If you’re anything like me, your mind starts to be a little all over the place once you get into the flow of your workday. I’ll start thinking about what’s next on my schedule, that I need to bring my son to get a haircut and eventually my stomach will remind me that I failed to eat anything in the last few hours.
I’ll reach for a pen or notepad and notice my manicure looks like crap. But why, oh why, is my brain registering these little slights in the first place when I am knee-deep in work?
It’s a signal from our brain.
I have never been much of a break taker. When I used to work in an office full of people, it was far easier to pause for a quick conversation or laugh with a co-worker because there were people there to distract me into a mini-break. Working at home means I have to remind myself to take a break, a far more difficult thing to do. However, our genius brains have a way of reminding us it is time. In fact, there is a science behind it.
A study published at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine last year proposed that decisions to cease and resume work are triggered by a cost evidence accumulation signal. It implies that our brains monitor our levels of exertion and production so as to make decisions about breaks, weigh the costs and rewards of continuing versus stopping and makes adjustments “so as to maximize payoff while preventing exhaustion.”
So there is more than meets the eye when it comes to your sudden urge to cruise the Internet, grab chocolate from the vending machine or paint your nails at lunchtime. While we love our employees who are dedicated to working through lunch, you might very well want to mandate that they take a break – particularly because it will benefit your business.
Why do many of us ignore our signals to take a break?
Often we have so much on our plates that we think it is better to plow through the piles of stuff on our to-do-list rather than waste time chitchatting or taking a walk. There is also the myth that working ourselves until we are exhausted is associated with success. Yet, studies reveal the opposite.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, “short breaks can help increase your concentration, alertness, and work speed.” When the mind is rejuvenated it is like hitting a reset button and you are better equipped to resume your tasks and go back to working with full energy.
Working for long periods of time on tasks that can feel overwhelming can put you on the fast road to burnout. Do you know the difference between stress and burnout? I went searching and found the clearest explanation defined by the Ohio State University Department of Aging courtesy of corevalues.com:
Companies such as Google have established themselves as leaders in encouraging downtime for their employees. Their offices are famous for free food, colorful lounge areas, showers and games for employees.
Entrepreneur Phil Drolet agrees that the “work ‘til you drop” mentality that exists in the entrepreneurial world is all wrong. In his Ted Talk titled, “Why Most Entrepreneurs Are Slowly Killing Themselves,” Drolet shares how he did an experiment on himself by spending less time working for 30 days and using that new time to hang with his friends, explore nature and date. The results? His business had its most profitable month ever – by more than 45 percent. He attributes that success to having more mental clarity, more spurts of creativity, learning to delegate and focusing on what matters the most.
What signals does your brain give you?
Is there a certain time of day that you need a caffeine boost? At what length of time during a business meeting does your mind start to wander? How many emails do you send before you start to dread responding to any more?
These are clues about your work style and break preferences. Over the next week, make an effort to pay attention to your brain’s cues. Then take a break. Get up and stretch, take a 10-minute walk or listen to three of your favorite pick-me-up songs on your iPod. Just don’t do anything work-related for the next 10 to 15 minutes and see how you feel when you resume working.
Take a moment to pause and rejuvenate. With consistency you’ll find yourself working with a renewed vigor and you can lose the guilt and have a perfectly good reason to eat chocolate and paint your nails at work.