits.
7. Chat with your colleagues. This is a great way to take a microbreak and strengthen your social bonds at the same time.
8. Place a book – preferably something non-work-related – on your desk to remind you to read a page every half an hour, for example.
9. Don’t eat your snacks at your desk, instead turn snack time into its own little break.
10. Say it out loud: Rest is also productive.
By now it should be clear that when you take a break you’re doing yourself, your work performance, and the people around you a service. And you also have the right tools to put this into practice. So, what are you waiting for, take that break!