Advertising
Advertising

Published on March 12, 2021

Why You Need To Take A Break From Work For Good Productivity

Why You Need To Take A Break From Work For Good Productivity

Yesterday was one of those days. I sat at my laptop screen with a to-do list the size of a small country and I just typed. I typed for two or three hours and by the time I was done with all the typing, I had made literally no progress.

Between second-guessing myself, deciding I didn’t like what I’d done, changing my mind, and just losing focus, I essentially wasted a good couple of hours sitting at a computer and “working” but actually getting no work done.

I got up, turned the computer off, and went for a walk. It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Walking away when you’ve got a long list of deadlines and time won’t do you the courtesy of just slowing down while you get back in the game. But I needed it. Then I came back to my computer a couple of hours later and ticked the two highest priority items off that list in less time than I’d spent to achieve nothing earlier on in the day.

Taking a break is about so much more than a coffee and a chat. It’s not a luxury. It’s an absolute necessity! So, let’s ditch the guilty feelings of taking a break from work, and let’s stop snacking at our desks for 5 minutes instead of actually taking lunch. It will help us work better, be better employees or entrepreneurs, and possibly even live longer.

Here’s why you need to take a break from work for good productivity.

1. Humans Cannot Function Productively for Hours on End

Humans can’t function productively for hours on end, despite what your employment contract says.

Advertising

Do you care to guess how many hours a day you’re productive for? Is it 6? 7? All 8 of the main working day hours? Probably not. Studies suggest you’re productive for 2 or 3 hours at best.[1]

So, what are you doing for the rest of the time you’re sitting at your screen? You’re working significantly less productively, which is no better for you than it is for your boss.

I’m not saying we all need to move to a 3-hour working day with immediate effect. Let’s be practical about it. But accepting that after a couple of very productive hours, you need a break before you can come back and do that again is a good start.

2. Regular Breaks Are Good for Your Memory

Scientific research points to the fact that regular short breaks can improve your memory.[2] Better memory means you can whizz through tasks faster and more effectively. But a break, the study found, also helps you to retain recently acquired information.

So, if you’re doing the research for a report or you’re in a meeting for a couple of hours, actually walking away afterward and taking that coffee break can help you better retain the facts, figures, or information you just got.

Could this be one of the reasons why the Pomodoro Technique can be so effective for so many? Regular breaks in that technique could mean you’re actually processing all the information you’re getting from your work properly and taking that forward into the next task.

Advertising

3. A Break Enhances Your Energy Levels

Research in 2016 confirmed what I imagine many of us suspected. If you take a break, your energy levels will improve.[3]

There’s no productivity killer quite as lethal as lethargy. And I personally suffer from the dreaded “afternoon slump” a lot. If you’re tired, you won’t concentrate as well and you will not get as much done. It’s that simple. The research suggests that taking a break at lunchtime (an actual break, not 5 minutes browsing Facebook at your desk with a sandwich) boosts energy levels, thus improving your focus into the afternoon.

I know there are workplaces where the culture is very much lunch-at-desks. But if you feel the need to justify taking your full lunch break, then consider this it. Science says you’ll get more done in the afternoon.

4. You’ll Make Better Decisions After a Break

Decision-making—whether these decisions seem like minor or major ones—is an important part of our daily work. A group of researchers found that failing to take breaks leads to decision fatigue.[4]

Now, the decisions being made by the subjects of their study really were life-altering too. The study followed a group of judges who were ruling on whether to grant people parole. The study found they were much likelier not to grant parole to someone had they not had breaks. The scientists put this down to the judges (consciously or otherwise) making the easier decision on occasions where they hadn’t taken breaks and were therefore not rested.

I personally don’t have to make decisions that affect people’s lives like that (thankfully). But I’ve definitely experienced myself that when I’m feeling like I’m overdue a break, I am likelier to take the easy road even if it’s not the best one. So, switch the screen off, get away from your desk, grab a bite, and get some fresh air. Your decision-making will thank you for it.

Advertising

5. Breaks Improve Your Creativity

Whether you’re a writer, a lawyer, a marketer, or something else entirely, some degree of creativity is probably a requirement in your role. From creative problem solving to slogan writing, your imagination and creativity can play a huge role in the quality of your work.

