The Big Idea
Work is a marathon but we treat it like it’s an all-day sprint.
Questions I Answer
- How can I take breaks without feeling guilty?
- How can I increase my productivity?
- Is there a strategy to taking breaks?
- What kind of breaks make me more productive?
Actions to Take
- Watch my TanyaTV video on how taking breaks at work increases your productivity
- Bring a touch of joy into your day by using the download to figure out what types of breaks you really want to take, post it in your office, and look at it when it is time for you to take a break.
Key Topics in the Show
Increasing your productivity with breaks
Scheduling well-timed breaks for mental clarity
Understanding the types of breaks you really want to take
Five categories of breaks you’ll want to implement into your day
Ways to have a greener workspace to incorporate nature into your day
Resources and Links
- Show Transcript[/accordion
Welcome to season seven of Productivity Paradox from Press, a podcast focused on using productivity not just to get more done, but to accomplish what’s most important. Join Tanya this season as she focuses on cultivating happiness through the power of productivity.To get her free checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to Press.com/podcast. And now, here’s your host, Tanya Dalton
Hello, hello everyone, welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton owner of InkWELL Press and this is Episode 82. This season, we’re talking about cultivating happiness through productivity. So today’s topic really feeds into that because, we’re going to be talking about the importance of breaks. A lot of people just push through trying to be as productive as possible. Pushing ourselves to the limits and maybe even, putting in overtime. And they’re not really taking breaks and that’s not really good for your productivity and, not good for your happiness either.
And then, even if you do take breaks either, you feel guilty about doing it or you feel like they were a waste of time. Instead, what I want us to do is, I want us to really understand why we need to take breaks and then figure out the types of breaks that we really want to have, that make us feel happier.
Have you ever felt like more time spent means that you’re more productive? It’s really not true. We really do need breaks. But, being a workaholic and being busy and hustling, those are often celebrated in our society. But here’s the sad truth, if you aren’t really taking breaks, you’re actually hurting and decreasing your productivity rather than improving it.
So today, I really want us to focus on the importance of our breaks. We’ve briefly talked about breaks on numerous episodes in the past. But, I really thought it was important enough to take a full episode to dive in a little bit deeper because, I feel it is so important to make sure we aren’t just taking breaks, but we’re taking the right kind of breaks. Pausing from work feels counter-intuitive because you feel like you should be using every spare minute you’ve got to be getting your work done. To finish the project or whatever it is you’re working on. And in some workplaces, not working the entire time is even frowned upon as if you’re wasting time.
But there’s a very solid growing body of evidence and research showing that regular breaks actually lead to greater productivity and skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion. Which means, unhappiness, and not really being truly productive. Even if your workplace does allow or even encourages breaks, many people feel guilty taking that time for themselves. And if you feel that way, you’re certainly not alone but detaching from your work and even your workspace entirely, is key to achieving your peak productivity, not
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to mention, your peak happiness and I think that’s really important here, too. Think of breaks not just as time for yourself but instead, as time needed to do your very best work with the added bonus of injecting a little bit of happiness into your day.
You see, your brain is a calorie burning machine. While it only takes up about a 50th of your body, it burns an astonishing one-fifth of your calories every single day. It requires an incredible amount of energy just to function. Because of our natural rhythms, your brain can only focus for so long before it needs a break, because it’s using up all of those calories it has stored for fuel. It needs time to rest and recharge fully so you can work more effectively. Pushing yourself to focus on work nonstop for hours on end, will only leave you drained and fatigued. Taking well-timed breaks helps leave you more focused and energized to keep doing your best work and that’s really what we’re looking for here. We don’t want to be efficient and focusing just on time, we want to focus on being effective, using our time wisely, and doing our best work and part of that is, taking our breaks.
