Wanna Get More Stuff Done? Take Breaks.
Especially when there’s a lot to do, it seems counterintuitive to take a break. Our first idea in such a case is: work as fast as possible in one go. The reality is: at the end of the day, taking breaks helps us get more stuff done. Even, and especially when we have a huge workload. There is no reason to not take a break regularly...
Time vs. Results
The counterintuitive with this idea is: when taking a break, we work less in terms of worktime than if we just kept working on.
And that’s exactly what many people fear: losing work-time when taking a break.
But it’s not about the time you work - it’s about the results you get.
Working longer does not mean you get your stuff done. The goal should always be keeping your performance high throughout the whole work. This will ensure that you get the desired result as fast as possible.
This means, when you sustain your performance throughout the whole work, you work as short as possible and get the best result.
The few minutes we invest every time when taking a break seem like they’re lost. But the results we gain by taking regular breaks are mostly higher than if we just had pulled through without resting.
Concentration is critical
A big determining factor of our work is our concentration.
Being poorly concentrated means that our thoughts slip all the time and we can’t focus well on the execution of our tasks. This costs a lot of time because until we have the results we want a lot of time has passed.
When concentration is low, we’re also prone to distractions.
In today’s world, we can be distracted every minute of the day. Ringing phones, e-mails and notifications try to get our attention and distract us from our original task.
Unfortunately, distraction has a huge cost.
Study shows that it costs around 25 minutes to re-focus after a distraction. This means 25 minutes of poor focus and 25 minutes of slow and bad results – every time something distracts you. This is a huge time robber.
Concentration does not last forever
The problem is: working long decreases concentration.
After around 45 minutes, we experience a big decline in concentration. That means we can only work concentrated for a maximum of 45 minutes – after that, our results come slower and slower.
And this is where taking a break perfectly helps us.
They allow our busy and exhausted mind to rest and recuperate the ability to focus intensely. As a result, our concentration while working stays high and we can achieve constant results.
Furthermore, we won’t be wiped out after our work, so we can also be present and active in other activities with family or friends in our free time.
What to do in a break
Ideally, stand up and move around a little, breathe some fresh air and stretch out. This does not have to be long, just a few minutes until you feel that your mind is rested, and you can go on with high focus.
Moving around helps us to get our blood flow going again. Since most people sit while working, our blood flow is slower, and our oxygen supply is worse. This also leads to worse (brain) performance on the long run.
Breathing is also worse when we’re sitting, because in that sitting position our rib cage is slightly pressed on and we’re not able to breathe as fully and deeply as when we’re standing.
This also leads to worse oxygen supply and all the mentioned disadvantages.
Stretching helps to loosen up our tight muscles. Especially in a seated position, our muscles tighten up and force us into a bad posture.
This can also lead to back pain and other problems. Stretching them out will drastically reduce the likelihood of such problems, while also making it easier for your blood to flow.
While those things are great to do in a break, there are also many things that we shouldn’t do in break because they make everything even worse…
What not to do in a break
What many people tend or use to do in their breaks: check e-mail or social media.
Those are things to avoid at all cost because they don’t help your brain to recover its ability to concentrate again.
Anything that takes some kind of mental engagement is bad to do in a break because – as I said – our brain cannot rest then. As a result, our concentration stays bad, so we don’t get the results we want, and we lose time.
Moreover, things like checking mails or scanning through social media cause a release of dopamine in our brain.
Dopamine is also called the “reward hormone”. Every time it’s released, our brain wants more of it.
That means, that as soon as we check e-mail or social media, our brain wants more. This makes it
- Harder for us to get to work again and
- Harder to stay away from distraction while working.
And as you know now, distraction has a huge cost of time and focus – so one break with social media could mean a huge load of lost time in the end.
Now that you know the importance of concentration and of taking a break, one little doubt may still be there: isn’t it also a distraction if we take a break? Great thought…
Taking breaks is not a distraction
At this point we have to make a distinction between the definitions of a break and a distraction.
According to Merriam-Webster a thing that distracts us is “an object that directs one's attention away from something else”.
So, whenever a distraction comes up, our focus shifts to another thing. For example, an e-mail notification popping up on your screen while you’re working.
Now let’s look at the definition of taking a break: “to stop doing something for a short period of time”.
Here our focus does not get pulled away, we just stop engaging our mind in that activity for a few minutes. This will make it a lot easier to directly concentrate on the task again and go on with effective work.
Again, this of course only applies when we’re not engaging our brain in something else like social media while we’re taking the break.
Another reason why taking a break while working on a task does not harm our results is the Zeigarnik effect.
Psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik found and proved that people remember things best when they’re unfinished.
She first had this idea while watching busy waiters in a restaurant: they could only remember those orders that weren’t completed. After they were completed, they forgot them.
The same is true with the work you do: since our mind has the desire to finish what it begins, we’ll keep everything in mind that we interrupt for a break. This makes it again easier to directly get back to work with full concentration and focus after finishing our break.
Now, there shouldn’t remain any doubt that breaks are beneficial for our use of time and our mental energy.
The best thing to do now: set a timer every 45 minutes or less and as soon as the time is over, take a break and calm your mind down. Then get back to work with full focus and get it done. You’ll be done much faster and with way less effort.
About the Author
Maurice Leibinn is the creator of Productive Energy Management – a method that helps people get a maximum amount of results in a minimum of time while sustaining their energy and avoiding any kind of overwhelm.
He is a productivity Coach serving serving overworked entrepreneurs and professionals. Read more...