There are points when the only thing you can do — despite desperately wanting to be productive — is to step back for a few minutes. And while conventional productivity wisdom seems to dictate that you should use those few minutes to get a small task done or get a bit ahead on a future project, there are often situations when the best thing you can do is to sit down for a nice cup of tea (or the relaxing activity of your choice). I picked up the habit a while back and taking those little breaks have actually increased my productivity. Try stopping for a few minutes when…

…You’re Frustrated

If a given project is about to drive you over the edge, you need to step back. Try to get some distance or some insight. But switching over to a new task when you’re already wound up and frustrated just means that your irritation is going to be transferred to your new task. Sure, you may get that little bit of work done and out of the way, but you’re going to continue to be frustrated through that task and on to the next one. Taking even a few minutes can help you decide just why you’re frustrated and what you can do about it — you may even get a side order of inspiration with your cup of tea and think up a new approach to your problem.

…You’re Feeling Poorly

Trying to push on through your daily tasks when you’re feeling sick can be worth less than you think. If you over exert yourself when you are already tired or sick, you may just wind up needing to redo tasks, rather than getting ahead on what you need to do. If you’re like me, though, the idea of taking a day off or going back to bed just doesn’t seem like an option. But slowing down can make sure that I actually do get things done on a day when I feel pretty bad. Sure, I may not get some smaller tasks done while I’m sipping on my tea, but I can probably work through my most important tasks.

…You’ve Been At It Too Long

We all have different breaking points, but each of us have that point where, if we don’t go and do something different, we’ll go a bit nutty. I learned during the good old days in college that if I wanted to pull an all-nighter, I had to plan to get up and take a walk every hour or so, or I’d get so flat out bored and tired of my project that I would fall asleep on my keyboard. Getting up to make a cup of tea, get a drink or take a quick walk around the office not only gives your brain a chance to refresh itself; it also gives you a chance to stretch and maybe avoid that case of carpal tunnel you’ve been working towards.

…You Have A Short Wait

In any given project, odds are pretty good that you’ll have a short wait here and there: waiting for a graphic to render or an email to arrive or whatever. As a general rule, if I expect that wait to be under five minutes, I refuse to start anything new. Sure, I might need a short break away from the project, but I don’t necessarily want to derail my train of thought to the point that working on something entirely different would entail. Getting up to get a cuppa will keep me from getting overly distracted during those five minutes, but won’t cause me to lose the focus I need to keep working on a project.

…You Reach A Set Interval

After you’ve been working for long enough, you just have to get up and move around a bit. I actually set a timer to go off every twenty minutes to remind me to just stretch. While I don’t think that getting up every twenty minutes just for a cup of tea — or getting up at all that often — is ideal, getting up out of your chair on a regular basis is a good idea. You might set a timer for once every few hours or so. Of course, this sort of break is easy to ignore when you hit your stride. I often work through my timer when I’m on a roll. But after working through that timer a time or two, I find that I absolutely have to get up and move. It’s up to you to find an interval that works, as well as a reason to get up — after all, there are only so many cups of tea a person can drink in a given day. But there are plenty of options: exercise, snacks, even set activities like walking down to pick up your mail can be enough to provide you with a short break.

…You’re Thirsty

Even if you’re almost done with a project, it can be worth it to take care of those nagging bodily needs. You may think you can ignore it just a little bit longer, but any distraction can be enough to decrease the quality of work. It’s rare that you’re so close to done and so close to deadline that you can’t afford a few minutes to get a drink or whatever else needs doing. While I’m all for suffering for one’s art, I don’t think being thirsty quite qualifies.

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