I’ve often found my creative breakthroughs coming at the least convenient times (maybe I should start taking a notebook in the shower and to bed). My “aha!” moments, inconveniently, never really happen when I’m in a brainstorming session or when I’m in a call with a client or sitting at my screenwriting strategy and planning documents. Oh no, that would be too easy.

In fact most of my creative ideas, I’ve found, happen on walks or when I’m relaxing at home. Turns out, I’m not at all unique in that. A study found that creativity was improved by walking (as opposed to sitting).[5]

So, instead of sitting staring at your screen (and, if you’re anything like me, getting more frustrated by the minute) just walk away—literally. Get outside and just walk. Even if you don’t have the “aha!” moment you’re looking for, you’re probably going to be likelier to stumble upon a creative breakthrough later for having taken the break.

6. Breaks Are Good for Your Health

A healthier you is a more productive you. There’s nothing quite like a health crisis to knock your productivity, after all.

Breaks aren’t only a necessity for your mental health but your physical health, too. This is particularly notable for office workers and those of us who sit at desks and screens for vast quantities of the day. Back problems, cardiovascular problems, and weight gain, or even obesity are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the damage experts believe that prolonged sitting can do.

Advertising

So, not only is taking a break great for your energy levels, it’s imperative for your physical health. Stand up, move, and walk. If you can’t get out for a long walk, just take a 15-minute stroll around the block. It’s good for you in so many different ways.

Our physical and mental health is intrinsically linked to how well we perform at work. So, don’t feel guilty for prioritizing your health. It’s good for your work in the long term, too.

Tips for Fitting Breaks in

I’m self-employed with the flexibility to work hours to suit me, my family, and our schedules. I also know that I am far more productive in the mornings than in the afternoons, so I take my breaks in the afternoon very often.

I’m also fortunate that our office is very close to a stunning reservoir with jaw-droppingly beautiful walks. So, I often take some time out in the afternoon to talk or run there and invariably find that it leaves me feeling far more equipped to deal with the rest of the day.

But I also know that not everybody is in that position. So, if you find you’re working for someone else and you’re working set office hours, perhaps without much space for getting out for walks, here are a few tips for getting your breaks in:

  1. Eat your lunch away from your desk wherever possible. Stand up if you can (standing desks, breakfast bars, and so forth are helpful here). Making lunch a set time each day that you actually take a break is a simple way to make that time within the allowances of a pre-set working day
  2. Walk before work. Even if you just park a mile further from your office or get off your transport a stop or two earlier, you buy yourself a precious few moments to walk, decompress, and just relax while getting in some physical activity. When I was working for someone else a few years ago, I found this a life-changing habit and it was such a small change. I arrived at work feeling refreshed and ready.
  3. Switch off at home. The nature of the ever-connected society we live in is that we are plugged into our work constantly. But try to take time out—completely out. When you’re not at work and you can take the time out, capitalize. I also know that some workplaces have a toxic culture of expecting prolonged hours, evening work, and dragging staff onto projects over the weekend. If you’re in the position to push back, please do. No job is worth having no life outside of the office.
  4. Try to lead from the front and build a culture of smart working. If you’re a leader, then encourage your team to work smarter—encouraging breaks to improve productivity and allowing people to experiment with other productivity techniques like Pomodoro.
  5. If you’re not in management, then perhaps speak to management and sell the business benefits of a smarter working culture. It’s a simple business case to make when you can prove productivity increases and more gets done in a day if people take a full lunch break for example. See if you can get them on board.

A Necessity, Not a Luxury

Over the years, I’ve come to regard breaks as an absolute necessity if I want to work smarter and continue to deliver my best work. It’s a mindset shift from ten years ago when I regarded them as a self-indulgent luxury I needed to live without.

If you’ve been denying yourself breaks, then maybe start fitting one in each day and seeing what difference it makes to you and your work. I don’t imagine you’ll be disappointed. Now, please do excuse me. I’m off for a walk.

More About How To Restore Energy

Featured photo credit: Christin Hume via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Stacey MacNaught

Small business owner, public speaker and marketing expert obsessed with working smarter.

