As human beings, we tell ourselves on a regular basis that there’s more to life than work.
Unfortunately, we don’t really act like it.
Most of the publicly available statistics on the current state of our work-life balances seem to suggest we’re averse to the idea of taking vacations. Increasingly, we don’t even let ourselves take breaks during the average workday.
But we shortchange ourselves and even undermine the quality of our work when we do this.
Burnout is real, but it’s also highly preventable.
Keep reading for a science-backed case for why we deserve and need regular breaks from our tasks and careers.
You’ll Feel (And Probably Look) Healthier
One of the worst things you can do to yourself is skip your lunch break. It might feel like squeezing in that extra, uninterrupted 20 minutes of work might help you deliver a better product — or deliver it on time — but the opposite may actually be true.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the food we put into our bodies early in the day and during the midday productivity lull can help set the tone for the rest of our day — and either help or hinder our productivity.
Lunch is well worth taking a break for. And look — “lunch” doesn’t have to mean tucking into a three-course meal. Mostly, it means letting the stress of the day unknot while you put something fueling inside your body.
There isn’t a single part of the glorious human machine that doesn’t require nutrition, so if you’re looking for a place to steal back some productivity, please don’t start with your lunch break.
You’ll Be Able to Look at Problems in a Fresh Way
How you spend your break time is just as important as actually taking it. So, another beneficial way to increase your productivity and give yourself a stress-relieving breather from work is to exercise.
We’re not talking a full-bore workout, either. Just peeling yourself away from your desk for a brisk mid-morning or mid-afternoon walk around the block can have a wonderfully restorative effect. But first, your brain has to “fight” — as in “fight or flight.”
It sounds crazy, but the higher heart rate associated with even mild physical activity stimulates the release of a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. Essentially, this protein helps repair the neurons in your brain associated with memories and helps put them more at ease.
If one of the breaks you take during the day is committed to fueling your body with lunch or a snack, consider taking another break to stretch your legs.
Besides the benefits we’ve just looked at, you’ll also find it helps shake off some of the afternoon malaise.
If you look out the window and wish you were outside, why not make it so — just for a bit?
You’ll Accumulate Mental ‘Momentum’
Research and common sense both say hard work — even sustained hard work over a long period of time — is useful and invigorating.
It makes us feel confident and accomplished. And there’s nothing quite like riding the “high” of accomplishment by parlaying one success into another — and another.
But it’s all for nothing if this hard work isn’t a conscious choice. All of us to one extent or another seem to suffer under the delusion that if we’re not working full-bore at every moment, we’ve somehow left productivity or opportunity “on the table,” so to speak.
But that’s really not true.
And so it goes: company leaders drive themselves to the point of exhaustion and set a de facto example for all of the professionals who report to them. This isn’t quality leadership — it’s a cascade failure.
We must choose to engage in hard work — so says John P. Trougakos, who teaches management at the University of Toronto. And after that, we must choose to take a break. In a way, the mental momentum your brain enjoys is freedom expressing itself. It feels good to make personal decisions like when to work and when not to. And since there’s all this science to back up those choices, you know they’re the right ones.
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You’ll Discover a Remedy for Burnout
What are the reasons behind our need to have breaks? It’s pretty simple: Taking a break is a preemptive, preventative measure.
Breaks shouldn’t be used reactively. If you already feel like you’ve hit the rock-bottom of your creative or productive capacity for the day, you’ve missed your chance to avoid feeling that way. It’s like drinking water — if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
It’s not unreasonable to think about our physical and mental need for downtime as a kind of symptom of the deafening white noise produced by modern society at any given moment.
We have allowed our waking minds to become so saturated with distractions that it’s practically unthinkable to consider a workday in which we don’t take a moment to distance ourselves from it all.
A study of nearly 2,000 white-collar workers from across the globe help corroborate the idea that data overload is in part responsible for the necessity of break-taking.
The respondents almost uniformly indicated that they receive a wealth of information in an average day that they don’t even require to carry out their jobs.
Half of them indicated they felt overwhelmed and even close to “the breaking point” due to the sheer amount of information they have to handle in a given day.
So it’s not just that we must work for a living — the problem extends to how we work. We generate and process an unimaginable amount of information as a species — it’s no wonder our brains need to stand down and take a “breather” on a regular basis.
For busy professionals particularly, taking a break constitutes an escape from the wearying roller-coaster ride of hitting peak usefulness, crashing into malaise and possibly despair, medicating with a potent cocktail of guilt and caffeine, and then trying to claw our way back to the heights of productivity we enjoyed while we were well-rested.
Stop all that. It’s a vicious cycle.
But more than that, it’s unnecessary.
We’ve just talked about several ways you can spend your breaks and how they benefit you, but the point is simply to take time for yourself again.
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