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A High Performance and Productivity Secret: Take A Break

by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.

Taking A Break Recharges Your Mental And Physical Batteries

Did you know you have physical and mental cycles? Think about it. Do you do your best work first thing in the morning and then start fading after lunch, only to perk up after business hours and be ready for a night out? Or do you drag yourself out of bed, grumble over coffee, hrumph yourself into the office and not fully awaken until about 10 a.m.? Or is it something else? Whatever your experience, it is your typical overall daily energy cycle. You probably already have a number of methods of fitting your work schedule into that cycle.

Everyone seems to be somewhat aware of their overall tendencies in energy highs and lows. But there is considerably more. You have a number of mini-cycles throughout the day -- and night -- that can affect your performance and productivity. And you can manage them for maximizing your energy and output. One of the most effective management tools for your energy cycles is the practice of taking breaks.

How Focus and Hyperfocus Can Be Idea Blockers and Performance Killers

The "rule of thumb" is that you have a forty minutes maximum ability to effectively concentrate on one idea or task. After that, performance and productivity go downhill. Remember that is forty minutes maximum. You're best off not pushing the limits. It's better to take a couple of minutes every half hour or so just to relieve the physical and mental tensions that build up in trying to focus on anything.

You see, in order to solve problems or be creative you need to refresh your viewpoint. You need to let new concepts and methods rise to the surface of your mind. Taking a break interrupts the mental loops you naturally fall into after focusing for too long.

Additionally, you need to have the energy to try another way. You not only tend to fall into looped patterns of thinking in extended times of concentration, but also you just get mentally tired.

Taking a break rests your mind and lets you come back to your problem or task with new eyes and new thinking. So two to five minute breaks at regular intervals can make a big difference.

For Top Performance and You Need Both Physical and Mental Rest At Physically Pre-Determined Times

It's not just that you can only concentrate for so long at a time -- it's also a matter of when you are trying to concentrate. For example, remember those overall tendencies you have? Is your energy level poor right after lunch time? You need a break from work that requires high mental performance. It's the time to schedule some routine, easy-to-accomplish work, like filing your expense receipts. It doesn't matter that you've just had a break for lunch (you did get lunch, didn't you) because lunch itself may be the cause of a natural tendency to rest and improve digestion.

It is an age-old practice to schedule afternoon "siesta" time just because most people do have an energy low shortly after lunch.

You know what your low times are. You can feel them in your body. If you ignore them, your performance and productivity will suffer. If you acknowledge them by taking a break, you can manage them and optimize your work results.

Schedule breaks for yourself based on your own bodily needs. Take unscheduled breaks when you notice you are starting to flag. Don't wait until you are actually tired. Take preventative action.

Your breaks should also include hydration and nutrition. You need more than rest to revive your energy. You need regular intake of water and food -- healthy food -- to think well and do well.

You Need A Rest After Emotionally-Demanding Events -- Even Good Ones

In addition to your overall energy highs and lows, many of which are physical, you also have highs and lows based on the mental and emotional impact of your various experiences throughout the day.

Did someone give you a compliment? A criticism. Either one would inspire a feeling. That feeling could raise or lower your energy level. Or interfere with your thinking process. You can't work your best if you are excited about or unhappy about something. Your focus isn't on your work at hand.

Take a break.

Start Doing It Now

How long have you been sitting at the computer? How long has it been since the last time you took a break? If it's longer than forty minutes, take a break now.

All you need to do is stand up and stretch. Walk around the office a little. Look out a window. Just take five minutes and get back to work.

Oh, and by the way, you need to take regular breaks no matter what you're doing -- working, reading, exercising, watching TV whatever.


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