I apologize this is Tip Tuesday, one day late.
For those of us who are lucky enough to be working from home right now, it’s easy to let the day pass without a break. Sitting at your desk, gazing at your computer screen, preparing for your next Zoom call, and it’s eight hours later and your feet are turning blue.
Science tells us we need breaks during the workday. When we spend too long paying attention to something, we wind up not really paying attention at all. Taking breaks improves our performance, enhances our creativity, fuels fresh ideas, and makes tasks less tedious. We make fewer errors when we take frequent breaks. Our mental and physical health improves.
Are you closing your laptop yet?
To remind myself to take breaks during the day, I’ve been setting reminders on my calendar. This is not a novel idea, nor a particularly useful one. (Non-essential calendar reminders too easily fall by the wayside, along with Slack Channel notifications and haphazard to-do lists.)
But the way I take breaks is changing.
Every day, I try and take four types of breaks: Eyes. Mind. Body. Food. Here’s how you can do it, too.
Eyes: To give your eyes a break from the computer screen, simply gaze out the window to something far away. Focus long enough for the muscles around your eyes to relax, and your distant vision to kick in. This is a variation of the 20-20-20 rule, which is touted to prevent the eye strain associated with screen use.
Mind: Daydreaming has been linked to increased creativity and problem solving. So at least once a day (when things are getting overwhelming) I take a minute to read. Ideally, it’s an article or a book chapter (not an Instagram feed). Something that provides perspective and a mind-nourishing distraction from the task at hand.
Body: Without commuting to the office or walking to the water cooler, my time sitting in a chair during the workday increased 10-fold. Now, I aim for at least one break a day that involves walking around the block, attempting sit ups in my living room, or stretching out on the floor.
Food: Taking an actual lunch break brings all the benefits mentioned above—productivity, stress reduction, creativity, etc.—but it’s also beneficial for your employer. Lunch breaks are linked to heightened job satisfaction, and with that comes performance, tenure, and all the housekeeping items that might appear on your quarterly review. It isn’t always possible, but when I take time to properly prepare and enjoy my food during the day, I turn up more focused (and less ‘hangry’) than usual.
I don’t always schedule my breaks, nor do I always stick to this formula, but on the good days I take four types of breaks during the workday—eyes, mind, body, and food. The result: Everything flows just that little bit easier.
What are you still doing here? Go on, close your laptop, and pick a break type!