You see, work is a marathon but we treat it like it’s an all-day sprint. Just like a marathon runner though, we can’t run full throttle all day long. We have to slow down to catch our breath from time to time. So when it’s time to race up a hill, we’ve got the energy to do that and to do it well. The key here is to try and schedule in a break before you’ve reached the bottom of your mental barrel. You know that feeling when your head starts feeling a little fuzzy? You start drifting and maybe daydreaming. We really want to time our breaks before that happens, that will help us become even more effective.
Now, if you’re on a roll and you’re deep into a zone, you don’t have to stop and disrupt that feeling for a break. Let yourself keep working, but make sure to notice when your attention starts to decline and then, take a break right away. What really drains your energy is forcing yourself to keep working past that point. And that’s what I want us to stop doing. And that’s because, short bursts of intense work followed by real breaks away from work, have been shown to be better for productivity because, your thought process isn’t meant to be continuous. Long hours doesn’t really mean better work. Usually, these short bursts of work are far more effective and productive.
A study from the University of Amsterdam, took two groups of students and asked both to choose between two cars to purchase based on a set of expectations. Group one went over the data intently for a full four minutes. While group two was intentionally interrupted by being asked to solve anagram puzzles while they looked over the data. Interestingly, group two, they ended up making better decisions because of the breaks away from the intent focus of the information, that was actually helpful for their brains. Anagrams, you see, use another part of your brain. So for the participants, their analytical processing section of their brains were put on hold. Then they could solve the problem of which car to choose with renewed energy.
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Your brain works the same way when we take a break. We come back to the problems we were solving with this renewed energy, concentration and even, increased creativity. So if we should be doing this where we’re working for these short bursts and then taking a break, how often should you take a break? We don’t want to take them too often, we don’t want to try to work for 15 minutes and take a break and 15 minutes more. It’s actually about every 50 to 90 minutes, and this corresponds with your ultradian rhythm, which we’ve discussed numerous times on this podcast. Most recently, on Episodes 59 and 65, so if you want a refresher on ultradian rhythm, I recommend checking out both of those episodes. But as a quick reminder, your ultradian rhythm is the wave-like cycle that our brains go through where at it’s high, we can focus and we can get in a state of deep work. And it’s low, we feel … Well, basically brain dead.
This is a natural rhythm that occurs and it’s not something that we can fight. We all have these peaks and valleys when it comes to our focus and energy. The peaks last about 90 minutes, so that’s why we want to plan to take a break about every hour and a half. When you take regular breaks, they should last about 15 to 20 minutes. And longer breaks if you’re having a meal. Ultradian rhythm research shows that our dips generally last about 20 minutes, so it makes sense that our breaks should last about that long as well. And I want you to keep in mind, that while we all have this rhythm, it does vary from person to person. So rather than obsessing about filling up a 90 minute block, test out different times, see what works best for you personally.
As always, I truly believe productivity should be customized to you. These frequent, short breaks are very beneficial. But if you do deprive yourself of a break for some time, make sure that when you do take one, you make it a longer break. You really want to get that beneficial effect, so you need to make sure you’re stretching that out a little bit longer. And don’t forget too, this applies to meetings as well. Meetings that last longer than an hour, need to have a break scheduled into it, or else people start to get uncomfortable and a little bit brain dead. So, plan for at least one bathroom break if not, a brain break. Especially, if it’s a meeting where everyone’s expected to contribute ideas. You really want to make sure we’re working with that ultradian rhythm.
Too often though, I find that when I talk to people about breaks. The first thing that they do is, they reach for their phones and they scroll through social media. Maybe even, checking email. Even though we just checked it a few minutes ago on the computer. Or you’ll play a few games. And what we’re really doing here is just exhausting our brains further. Instead of taking a good break that would really reenergize us. Good breaks reduce mental fatigue, they boost brain function, and they keep us on task for longer periods. Part of the problem is, we often don’t know what we want to do during the break or what we should do during our breaks. So we just go back to one of our natural
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defaults, which is staring at a screen. I get it, it’s like a bad habit, right? Don’t worry though because, I have a download to help you figure out what you want to do for your breaks. And to make this process of creating good breaks for yourself a little bit easier. Plus, I really think it’s important for you to actually start taking breaks that feel like something you truly enjoy.
