Breaks Work at Work

Odds are you could be far more effective at work if you didn’t spend quite so much time working.

One tenant of energy management and workplace effectiveness is to take breaks every 90 – 120 minutes. But convincing bright motivated people to take 5 or 6 breaks in a day is no easy task.

It sounds like a lot of breaks, I know, but research shows that our bodies naturally move through energy peaks and troughs on a 90 – 120 minute cycles throughout the day, these are called Ultradian rhythms.

Why you need breaks:

Basically, your body goes through a natural trough to recover from the previous peak. It might feel like a loss of focus or like you are a little tired physically.

Your body and mind actually slow down in the troughs. Good energy management will keep you from really bottoming out in the troughs, but we all experience about 15 – 20 minutes of lower energy every 90 – 120 minutes.

Working with those rhythms (instead of working around them) can reduce stress and errors.

What constitutes a break:

Do you know the saying, a change is as good as a rest? Research also shows that while you are going through a trough – you can improve your overall energy, health and effectiveness by simply changing what you are doing for 15 minutes.

I always suggest people get up and move around after doing something for 90 minutes. Depending where you are in your day you could:

– get up from your desk and sort papers and files for 15 minutes

– walk to the other side of the office to ask someone a question (instead of emailing them)

– schedule meeting breaks after 90 minutes and clear your head with a quick walk around the block

– or if you’ve been running around for a couple of hours, sit down and clean out your inbox for 15 minutes to shift gears before you dive back into your focused work.

I also suggest that people grab a glass of water every 90 – 120 minutes, and that you use every other break for a snack or a meal. Regular hydration, meals, motion and rest are all key to managing your energy effectively throughout the day.

What if you don’t take breaks?

Some people try to cheat the system. Instead of changing up what they are doing or taking 15 to 20 minutes of total down time here and there, the try to refuel in 3 minutes or less by grabbing a cup of coffee, tea or a cigarette to push through.

That kind of constant use of stimulants can eventually confuse your body into a state of chronic stress.

If your body doesn’t get a chance to recharge naturally, eventually it stops knowing how to refresh itself – you can lose the ability to rest. And as you do, you will lose the ability to focus.

What if your team doesn’t take breaks?

Mistakes get made – en masse. Start modeling healthy work patterns and encouraging your staff to take effective breaks. If you don’t do it, they won’t do it. Which means no one is working at their best.

Next month, I’ll explain more about structuring highly productive workdays. For now, trust me, try switching things up every 90 – 120 minutes. You’ll see, you will get more done.

Category: All, Energy at work, Homepage, Manage your People, Managing high performers
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