Leadership & Strategy | November 9, 2015

Break Time: Why You Need to Take a Break

When you have deadlines pending or you feel challenged by a project, it’s tempting to avoid breaks and work hard to finish things quickly. This is based on a common belief that longer hours, and taking fewer breaks or no breaks at all, gets the job done. However, that type of work has quite the opposite effect. Here are some reasons why you need to take a break, especially when faced with challenging work.

Improve your Focus

The human brain can only focus for so long before it becomes distracted. You can try to force yourself to stay on task, but eventually your mind will resist. This will cause you to make silly mistakes or slow your pace to a crawl. Take a break to relax your brain and give it something else to do. Daydream or walk a few laps around the office. Whatever you do, get away from the desk and remove yourself completely from what you’re working on every 60-90 minutes. When you return to your work you’ll find that you are able to focus better.

Make Room for New Insights

If you’ve ever lost your keys, you probably spent time frantically searching for them. When you’re hyper-focused on finding a lost item, you are less likely to find it than if you were to relax and divert your attention for a while. Taking your conscious attention away from a task allows the subconscious to get to work on solving the problem. This can lead to new insights or, in the case of things like missing keys, remembering where you last had them.

Achieve Higher Productivity Levels

Just as exercising for several hours nonstop is counterproductive, trying to focus on work nonstop all day has the same result. The brain, like the body, needs time to recharge in order to function at its best. Without taking a break every 60 to 90 minutes to refresh yourself, your quality of work will diminish. There is a lot of truth to the saying that you should “work smarter and not harder.” If you let yourself take a break every once in a while you’ll have better quality work to show as a result.

See the Bigger Picture

When you concentrate on anything for a length of time, your perspective will narrow and you’ll easily lose touch with the bigger picture. This means you might miss opportunities or make mistakes you wouldn’t normally make. Fiction authors often set their work aside for a time before returning to it. If you get lost in the details of what is in front of you, you lose sight of how the details relates to the work or project as a whole.

Improve your Health

Whether your job involves physical labor or sitting at a desk all day, it can take a toll on your health without breaks worked in. A break allows time for the body to rejuvenate and heal. Taking time to get up and move around gets the blood flowing, reduces eyestrain from staring at a screen, and reduces joint stiffness.

Taking a break also reduces stress levels. When stress levels are high they block your ability to think clearly. This can lead to or worsen health conditions such as heart disease, depression, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Relaxing your mind and body for a few minutes each hour lets you power down, benefiting your work, your emotional state, and your body.

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