Have you ever found yourself saying, “I’m too busy to take a break?”
As a society, we tend to take a somewhat negative view of breaks. For many, they’re considered to be a sign of weakness, while working on through lunch, we feel, is indicative of a successful and motivated person—someone who’s going places!
While it is important to work hard and to be able to buckle down and get things done, it’s equally important to know how to put your work down and allow yourself some time off. In many ways, giving yourself a chance to breathe, to readjust your mindset, to get out and see a change of scenery is exactly what’s needed to help you refresh, recharge your batteries, and come back motivated, with a renewed perspective; ready to work again.
The Workout Analogy
In many ways, taking a break with your work can be compared to taking rest days in between working out. Resting gives the muscle time to repair and recover, and can help you to successfully strength train.
“The way to successfully grow a muscle—whether it’s a physical, psychological, or organizational one—and to sustain high performance isn’t to push ourselves constantly, nor is it to search for some new “hack” that promises quick results,” writes Brad Stulberg, author of Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success. “We simply need to stick to a cycle of hard work followed by rest and recovery. It may not sound fancy, and it does take time. But it’s what gets results.”
If you work out every day with no rest in between, you will find yourself burnt out—and fast. The best option by far is to balance out hard work with the right amount of rest in order to achieve growth and results.
Feeling the afternoon slump? It may be time to take a break! Here are a few science-backed reasons you should prioritize breaks in your life.
Improve Your Focus
When we’re in the flow and working—we feel great, but that stretch of time doesn’t last forever. Once you get out of that productivity zone, you can easily feel unfocused.
This is because our brains have a difficult time focusing on one thing for an extended period of time. When we’ve reached our peak of productivity, a short interruption in concentration is oftentimes exactly what’s needed to help us stay on track.
“…Deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” says University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras. “From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself.
Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”
Our brains have two modes: focused mode and diffuse mode. Focused mode is what we use when we are busy working or studying, when we have applied ourselves and are focused on accomplishing a task. Diffuse mode is what occurs when we’re off work, or spending time with family or friends; it’s that daydreaming mode our mind seems to drift to when we’re relaxed.
Studies have shown that the mind can actually solve more problems and achieve more while in the diffused state, than when in focus mode. When our brain is left to wander, there is activity in many different regions in our brains that often lead us to have profound thoughts or ideas. This explains why we often have the best ideas in the shower.
So if you’re working on a difficult project, or trying to solve a problem, taking a break and allowing your mind to get into diffuse mode could be what’s needed for you to come up with a creative solution.
Evaluate Your Goals
When we’re constantly working on a project or problem it can be difficult to find focus and easy to lose sight of our purpose. Taking a break, though, allows us to take a step back and look at things from a broader perspective—vital for ensuring that we haven’t lost sight of the big picture.
According to Harvard Business Review, “When you work on a task continuously, it’s easy to lose focus and get lost in the weeds. In contrast, following a brief intermission, picking up where you left off forces you to take a few seconds to think globally about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve.”
By taking a break, we can step back and ensure that we are accomplishing what we want to, and determine whether we’re doing this in the best way possible.
So the next time you feel guilty for taking a break or are tempted to think that you don’t have time, push that thought far from your mind! Taking breaks doesn’t signify weakness; instead, it’s a sign that you know what’s best and are able to accomplish things in the most efficient way possible. Now go ahead, take five!