Why Is It Important To Set Realistic Goals? Why You Need To Take A Break From Work For Good Productivity How To Motivate Yourself When You Are Overwhelmed in Life How to Focus on Goals and Get Rid of Distractions

Trending in Restore Energy

1 How Physical Inactivity Affects Your Energy Levels 2 How to Stay Awake at Work Without Caffeine 3 9 Causes Of Fatigue And What To Do About It 4 5 Best Guided Morning Meditations for Energy And Motivation 5 How to Spot the Signs of Burnout and Overcome It Fast

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Published on May 13, 2021

How Physical Inactivity Affects Your Energy Levels

How Physical Inactivity Affects Your Energy Levels

We’ve all heard people say, “I’m too tired to exercise.” Perhaps, we also say this excuse ourselves when others ask why we don’t consistently engage in physical activities. According to The Heart Foundation, this is the number one reason given for physical inactivity.[1]

This is a paradox because we need the energy to exercise and yet, one major effect of physical inactivity is having depleted energy levels, which makes it extremely difficult to get moving in the first place. Oxygen is a key energy-producing fuel source, and lack of exercise limits oxygen supply to our brains and bodies, creating an energy slump.

So, how does physical inactivity affects our energy levels?

Low energy levels do more than just leave us feeling sluggish and unmotivated. The effects of physical inactivity set off a domino effect that topples our ability to focus, make smart decisions, manage our mood, build resilience against stress, and perform at our highest capacity—basically, all the fundamental pillars of maintaining optimal energy levels.

Left unchecked, this can lead to discontent in our own lives and create a ripple that impacts everyone around us.

There’s good news, though. You don’t have to suffer through hours at the gym, force yourself out of bed for a crack-of-dawn jog, or endure other such unpleasantries to shift this dynamic for yourself.

Advertising

Here are some of the ways the effects of physical inactivity play out in various areas of our lives and also some simple, painless activities to try that will enhance your energy levels.

1. The Relational Element

Do you ever feel drained of energy when you’re caught up in an argument with your partner or when your kid is having a meltdown? It’s like someone pulled the plug and every last drop of your life force is flushed down the tubes.

It turns out that a lack of physical activity could be a factor in this phenomenon. One study found that when people exercise, it creates a cascade of positive interactions with friends and family on the day of—as well as the day following—the activity.[2]

Better Together

These benefits are increased when we exercise with our loved ones. Next time you sense an impending family feud, take a timeout for some physical activity together. I remember many occasions when my own kids were toddlers, ditching our plans in a moment of frustration to go outside together quickly moved the day’s trajectory onto a more positive track, even if it was for just a few minutes. This still rings true today in their teen and preteen years. Though persuading them to change gears can require a bit more patience these days, it’s always well worth it!

Play a game of basketball or tennis. Bike around the block. Trek through your nearest trail or green space. Go critter spotting at a local park or in your own backyard. Not only can this tactic help diffuse a situation before it becomes volatile, but if you make it a habit, you’re also likely to notice an overall reduction in these energy-draining moments.

2. The Mental/Emotional Element

An estimated 40 million adults suffer anxiety disorders in the US alone.[3] When we are triggered by a threat, whether real or perceived, our brains pump out hormones to help us cope in what’s known as the “fight – flight – freeze” response. The aftermath can feel like a massive depletion of our energy.

Advertising

Sleep is an excellent method for recovering, but continuous anxious thoughts often make this difficult. Physical inactivity compounds this because it means we’re losing out on one of the most effective natural methods for regulating our sleeping patterns. Exercise also promotes mental clarity by effectively wiping our minds and bodies of the excess stress hormones instigated by anxiety.

Natural Regulators

It’s not only anxiety disorders that bungle our energy levels. Everyday stresses and mood fluctuations can make us feel like we’re stuck on an exhausting rollercoaster of emotion.

Physical inactivity contributes to the depletion of serotonin and dopamine—chemicals that help naturally regulate our mood and energy. Physical activity boosts these chemicals which enhances activity in the prefrontal cortex (the part of our brains responsible for higher-ordered thinking).[4] This process calms the limbic brain (our emotional headquarters), automatically shutting down energy-wasting emotional triggers.

3. The Intuitive/Spiritual Element

Exercise helps us grow our mind-body awareness while we learn to move out of our logical thought processes. The more we tune into our bodies and what they are telling us, the better we can tap into our inner knowing. We can stop using up our energy chasing after solutions or validation that comes from outside ourselves.

