The Smartest People Take a Break
My second grader’s “Happy Labor Day” sign from the weekend with the “no working” illustration left no grey area as to what the expectations of the Labor Day holiday weekend were. While the idea is alluring, actually turning off the electronics and being fully present is a gift not many of us allow ourselves. We should. Despite what our culture values, scientific findings validate our true human need to “catch a break,” and not just on the weekends or holidays, but throughout our day to include:
Go to Lunch
In many industries, lunch breaks or any kind of respite are getting shorter and shorter, or even nonexistent. These days, only one in five office workers reports taking an actual lunch break away from their desk, according to a survey by workplace consulting group, Right Management, recently published in Fast Company. Yet taking a break, even for 15 to 20 minutes, is a proven way to sustain concentration and energy levels throughout the day.
Respecting our natural attention spans will help us perform at our best. According to natural ultradian rhythms, on average, our brains are only able to focus for 90 minutes and need at least 20 minutes rest between those focused blocks of time. “Never taking a break from very careful thought work actually reduces your ability to be creative,” says Kimberly Elsbach, a management professor at UC-Davis who studies the psychology of the workplace. It sort of exhausts your cognitive capacity and you’re not able to make the creative connections you can if your brain is more rested. If you’re skipping lunch to continue to push forward in a very intense cognitive capacity, then you’re probably not doing yourself any favors.”
Meditate (or at least rest your brain)
A little bit of mindfulness goes a long way. Meditative breaks throughout the day have proven to improve productivity vs. socializing. A study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that assigning call-center workers 20-minute “progressive relaxation” breaks, in which they participated in meditation-like activities, reduced their stress in the afternoon, compared to another group of workers who engaged in small talk with co-workers for 20 minutes. The relaxation technique had a positive impact on blood pressure, sleep quality and more.