The download is really easy to fill out and I walk you through it in the instructions, but I think it is really beneficial. So make sure to go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast and then, click on Episode 82 and the download will be right there for you to grab. I really think it will help you in understanding what kinds of breaks you really want to take. As with all things, it’s not about quantity even though, I want you to be taking frequent breaks. It’s also about the quality of these breaks. The wrong kind of breaks makes us more susceptible to boredom and may actually, backfire by making us fatigued and needing to take more breaks, more often. When we feel a twinge of fatigue and automatically check our phones. We’re really training our brains to check our phones even more, to the point of self-interrupting when we’re in that zone.
There actually was a South Korean study that found that workers who spent their lunch break using their smartphone instead of, chatting with friends. Found that they actually felt more emotionally exhausted in the afternoons than those workers who took a social break. Mindlessly scrolling your phone, isn’t really a break. The right kind of breaks can provide a buffer between work demands and fatigue and these breaks help restore your prefrontal cortex, which is our goal management section of our brain. This section of our brain coordinates our attention, our working memory, and the other resources that helps us achieve our tasks. Taking breaks that don’t rely heavily on our prefrontal cortex, is the best way to renew our focus throughout the day.
So, you’ve figured out when to take breaks and for how long. But what do you actually want to do when you’re taking a break? Obviously, not mindlessly scrolling on your phone. But really, anything else will work. I find that there’s five categories that breaks fall into. Relaxation breaks, movement breaks, alone time breaks, social breaks, and most interestingly, nature breaks and I go into detail on all five of these categories in my YouTube video this week. But for the sake of time for this podcast, I want to focus on that last one because, I think it’s one of the easiest things to implement in your space but it’s something many people don’t know about, nature breaks.
We all know that wellness programs are becoming an integral priority for workplaces because, a happier workplace is a more productive workplace. While we often think about these health related perks like, exercise rooms or mindfulness or fitness stipends, but one important wellness factor most people don’t think about or know about, is access to green spaces. Greenery can actually significantly boost employee wellbeing. It can reduce stress,
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enhance innovative potential, and even boost a sense of connection. To increase access to green spaces, offices are adding more plants to their common areas. And even big corporations like Google, has started prioritizing a love for plants as a cortisone principle. One study found that exposure to greenery from office plants, boosted not just employee wellbeing but also, productivity by 15%. We know of course, that plants help with our air quality. But, it also strengthens employee cognitive function. And it also dramatically improves creativity, our ability to think expansively, and make superior decisions. So, if it’s possible, add more plants to your environment.
Now, if adding plants to your workspace isn’t possible or, you don’t have a green thumb like me, find a way to add some time out in green spaces into your day. Taking a walk in nature lowers anxiety and it doesn’t have to be a big field of flowers or a forest. Just getting outside for a little bit can make a difference. That can lower your anxiety and depression, while boosting good moods and wellbeing. Getting out into the sun, also helps boost your vitamin D levels, something that has a really big effect on your mood. Especially, during colder months. Just as little as five minutes of exposure to nature, can have really dramatic benefits. Especially when coupled with exercises like, walking or even running. So think about maybe, talking a walk in the middle of the day at a park or taking your lunch outside. Even just the sounds of nature, can trigger the relaxation response in the brain. So if having neither plants nor getting outside is possible in your workspace. Try putting on a relaxing nature sounds playlist. Even that little bit, can make a big difference in your day.
Here’s a few different ways to have a greener workspace. Try sitting outside or even just in naturally lit areas, on your breaks or during your lunch. Light the room with natural sunlight as much as you possibly can. Open a window to let in some air and even, some nature sounds. You could display nature photography or artwork. Even try changing the screen saver on your computer to display nature photos or videos and of course, there is the idea of placing as many plants as you can around your office. And you need to make sure to assign someone to water them or else you end up with brown spaces rather than, green spaces. But the main thing here is that we need to have a little more nature in our day. We need to have a little bit of time where we feel a little more connected to the outdoors and that can make a really big difference in our day.