Our connectivity to the Universe or a higher power can be a catalyst for improving our energy levels as well. There are several approaches to enhance this through physical activity. Yoga and Tai Chi, for instance, are well-known spiritual practices used for centuries to connect mind, body, and spirit. From a Western perspective, they also help to create harmony between our needs for “achievement” energy and “restful” energy. Too much focus on either end of the spectrum can lead to burnout or depression.

A Powerful Combination

Meditation is another spiritual custom that is also a proven energy booster.[5] Unfortunately, sitting still and calming our minds can be a struggle, especially for people with anxiety issues.

Advertising

“Walking meditation” is one ritual that makes this easier while providing the powerful energy-boosting combination of both physical activity and intentional reflection. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley describes this as a “basic method for cultivating mindfulness . . ., which involves focusing closely on the physical experience of walking, paying attention to the specific components of each step.”[6]

Hiking in nature also counteracts physical inactivity while helping us reconnect with our spirituality by calling our attention to the wonders of the world beyond ourselves. Awe-inspiring experiences contribute to positive changes in mood, attitude, and behavior. This enhances our energy levels by freeing up our mental space from overthinking and negativity. We can trust in our own inner knowing and lean into the belief that the Universe always has our backs.

4. The Self-Mastery Element

How energetic do you feel when your inner critic is saying you’re “too weak,” “too old,” or “too broken” to achieve your greatest goals and live your full purpose in life? It drags you down, right?

When our brains believe these negative thoughts, it exhausts our energy levels, but fortunately, there is a simple method for counteracting these lies.

You guessed it—exercise.

Physical accomplishments change our self-perception and boost our feelings of empowerment and self-worth. The agility and flexibility gains we achieve through repetitive practice of HIIT (high-intensity interval training), martial arts, or metabolic conditioning sessions, for example, create neural patterns in our brains. This carries over and rewires our mind-body for grit, strength, coordination, and resilience in all areas of our lives. What could feel more energizing than knowing you are powerful and capable of overcoming any challenge that comes your way?

Advertising

Express Yourself

Our energy levels can also be improved through self-expressive activities (e.g., dance) by helping us unpack a mess of emotions that may be bogging us down. Reaping the rewards of physical activity doesn’t require us to be focused on appearance or weight. Just find something you enjoy and that makes you feel good to move your body, whether it’s a salsa class or a favorite sport, Pilates or Zumba, or just a stroll through the neighborhood.

We don’t have to jump in with the go-getter approach we tend to take with most endeavors either. We don’t even need to be what we would consider athletic, artistic, or dramatic. All that’s required is to take one step forward with a focus on personal progress. Remove the expectations, self-judgment, and comparisons, and watch yourself bloom.

5. Energy Beyond Exercise

Globally, one in four adults does not meet recommended levels of physical activity, according to WHO.[7] While it is important to understand the ramifications that inadequate exercise can have on our health and longevity, this is just one part of the equation. There is far more at stake here.

Modern living enables us to achieve most of our daily needs with the least amount of physical effort possible. Not only do we not exercise enough, but we also rarely move our bodies at all—except from couch to fridge or from the doorstep to the car.

Physical inactivity robs us of powerful elements that enrich our lives—deeper connections with ourselves, our loved ones, our inner peace, and the vastness of the Universe around us. Our ability to feel fulfilled and successful in life hinges on the link between movement and vitality. Simply put, physical inactivity dwindles our energy at every level.

Here is a breakdown to help you fit it into your schedule with ease: On each of 5 days per week, do 15 minutes of vigorous exercise (HIIT, jogging, metabolic conditioning, or fast swimming or biking) or 30 minutes of moderate exercise (brisk walking, dancing, hiking, tennis, or water aerobics). And remember, any form of movement is better than none.

More About the Importance of Physical Activity

Featured photo credit: Adrian Swancar via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The Heart Foundation: The Top 10 Excuses for Not Exercising
[2] Science Direct: The cascade of positive events: Does exercise on a given day increase the frequency of additional positive events?
[3] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Facts and Statistics
[4] American Psychological Association: Working out boosts brain health
[5] NCBI: Meditation: Process and Effects
[6] Greater Good Science Center: Walking Meditation Practice
[7] World Health Organization: Physical activity fact sheet

Read Next