You have a looming deadline, a backlog of work, and your energy’s in freefall. So what should you do to kick your performance up a gear? Simple. Take a break.
People often think that toughing it out will get them furthest when faced with a colossal task. And it can. But if your default setting is “exhausted,” you’ll eventually find yourself with little or no real progress. That’s why taking a break is so effective as a jump-starter.
Regular breaks from your workload give you the tools to build resilience, writes bestselling author and TED-talker Shawn Achor in the Harvard Business Review Emotional Intelligence book series: “The key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again.”
But how do you really take a break when your brain is locked missile-like on a set target? And how many should you be taking during working hours? Here’s a guide to the five breaks you should take every day:
1. Coffee break
If you’re one of the 54 percent of American adults who drink coffee everyday, then this break is probably one of your favorites. Though science is still on the fence about whether we should be knocking back the black brew or not, researchers at the British Nutrition Foundation have shown that moderate caffeine consumption (no more than four cups of coffee a day) can lead to a short-term boost in brain function, including alertness and perception of fatigue.
2. Exercise break
“Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning,” says John Ratey, M.D., a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. “If you’re under stress, taking time out and doing even 10 minutes of aerobic exercise like a brisk walk around the block can help you refocus.”
3. Concentration break
Allowing a lull in your concentration could be a big help for those moments when you need your mind to buckle down and get busy. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ran a study with four groups of people. Each was given a brain-intensive exercise to work on for 50 minutes. At the end of the allotted time, the folks who received the most breaks were able to focus longer on the task.
4. Watercooler break
Do you prefer the sound of silence when reaching for a deadline? You may get there faster if you take a few minutes to chat with colleagues. A study conducted at a Bank of America call center in Rhode Island discovered that the employees who talked to more co-workers during their day not only zipped through more calls, but also felt less stressed and had the same approval ratings as their more isolated colleagues.
5. Lunch break
Often when we’re stressed or working to deadline, food is the first thing to get crossed off the daily do-list. This is a bad decision, says Baltimore-based holistic health coach Lydia Romero-Johnson. “Lunch time is like the hump in your day. It’s an opportunity to recharge and refuel to keep up the stamina, energy, focus, and productivity that you desire.”
Romero-Johnson also claims that the food habits you create, such as eating a healthy midday meal, matter. “It’s either adding up to healthier living, a more proactive preventative approach, or it will be adding up to struggles and potential health problems. So use this time.”
Her best advice for making the best of your meal at lunch break? Be colorful. “Create your own rainbow lunch bowl,” she says. “It’s quick and easy. Mix together different vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Stay away from foods that are all the same color, like brown fried food. Your body and your brain will thank you.”
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