The main takeaway here is, get away from your screen. Especially, your smartphone. Try to do something completely different and let’s say the green spaces, that doesn’t work for you at all. That’s okay. There’s lots of different breaks that you can take. You could try reading a book or a magazine. Or just stopping your concentration, closing your eyes and relaxing. Your subconscious brain will continue to work on the task anyways, and you might find that relaxing actually allows you to solve the problem you’ve been working on. Another one of my favorite breaks is try doodling or
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daydreaming. We often feel guilty taking that space where we’re not really doing anything very unstructured time but this is actually, one of the best breaks to take because it does actually get our brain to stop working so hard. Try sitting alone, setting a timer for 10 minutes and then, just breathe in and be patient.
What I find is that when I set that timer for myself, I feel a little bit better about that time. I know that, that time will end because the timer will go off and then, I’m getting right back into my deep work and that allows me to feel a little less guilty for taking this free time for myself. And, it allows my brain a little bit more space to play and explore. Now the key here is to put your phone away. Put it out of sight, turn off the notifications. Put it in a hard place to reach so you’re not tempted to check in after a minute. Just give yourself that time and space to allow your brain to be free. What I love about a break like this, is that it actually allows you to close your eyes a little bit. We spend a lot of our day staring at a screen, right? And I really love this idea of closing your eyes, giving all the different areas of your body a little bit of a break. Now, I know for some people you’re thinking, “That feels uncomfortable to sit for 10 minutes and close my eyes at work. People will wonder what I’m doing.” And that’s okay, if that doesn’t feel good to you, find something that does.
Here’s an idea, you can do a 20, 20, 20 eye break. Which basically means, every 20 minutes stare at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. That’s the 20, 20, 20. So it’s really easy to remember. What this does is it gives your eyes a break from that screen you’re staring at. And it pulls blood flow to different areas of our brain to shift away from the areas where it’s had sustained attention. And, it alleviates the eye strain and fatigue you may be experiencing. There’s lots of things you can do for breaks. But what’s really important is to avoid downtime with nothing to do. Letting your mind wander, actually helps give our brains a break and time to subconsciously work on problems we’re trying to solve. When you find yourself with a few minutes with nothing to do, try to get out of that default mode of reaching for your phone. Instead, just breathe in, let your thoughts come and go and notice the things around you.
I think the biggest issue most of us have with breaks is that, when we have this space, this time with nothing to fill it. We don’t know what else to do, so we just default to our old habits. And I really want to encourage you to find things that can bring just a touch of joy into your day. That will boost your happiness and make your day feel a little bit brighter. So do make sure to grab that download, which you can do at inkWELLpress.com/podcast under Episode 82. And walk through it, figure out what are something’s that you would like to do, post it in your office and then, when you take your breaks, take a look at that. And it will really help you find the things that will bring you a little more happiness in your day.
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Now, if you’re subscribed to my emails, you already got the download. Each time we have a free download on the show, I make sure to email it out the day the episode goes live. If you’re not part of my newsletter, it’s easy to join and I promise you I do not fill up your inbox. So just head to inkWELLpress.com/podcastemail to get notifications of the podcast episodes, any free downloads and extra resources.
And speaking of resources, I’ve got a YouTube video this week on how taking breaks at work, increases your productivity. And you know how I talked about there’s five categories of breaks to help you hone in on your ideal break? I talk about that in the video. So you can view my YouTube channel at inkWELLpress.com/youtube.
Next week, we will be continuing to talk about cultivating happiness through productivity, and we will be talking about scheduling the unschedule able. So, all about that next week. So I hope you’ll tune in next Tuesday. Alright, until next time, have a beautiful and productive week.
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. To join Tanya’s free group, simply go to inkWELLpress.com/group.