Want to be More Productive at Work? Here’s Six Reasons to Take a Break.
It might seem counterintuitive that going away from your work for a break can actually make you more effective. In fact, an increase in productivity is just one of the benefits.
As neurodivergent people in the workplace, who love to get involved and give a lot of ourselves, we invariably end up with our time fully committed and perhaps with more than one role to contend with (think diversity leader, or mental health designated person, mother, father, child, team member, leader, etc) each with their consequent agendas to attend to throughout the course of just one day. We often have difficulty saying no to requests, and our divergent perspective on time can lead us down the path of getting overloaded and towards burnout.
I’ve seen it all too often; the clients who come to coaching overwhelmed and exhausted, on the verge of imminent collapse. They work from morning to night, spend long periods working evenings and weekends to “catch up” , yet no matter how many hours they put in, they haven’t reached that ideal place yet where they feel relaxed and in control – with a “mind like water” as David Allen describes, the well-known productivity guru and author of several great books on the subject of “Getting Things Done”.
Breaks help you rest
When I ask these clients , “So when did you last have a holiday? and by holiday I mean a time where you don’t monitor or answer emails, don’t respond to work-related communications, and definitely don’t log in to your devices to “catch – up!” “, typically the answer is many months and sometimes years in the past. Some of them have yet to use their Out of Office function on their emails.
“And when did you last have some time to yourself to do something just for you that’s nothing to do with work?“ “Ermmm…”
It’s OK to be enthused by your work, it absolutely is. However, what I frequently hear is that although someone may be plugged in to their devices, their brain has gone elsewhere, and the time and effort they expend trying to accomplish tasks is not actually that productive. They get distracted, may spend time scrolling on their devices instead, and find it hard to sit and focus on that one piece of work they need to get done. Even when you don’t want to rest, your brain will find a way. Cat pictures, anyone?
Breaks replenish dopamine levels and raise productivity
When we have ADHD, we can have challenges with maintaining focus. It is possible to hyperfocus on something we are really interested in, however when we are tired and constantly bombarded with interruptions and more and more work coming in, it’s a lot harder to focus in any way.
One method that has served many with ADHD well is the 15 – 20 minute rule.
What you do is to divide your work into handy chunks of no more than 15 – 20 minutes, set an alarm for the stop time and then dive in. The ADHD brain thrives on sprints rather than marathons. The very thought of working for a stretch of several hours without a break is off-putting for many of the clients I coach. Once your alarm goes off, that’s your cue to get up, stretch and move your body, and get useful brain chemicals flowing such as dopamine and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor ( BDNF for short).
Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters/hormones implicated in ADHD, where there is usually a deficiency of dopamine in the circuits which support the Executive Functions. Dopamine helps us feel alert, motivated and engaged. Thankfully there are many ways to increase it. Medication is one such approach. Other methods include diet, exercise or movement, listening to music, spending time outside in nature, meditation, massage.
As you might notice, virtually none of these methods seem to involve being chained to a computer or working 24/7 for 365 days per year. Interesting hmm?
Breaks help us learn
Ways to increase Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) a neurotransmitter and hormone, include exercise, meditation, deep sleep, and sunlight. Things that block BDNF include stress, sugar, carbs, and social isolation.
BDNF is the brain’s growth hormone, and assists in learning, memory, and emotional regulation.
Breaks give fresh perspective
Apart from a break giving us a change physically from being seated at our screens, from the torrent of emails, from being tethered to meetings, breaks also provide mental nourishment.
Time for processing and taking a step back allows us to gain a sense of perspective. In the same way that we gain new outlooks on life whenever we travel or go on holiday, we get a chance to look at ourselves, our daily routines and habits ( if we have any!) from a different viewpoint.
For many, not having those opportunities was one of the aspects of the lockdowns which had a huge impact on wellbeing. Being stuck at home, with only those daily exercise breaks to look forward to meant we couldn’t get away from our lives and see another viewpoint. There was no variety. There was no upcoming holiday to look forward to and that felt heavy.
Planning future breaks to look forward to can fill us with positive anticipation, even when the present situation may be challenging.
Breaks provide us with self-care
Breaks also give us the certain knowledge that we are taking care of ourselves. Moving our bodies has a host of benefits including increasing learning, having a positive effect on our heart health, breathing and oxygen levels. Listen to this podcast episode from Dr. Michael Mosley to find out how taking micro breaks from sitting can help lower our blood sugar and even increase our life expectancy. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0011405
Breaks offer the chance to deepen relationships
Another benefit of breaks from working is the opportunity they give us to connect with others for personal not just work-related reasons. Building and maintaining relationships takes time, and there are many ways we can help this along.
Here are a few ideas:
Start a class in something that interests you, and you will meet like-minded people to relate to.
Share a common interest with a friend and take a weekend workshop.
Call up a friend and go for a walk in nature together.
See a film with friends or family and discuss it with them.
The benefits of taking breaks both big and small are many. They have the potential to support our brain health and productivity, maintain or boost physical and mental well-being, and deepen our relationships with others.
So what are you waiting for? How many ways can you find to take a life-affirming break?