Or coffee breaks. Or just a water break. What’s important is actually taking a break from whatever you’re doing and giving yourself a little breathing space. This time last year, I remember rushing through my work at break-neck speed, barely stopping to have a bite to eat at lunch (okay, who are we kidding? I ate at my keyboard). I felt crazy-busy all the time yet I never seemed to be getting anywhere with my work. It was go-go-go from the minute I started work at 7am and I stared at that computer screen non-stop until 7pm when my husband prised my fingers away from the keyboard.
In truth, I didn’t really want to stop. I was kind of enjoying being so busy and I had so much to do yet so little time to do it in. Or so I thought. I soon began to realise that I was swimming against the current. Running through treacle. Whatever you want to call it, I was getting nowhere fast. Not only was I not being totally productive, but I also was dehydrated, which made me more hungry and when I stuffed my face with food I felt sluggish. Which of course I tried to fight against because I was soooo busy. But I managed to change one part of my routine and things improved overnight. What was it? Break time!
Children get break time at school and at work employment regulations stipulate that we must have 20 minutes of uninterrupted rest every 6 hours. This is because teachers and employers know that concentrating on one activity for a prolonged period of time will addle your brain and make you less productive. When I think back to the time when I was rushing head-first into my work without a pause to refresh, I can honestly say that if you’d asked me what I’d achieved that day, the answer would have been ‘errrm, I don’t really know…’ because really I wasn’t getting anything significant done in all those hours of work.
So now I’ve divided up my work into ‘sessions’ all of which are followed by a tea break, coffee break or lunch break. I’ll write for a couple of hours, then I’ll take a break. And that means getting up from the computer, spending time making a drink and sitting down to enjoy it rather than taking it back to my desk. There are many reasons why breaks are important and here’s a few that I can think of:
Eyes: It’s important for your eyes to focus on something different. If you’re staring at a screen all day, or working on intricate details of a craft or design, it would be sensible to spend some time looking into the distance to allow your eyes times to refocus and prevent fatigue or eye strain. HSE advises regular breaks for workers who use Display Screen Equipment (DSE) and just because I’m working for myself doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t impose the same rules – after all, I’m the most important employee (not to mention the only employee!) I have 😉
Time to think: When you’re rushing from one task to the next, do you ever really get the chance to actually think? I find that I get better ideas when I allow myself quiet time and new ideas start to flow more easily over a cup of coffee. Richard Branson agrees that it gives you ‘a moment to stop and think without distraction’, so if it’s good enough for Branson, it’s good enough for me!
It rehydrates you: Everyone knows that a hydrated brain is an active brain and on the flip-side, being dehydrated makes it harder to concentrate and you’ll be more prone to headaches. I just read a study that investigated whether water deprivation had an effect on reaction times and mental performance of volunteers. The study found that dehydrated subjects were more sluggish, tired and took significantly more effort to concentrate compared with when they were adequately hydrated. So having a drink (even if it’s just water) while you take a break will make you more productive than if you were to use that break time working.
If you’re going to take a break, why not make it into a ritual that you enjoy and look forward to? I even used to rush making my tea, so I’d pour the kettle too quickly and boiling water would splash out of the sides of the lid. Whereas I now enjoy the sound of a kettle being s-l-o-w-l-y poured into a cup, in the same way that I used to enjoy the glug-glug-glug of wine being poured into a glass. Far from the quick-stir-with-a-spoon-and-whip-the-teabag-out method of tea-making that I used to favour, I now take pleasure from letting the tea infuse for the suggested amount of time and enjoying a full-flavoured cuppa! Of course, there’s nothing better than percolating coffee, with the ritual of grinding the coffee beans, hearing the water come to the boil, watching the steam puffing out and seeing the coffee blip away. The rich aroma and the bubbling sounds makes me feel instantly more relaxed and ready to rest.
I usually take my coffee or tea outside with me so that I’m far enough away from distractions and technology to give my brain time to reset itself. Again, it’s an instantly relaxing ritual to rest outside because you can feel the change in temperature, smell flowers and grass (or in my case, the herb garden) and can hear birds chirping or bees buzzing. It’s stimulating these senses that will help you to relax and refocus. The rest (and the drink!) will help you to be even more productive when you get back to work – so if you want to work better, TAKE A BREAK!